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Writer, Market Thyself!

by D. J. Herda

I was wondering the other day about what makes some writers more successful than others, what propels some to the head of the pack while leaving others behind in their dust.

Some obvious answers come immediately to mind: talent, for one.  Luck, for another—being at the right place at the right time with the right property plays a big role in a writer breaking out of the pack.  Having a marketable property to shop around never hurts, either.  A writer who proposes a book about the Magical Kingdom of Yor is far less likely to get a second look from a busy editor than one who’s working on a tome about the secret life of Paris Hilton (sad to say) or how to turn your spontaneous-combustion engine car into one that runs on potato peels and asparagus spears.

But there’s another thing that can help propel a writer over the hump.  It’s the writer’s own marketability.  Who exactly is this guy who's asking a publisher to spend tens of thousands of dollars—or more—on promoting and just how likely is it that he’s going to be around for more than a single-shot book?

Publishers are always concerned about the credibility of the new writers they publish.  They know that Stephen King and John Grisham are going to be big sellers practically forever.  But what is it that makes them believe Liftwater Gumstrip is going to be a top-selling author today, tomorrow, and thirty years from now?

Sometimes, it’s nothing more than a hunch.  But, more often than not, even when an editor is relying on a gut feeling about the prospects of a new author making it big over the decades to come, it’s the author’s own aura that tips the scales in his favor.  Is this an author who is going to be writing blockbuster books decades from now?  Is it an author who is going to prove popular in the marketplace?  Is it someone who can crank out best-selling properties for years to come? 

As a writer, you naturally want to convince an editor that the answer to all of those questions he’s asking himself is a resounding yes!  How do you do that?  Here are a few suggestions.

  • Walk tall.  Make yourself known, whether within your own community or across the globe.  Accomplish things, even if they don’t necessarily relate to writing.  Donate your talents to charity, generate ink in the local papers, appear as an expert commentator on public-access television and radio shows, publish a Website or a blog—not a cheapo free site that every Tom, Dick, and Mary throws together in an hour, but a legitimate site with meaningful content that changes regularly.  Make it a site that highlights what you’ve done, what you’re doing, and what your literary goals are for the future.

  • Learn as much about the craft of writing as possible by taking various writing courses and workshops.  Enter writing contests and win.  Join professional writing associations and societies.  Start a local writer’s group, name yourself president, and meet regularly to read and critique members’ works. 

  • Use professional-looking stationery (if you submit queries and proposals via regular mail) or an equally impressive e-mail signature (if you submit via e-mail). 

  • Learn how to write short, snappy, clean-looking query letters, and target your audience of editors carefully.  Keep your correspondence professional, and speak with the authority of someone who knows—not someone who’s trying to convince someone else that he knows.

  • Create a professional-looking bio, and use it when submitting queries and on your Website, even if it only contains a few lines:

Stringer, New Hope Community Newspaper.  Freelance contributor to Poetry Weekly and Gardener’s Gazette magazines.  B. A. in print journalism, University of Nebraska, 1996.  Participant: Mountain Valley Writer’s Symposium, 2007.  Editor, student yearbook.  Member, New England Writer’s Exchange, East-Coast Authors Group.

  • Remember always to be honest.  If you're not, an editor will shoot you down before you even knew the gun was loaded.  Keep striving to become a better, more marketable writer.  Editors have seen all the worst there is to see.  Offer them a look at someone who is better, someone devoted to writing, devoted to publishing, and dedicated to continually honing his craft.

The results just might help you become the next writer to leap-frog past the rest of the pack into a book-publishing contract or onto that bestseller List.  And the rest, as they say, could be history.



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