Genene's fun post yesterday about learning to write got me thinking about what it is we all write about. I'm not talking genres, specifically, but more knowing where the genre and story and characters you write fit into today's market.
For most of us, publication is what drives us to write. I think most writers (and I say most because there are exceptions, even in our chapter) long to see their name on the spine of a book. To stand in Borders or Barnes & Noble or your local bookstore and think, look at that. That's me. I did that. When I was at Nationals, one of the questions I heard over and over again posed to published authors at workshops or on panels was, "What do you think was the element that pushed you from unpublished to published?"
If you're a published author, can you answer that definitively? Most of the published authors I saw asked that in public couldn't. They mentioned timing, of having the right story at the right time, of hitting the right editor who was looking for something specific, but for most, the why of how they sold is still a mystery.
Not very encouraging, especially for those of us who are still waiting for that first sale. But I think there are some things you can do to make your chances better.
The first thing you need to do is read within your genre. Okay, Alice will disagree, but she's been published so long and has a proven track record, so she can write anything and we all love it. ;) For newbies, it's important to know what's being published in your genre, and specifically, what new authors are being published and what they're writing. Of course, there's lag time, and what's being published now might not necessarily be what's being bought, but you can look at recently published books and get not only a feeling for the state of the market of your genre, but what readers are looking for as a whole.
For example, when I sat down to work on my last book (the one I got my agent with, the one that finaled in the GH), I thought long and hard about what I'd written before, what I'd read recently, and what I wanted to write. And one thing stood out to me. Though I was writing romantic suspense, the romance was overshadowing the suspense and my "thrills" were taking a backseat to the emotions. My solution was to try my hand at writing what I call a chase book. To add an element of time, to up the stakes and give the romance more immediacy, to put my characters in more imperative danger. I looked at what was being published in my genre and what I could do differently. Those are the kind of books I was reading. Why wasn't I writing them? The result was a book which garnered more attention from agents and editors than any other book I'd written. Has it sold yet? No, but I'm still hopeful. In the meantime, I'm working on the next book, which, yes, you guessed it, is another fast paced chase-like book.
The second thing most writers need to look at is what type of book they're really writing. Are you writing category or are you writing single title? Trust me, it makes a difference. During the Golden Network retreat, Terry Mclaughlin (from our chapter) told the group she thought she was writing single title when she first started. She kept subbing to the big houses and getting rejected. She didn't realize what she was actually writing was a Superromance - one of Harlequin's longest category lines - until an editor finally told her why her book wasn't right for the single title market.
This was me. I thought the first three books I wrote were single title. That's all I'd read. I'd never even picked up a category book until I joined RWA, and by that time I was well into my second and third books. And my books were loooong. (I used to be veeerry long-winded.) Well over 100K words. But what I didn't realize was word count doesn't determine category or single title, and that the first few books I wrote had elements that would forever make them category - amnesia, secret baby, big, big BIG misunderstandings. It wasn't until I stepped back to study the market before writing books four and five, that I realized what I was writing was never going to sell in single title.
Finally, though we've all heard "experts" say don't chase the market and instead write what you love, I think a writer (or at least a writer with the goal of publication) has to keep one eye on the market and know whether what they're writing (and want to write) has a chance of selling. Maybe what you love to write isn't selling right now. It doesn't mean you have to shelve your book forever. Perhaps writing a proposal and sticking it away for the time being is a smart idea. As the market shifts back (which we all know it will do at some point), you'll be ready to go. But if you continue to write in a genre you know isn't selling, then get frustrated over and over because no one's buying you, you only have yourself to blame.
There are more - many more - things a writer should look at to make their chances of publication better. I'd love to hear what those are from the rest of you. What do you think a writer can do to position their work better in this ever-changing market?