I recently did another survey which revealed interesting data about writers and what they are running into all over the world. Some of this will be of great interest to you. Some of what I have to say about it you may find hard to swallow.
The question was ‘Let’s assume you have just finished writing something — novel, collection, short story, etc. What is the biggest challenge facing you at that point?’
Of the many answers that poured in, the largest category was about one third of the total, which suggested that the main issue that writers have once they completed a work was with its editing and revision.
The second largest category was ‘marketing and sales’.
After that, answers fell rapidly away into issues such as ‘finding beta readers’ or ‘trouble with Facebook ads’ and that kind of thing, just one or two answers per category.
I’m not sure if you see the correlation between these things in the same way that I do. So let me restate it:
The biggest problem writers are having once they complete a work is with editing and revising it; the next biggest problem is with marketing and selling it.
Do you see what I see?
If a book poses difficulties with its marketing and selling, might that not be something to do with its ability to communicate its essence to readers quickly and effectively?
If a story presents difficulties with its editing, might that not be something to do with its ability to communicate its essence to readers quickly and effectively?
I suggest — not as a spectator, but as an experienced professional editor and publisher — that there might be a connection between the way a book sells and its ability to transmit a powerful message directly to readers.
Yes, before everyone starts screaming at me, of course a book has to be physically accessible in some way to a group of people who will read it — it has to have a blurb, a cover, a platform from which it can be delivered, and a potential audience. There are certain mechanical factors involved, just as there are in the pizza delivery business or any other commercial transaction involving products or services.
But we are talking about the thing while it is still in the hands of its creator.
‘Editing’ — ‘to prepare material for publication by correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying it’ — is, or should be, a matter of refining said material so that its essence, its core, its central message, communicates as potently and as swiftly as possible to a reader.
‘Selling’ — ‘to persuade someone of the merits of something so that they hand over money in exchange for it’ — is, or should be, a matter of presenting said material so that its essence, its core, its central message, communicates as potently and as swiftly as possible to a reader.
A work that has been edited correctly so that it communicates its heart effectively is a work that will be far easier to persuade people to buy — provided that certain mechanical factors are in place so as to make it physically accessible to those people.
Now I’m going to assert something that will probably bring down fury upon me.
If a writer is having undue difficulty editing something, it might — just feasibly — be something to do with that writer not really grasping what his or her story is truly all about. Because once the light of that central truth shines upon any story — and any worthwhile story has such a light — what needs to be done becomes fairly self-evident.
Similarly, if a writer is having undue difficulty selling something, it might — just feasibly — be something to do with that writer not really grasping what his or her story is truly all about. That same central truth also reveals any shortcomings in its marketing.
Difficulties involving editing and marketing stem from the same failure to isolate and strengthen the central ideas at the core of any worthwhile piece of fiction. We can see this by looking at the movie world as an example. A team of people, under the guidance of a director, make a film. The essence of that film is then condensed into a trailer, which is designed to convey it swiftly to a potential audience. That same essence is translated into a poster and a tagline.
Examples of taglines:
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Tagline: Her life was in their hands. Now her toe is in the mail.
Tagline: In space, no one can hear you scream.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Tagline: One man's struggle to take it easy.
The Fly (1986)
Tagline: Be Afraid. Be very afraid.
Tagline: Who ya gonna call?
Chicken Run (2000)
Tagline: Escape, or die frying.
Tagline: You'll never go in the water again.
Each tagline attempts to convey the heart of the film in a few words. For a book, this is the function of the blurb. The film poster is the equivalent of the book’s cover. In both cases, the central message of the work of fiction has been distilled into a reduced number of words and images.
Flip that around, take that distilled essence, and use it as a spotlight on every page of the book and the work of editing becomes both easier and more joyful.
It’s the same thing: understand what you are trying to say and you will at once be able to say it more easily and powerfully to the right people.
Remain vague and wishy-washy about your understanding and your work will stay relatively incoherent and difficult to grasp, while your attempts to market it will be full of failure.
There’s more to this, but I will stand back and await the avalanche of ‘reasons why this is not so’ before I proceed further.