As a publisher, we are in a somewhat privileged position to see a global view of the topic(s) lots of people are currently writing about. Topics come and go in seasons and it is often easy to spot a ‘wave’ of interest for a particular subject area – which in turn leads to important questions about how to position a book in the marketplace.
One thing that many authors forget is that, for the publisher, publishing a book is a commercial marketing exercise. They may love what you have written and want to publish it – but it’s got to work for them economically, and often that means moulding it into a more marketable shape.
A friend of mine always used to ask themselves 3 deceptively simple questions when evaluating a book proposal:
1) what’s it about?
2) who is it written for? And,
3) what will they get out of it?
Writing a book is a great thing to do and gives people a glow of satisfaction, having committed their thoughts to the record. Authors should rightly feel a great sense of achievement about this worthwhile endeavour. However, some writers are overtaken by the thought, “I’m writing a book!” and so get carried away and try to cram too much into their work, thereby clouding its focus.
Publishers are always receiving what are known as “unsolicited manuscripts”. i.e. people randomly submit their work to a publisher in the hope that it might catch their attention. In reality, very few unsolicited manuscripts end up being published.
There could be a host of reasons why, but one very common reason is that the author has not researched the publisher’s particular market niche – and therefore their manuscript was never going to be suitable.
The easiest books to market are those with a very clear purpose or message that can easily be described. We would regularly ask authors to sum up the message of their book in no more than 50 words. It’s a good exercise to do because it forces you to focus on you core message and crystallise it. If you struggle to describe the central theme of your book in max. 50 words then it probably means you are trying to address too many issues.
The fact is, there is no shortage of talent out there. There are plenty of great, gifted writers, writing some great stuff. But we’ll say this now (and probably repeat ourselves later), publishing is a commercial business and often authors forget this. We wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from simply writing whatever they wanted as a creative exercise. But if you are serious about getting published, then you need to think like a publisher.
In this series of posts we aim to pass on as much useful information as we can to those wanting to get published. We’ve gained many insights over 18 years in publishing, during which time we’ve commissioned and published hundreds of books – and, sadly, had to turn down a few hundred more!
River Publishing & Media Ltd