If the above diagram resembles the blueprint for a machine, that’s understandable — because that’s what it is.
It describes the progress of a particle from one end of a sequence to the other, much like an electrical diagram indicates the movement of electrons, or a car engine diagram shows the movement of fuel and energy. In this case, the electrons or fuel consist of fiction: they arise in the nuclear furnace of a writer’s ‘heart’ (imagination, unconscious, perception and so forth) and are forged into a form capable of travel by a writer’s mind. How successfully they make the rest of that journey largely depends on
a) the quality of their original forging and
b) their placement in venues accessible to the right audiences.
A great book can be accepted by a willing publisher, but still disappear from any recognisable charts because it wasn’t positioned correctly. That’s why it’s so crucial to know what a book is 'made of' so that it can be channeled correctly to its correct audience.
Given a correct placement and a high quality crafting, a book will be purchased, read, admired and forwarded to others with a minimum of effort on the part of the writer.
How can you assist the formation of this machine for your own work? There are a number of pieces of practical advice which might be given to any interested writers:
1. Concentrate on the craft
Pouring ream after ream of thoughts and feelings onto the page is only part of the writing process. Such raw material must be shaped carefully so that it attracts its correct audience. Over the years, I have waded through sufficient material of the first, raw kind to know how unappealing it is to anyone. I have also seen plenty of work which has benefited from a knowledgeable moulding into forms that appeal to its target readers.
At the end of the day, it is the craft of writing which will go the furthest in the quest to ensure financial success. And it is the craft of writing which is most under the writer’s control.
2. Submit work only to places that have some interest in works similar to it.
‘Shotgun submitting’ — the practice of sending a piece of work far and wide to any publisher listed anywhere is not only non-productive, it is counter-productive. You may well get yourself black-listed as a nuisance and lose any chance of a publisher representing you. At the very least you will waste time and energy which would have been better spent researching exactly where to send particular works.
Steve Carr's book Getting Your Short Stories Published: A Guidebook is a useful tome in this regard.
3. Research your audience(s).
J. K. Rowling’s work had a particular audience in mind before it was released; J. R. R. Tolkien’s work did not, but managed to appeal to a wide variety of readers on both sides of the Atlantic. Dickens built up a readership through publications of serials in magazines; Stephen King hit a reading ‘zeitgeist’ with his horror novels. Audience research is important either before or after a book is written: you can research an audience and write for that group, knowing what it is they want; or you can complete a book and then find out what kind of audience(s) would like it.
This is vital in terms of b) above. Knowing your audiences means being able to pinpoint the venues appropriate to them. If your work has been tailor-made for a particular group of readers and then appears where they are already gathered, you have the groundwork for success right there. Think in terms of channeling the right thing to the right place, like in an engine.
4. Set up channels for feedback.
A website is a useful tool for letting readers know where you are and what you do. But it also has another use: it gives the reader the opportunity to give you direct feedback. Comments, mini-reviews, testimonies and so forth help writers to tell what kind of effect they are creating quite apart from any financial figures — and are satisfying in another way entirely.
5. Give up doing things that don’t contribute to the above blueprint.
Spending massive amounts on ads or keywords with little return is like trying to bypass the machine above and ‘buy’ readers. Better to spend the effort on the above steps and enjoy tangible success than go on hoping that ‘one more ad’ will somehow connect things together for you.
More on all this soon.