Thursday, March 06, 2008

Write A Good Story

It drives me a little crazy whenever I hear authors state that their job is to write the best book possible, and that's all they have to do.

The "that's all they have to do" part is what drives me crazy. In this competitive marketplace, the more the author can do to promote the book, the more books they will sell. Period. You can argue with that, but you'd be an idiot to try.

But the "write the best book possible" is something I agree with 100%.

Of course, the concept of "good" is a subjective one. One person might like something, the other may hate it. The author has little control over that. But the author does have the power to understand the genre they're writing in, and the ability to deliver on reader expectations according to some standardized storytelling mechanics.

If you write recognizable, conventional prose in a popular genre, your chances of getting published increase dramatically. I'd go so far as to say that the reason there are so many writers getting rejected isn't because they suck. It's because their work isn't focused enough to appeal to key demographics that publishers actively sell to.

Know your market, and you have a much better shot at selling your book.

This just happened yesterday to a close friend of mine. I'll name him if he allows it, but we'll call him HP.

HP labored in obscurity for years, writing a lot of unpublished stuff.

Then he wrote a damn good thriller, and landed an agent and now a great publisher. He called his shots, and hit what he called.

Congrats HP, we always knew you had it in you.

But HP's success story isn't one based on fairy tales and lottery wins. Was luck involved? Hell yeah. But craft, study, and deliberation paid a huge part.

HP immersed himself in the thriller genre. He attended the conventions. He met and befriended authors. He read extensively. He wrote hundreds of thousands of words of mediocre prose to hone his craft. He learned about the industry, and how it worked.

Then he wrote a thriller using everything he learned. He wrote. And rewrote. And edited. And rewrote. And rewrote. And edited. And rewrote. Until he had something that his peers generally agreed was publishable ("good" being subjective, but I certainly thought it was good.)

In short, he demystified the publishing process, and found his place within it.

But it doesn't end there for HP. Getting a publisher is just the beginning. His "good story" will hopefully be embraced by the unwashed masses, and they'll like it so much that they talk about it and buy copies for each other.

Agents, editors, and publishers believe they know what will sell. But they still fail all the time. Ultimately, the public determines what will sell, by buying it.

Writing a good story plays a part in that.

Sure, there's coop money, and ad campaigns, and discounting, and lots of ways for a publisher to push a book. But the book still has to be worthy of the push.

Make sure your book is worthy.

All too often, writers dwell on telling the story they want to tell.

Maybe writers should take a step back and ask themselves:

What is this story trying to do?
Who is this story for?
Will this story satisfy the intended reader?

Because a "good" book is ultimately the one that fulfills reader requirements. That reader could be an agent, an editor, or a single mother in Scranton, PA. They all have criteria.

Learn what those criteria are.

Promotion is about getting people to try you.

But once they try you, telling a good story is what makes that person a fan.