Write to Market

I belong to a wonderfully supportive writer’s group where, over the years, we have struck a balance between supporting each other and offering constructive criticism to help each other improve our craft and our manuscripts. It is a multi-genre group, primarily fiction, but with poets and non-fiction.

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This week, John Putnam, one of our most successful authors, who has written several historical Western novels about the Gold Rush, explained how having taken our prior comments into account, is keeping a specific action scene. He had given it some thought and decided that it aligns with his target audience. None of us generally read Western novels and I admire how he has stuck to his guns (probably Colt 45’s or a trusty Winchester!) and, while considering our advice, has stayed focused on what his readers want and expect.

At the same meeting, a wonderful colleague mentioned how she thought some of my female characters in Kingfisher: Slave to Honor were too dark for her taste. It is a fair point and I am wondering about balancing her feedback with the fact that this manuscript is meant for a Grimdark / adult Medieval Fantasy audience (think Joe Abercrombie, Brent Weeks, George R.R. Martin). 

The concept of Write-to-Market is to know who your target audience – your readers – are and what they expect. Your mother might not like it even though she still claims you’re the greatest author ever, but then she does not buy other novels in your genre.

I listen to many podcasts, read marketing books and articles, hopefully by successful authors as I try to fathom my way through the ever-changing tools available to market the Wycaan Master series. A commonality among these authors is the need to write for those who read your books. It sounds simple, but I’ve lost count of writers who have assured me that everyone would love their novel – and I ran a writer’s marketing group for years for the California Writers Club and spoken to various forums on the topic.

It is incumbent to understand who are reading your genre, where they hang out, and what they want. How do we find that out? Here are a couple of ideas:

  1. Goodreads – the Facebook of bibliophiles has groups dedicated to genres. Hang out there and don’t just sell your books, ask good questions to mine for data you really want.
  2. Follow Successful Authors – choose 3-5 authors who are several rungs ahead of you and follow them. Check out their website, subscribe to their newsletters, follow them on twitter and, read their books (buy them – they rely on royalties just like you).
  3. Kindle Boards – I feel a bit hypocritical here because I only go there when I want an answer to something. But I am always so impressed by the enthusiasm and honesty of those who hang out there.
  4. Survey – solicit your contact list for advice. I did this years ago when The First Decree was published and learned a lot about who was reading my novel and how popular the Young Adult epic fantasy is with adults.

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I hope this blog post has inspired you to focus on your target audience and take the time to research before you invest time and money in certain marketing tactics. It has helped me. I am planning a survey of Grimdark / adult Medieval Fantasy readers. If you’re a member of the tribe, I hope you’ll participate.

Good Writing,

Alon / elfwriter 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books.

More on the author can be found at his website and you can sign up for his quarterly eNewsletter here.

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Churning Out Novels

I thought I wrote fast. I tell people I can write a 100,000 word novel – a first draft – in four months, writing for an hour before work, an hour or two later in the day, and a few solid hours on the weekend. I only thought this was fast because people told me so. Other writers spent a year, two or more, to get similar output.

So I was a little surprised when I started to follow a podcast by three authors, all in the sci-fi and fantasy world. These three, along with the different guests they interview each week, publish 4-6 books a year, often keeping different series’ and even different genres going.

So I did some digging. There are many writers out there who are churning out a 50-80K novel each month … and I mean from Chapter 1 through The End and into editing (I assume), book cover design, and placements.

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Wow!

I am emotionally exhausted when I finish a novel and only once (between Books 5 and 6) did I have any desire to continue straight into writing the next of the series. Editing, sure. Marketing, okay. But the idea of churning out another 100K?

I am trying to work out what it takes to do this and, as I listened more to these authors, and even got to question a couple, I think I get it.

1. Outsourcing – these people do nothing for the production process. Everything is outsourced and they do not play a part in the process. This makes total sense except when there is no investment in the process, when the author really doesn’t care about the end product. As one author said: “My book covers are more or less the same. Only the title and book number changes. The cover artist knows what to do.”

2. Editing – when my editor returns a manuscript, there are changes suggested in almost every paragraph. I am expected to go through these comments and decide what to do. True, I accept 95% of the suggestions, but sometimes the editor writes that a scene is not clear, a conversation does not make sense, or a description is repetitive. In this case, I need to rewrite. Sometimes, the editor suggests I delete something. If I am attached to what is written, I might rewrite it much shorter or insert elsewhere (oops – don’t tell my editor!).

images-63. Strict genre adherence – in order that some writers can keep pace with production, they keep the plot tight and similar – the same highs and lows. The protagonist acts as he (usually a he) is expected, the bad guy too, and often the women are…well, behaving in what is expected of women in that genre. Now there is nothing wrong here. If it ain’t broke, why fix? Who needs a bad guy you sympathize with, a woman who kicks the crap out of someone or simply  falls in love with the bad guy and not the hero? Real life is already too complicated. There are no twists in the plot and I expect that somewhere there is a story arc written that is faithfully adhered to. No time to spend experimenting. Take no risks with the loyal readership.

4. Investment in the characters – this is something I find hard to understand. I have never understood how people can write a stand-alone novel, and walk away. I feel so close to all my characters – I worry about them, fear for them, get angry when they screw up (and especially when they have the audacity to blame me). Long after the novel is finished, I think about them, and yes, I mourn the ones I kill off.

Now there is nothing wrong with any of this. There are people who write for the art and people who write for the royalty check and that is just fine. Most of us are somewhere in between. If the quality of the book is enough for the reader to enjoy, to read effortlessly and then crave the author’s next book, then what’s wrong with that? If the genre is popular just the way it is, then this is what the reader wants. And if it sells and so do the rest of the author’s work, then that is a clear sign that what they do is right and recognized by the most important views – the readership.

But sometimes it is tough to accept. In seeking the highest standard of writing, I agonize over a scene, word choice, how a character develops. Sure I can write a first draft in four months, but it takes longer to edit, rewrite, consider feedback, and feel once the book is published, that I have done my absolute best.

I’m trying not to be critical, but the book churn must have its limitations. And, in the end, a book exists forever. If the market is swamped by mediocrity, how will the special books get noticed? Will a generation get turned off novels because they just aren’t as gripping as a video game, a You Tube clip, or an on-demand TV binge?

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And I can’t help but wonder: what does George R.R. Martin think about this?

EXCITING NEWS: Tourmaline Books are offering At The Walls of Galbrieth for FREE during the month of March though Smashwords (good for all ebook platforms). Feel free to gift it to a young person (or not so young) who might benefit from a story of hope and friendship. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

What If Humans Were Real?

What if elves were real? There are those in the south of England who believe that elves exist. I heard this when researching for A Gardener’s Tale.  When a twitter friend shared with me that he had heard of this in the north of England, it made me wonder…

Delyphin rubbed the points of his ears as he waited for Harwin who was always late. He checked his watch. They would have to walk fast to reach the bookstore before the famous author began his reading. 

“Sorry, I’m late,” Harwin said as he jogged up.

They set off, hands in pockets. There was no point in chastising Harwin – it simply didn’t help.

“I‘m looking forward to this,” Harwin said. “I loved ‘Lady of the Earings’. The way that professor describes these mythical humans, I really begin to feel they exist.” 

I nodded, too winded to comment. The professor was a strange chap, lecturing at an elite university on ancient elven languages. They say he even invented an entire human language – as if all humans would speak the same language. Still he was a master of the epic fantasy genre.

We enter the bookstore, which is full and grab the last two seats.

Harwin leans in. “I hear he is planning on sending the humans on a new quest, that their world is threatened by some strange energy – ‘oyl’ – that is expensive, polluting and they go to war over it because there isn’t much.”

“That’s a bit of a stretch,” I say. “His humans are too smart to do that. Besides, they have the sun, the wind, and the waves of the ocean just like us. Why would they use this oyl?”

Harwin smiled. “You look rather irate. You might start believing in these humans too.”

“Don’t be daft, Harwin. That’s the beauty of epic fantasy. You get so into the story that you begin to believe the characters might actually be real. Next thing, you’ll be swearing you saw someone with round ears.”

We both laugh. That would be a sight.  The room hushes. The professor is about to speak. He opens his new book…and the world of the humans becomes real as he reads…

I can almost see their round ears and their oyl.

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).