Your book: In readers’ hands or in your storage locker?
That’s up to you, not your publisher.
First, I’ve made my living as a writer and editor for decades. That means I’ve worked both sides of the desk and have published my own books with small, medium, and large publishers.
I still have a lot to learn but one fundamental lesson I can pass on is this: In the vast majority of cases, the author knows better than the publisher how to reach their readers.
It follows logically that, as Sally Stuart, author of a popular Christian Writers’ Guide, told me years ago, the marketing plan should begin well before you start the book.
If that sounds wrong, consider this: If you haven’t researched potential readers, how do you even know what sort of book you should write?
Some people, it is true, write for therapy or for a small circle of friends. But I’m going to assume that if you are reading this, you want to write for a public audience. So do I. So then we must begin by getting to know the people we hope will read our work.
I don’t, of course, mean we should merely write what sells or what people want to hear. Rather, we should find out: Who are they and what questions are they asking that our stories can help them explore?
That leads to questions like, Who is already writing in this area now? Is there something I can add to what they are saying? What makes my voice unique? Fortunately, these questions are comparatively easy to answer these days, as we can find out most of what we need to learn on the internet, if not the library.
If you have already started a book without doing market research, don’t worry—but do budget serious time for the research. You may end up adding to, subtracting from, or changing your book for the purpose of communicating more effectively.
When you find a publisher, your publisher will be glad to hear that you have thought out and developed a strategy for reaching readers, one that the publisher can work with. In my experience, that’s all the publisher can really do: Provide professional assistance to a well-thought-out strategy.
1. Should I develop a career as a speaker as well? If so, how will I do that?
2. How should I organize my personal space so as to take advantage of tax breaks for a home business? Fact: If you publish a book and receive money for it, so far as the government is concerned, you are running a business from your home. The good news is that you qualify for some tax advantages, which you should discuss with your accountant.
3. Where can I get inexpensive practical advice from pros? One of the nice things about the writing life is that good advice is often cheap, sometimes free—if we network with other writers. The Word Guild chapters across Canada provide many such resources.
For example, my own Word Guild chapter, the Ottawa Christian Writers’ Fellowship, is offering a Writing for Children Workshop, featuring “middle grades” Christian author Jenn Kelly, 1-4 p.m.,June 18, 2016, at Ecclesiax, 2 Monk Street, Ottawa. It includes plot points, how not to talk down, preaching without preaching, writing exercise, etc. And it’s only $15.00! (To register, contact Nicole Wegscheider: nicolejourney(at)gmail.com.)
Denyse O’Leary is an Ottawa-based writer and editor, and a founding member of The World Guild.