Two models: one to do with owning property and selling it; the other to do with sharing viewpoints.
The quest to ‘make it’ as a writer means that we inhabit both: as writers, we strive to create worlds which appeal to readers because large parts of them are already shared — we use images, ideas, language which the reader recognises and understands, and add value to them by giving them the freshness of our own point of view and other insights — but then we claim ownership to the degree that we expect the reader to have to ‘buy’ these things from us.
In a world in which we were all floating telepaths, unencumbered by the need to enclose our work in any kind of physical ‘copy’, we would not need to seek the exchange of money for what we do: we could simply create to our heart’s content and share what we had made with others. Our concern would not be with getting anything back from them — except acknowledgement and admiration. We would still consider that we had failed if, on sending our work out into the void, it garnered no response, or very little response, or a negative response. But our own survival would not depend on such feedback.
In a sense, this is exactly what we do as writers, but with the added burdens of having to transcribe our work into some form of hard copy and then having to cajole readers into parting with some cash before they get a chance to read it. It’s like a kind of ‘trick telepathy’: ‘Here’s some of the creative work I’ve done, but you have to pay for it before you can see it,’ we say to our potential audiences. The emphasis becomes how we present our work outwardly, and to whom.
Since we don’t live as floating telepaths, and have bills pay in an altogether less forgiving universe, we had better quickly learn the art of presentation.
If you had painted a picture and had to keep it in a locked room and charge entry, how would you successfully go about that? Firstly, you would have to narrow your expectations. You could not expect all passers-by to be interested in your locked room; you could not expect even the interested ones to simply pay the fee without knowing any more. So what would you do?
The second thing you would do, if you wanted to succeed in attracting business, would be to thoroughly understand the appeal of your painting to a particular set of potential viewers. What would it be about your painting that would draw admiration from anyone? Distill those elements down to some core themes or images or symbols.
Then take that distillation and mock up cards or leaflets or posters which tried to cater what your painting was all about. But don’t make the mistake of bulk mailing these to everyone — carefully select those whom you feel might already be ‘warm’ to your kind of painting, and approach them. Develop a ‘patter’ or conversational tools so that you can easily discuss what your painting is about in a casual but fascinating way. And set to work attracting people to your locked room.
What you’re trying to do is share your work, per the second of the two models above, with the added requirement of having to charge for that sharing. The more you can share its ideas, themes, symbols, in the form of a presentation about your painting, the more you will enjoy what you’re doing and the more effective the sharing of the actual painting will be.
Obviously, as a writer, the painting is your book. The locked room represents the notion that you ‘own’ your book and have to somehow get people to part with some cash to access it. It’s a kind of confidence trick, when you realise that there is really no such thing as an original idea. It’s like saying ‘I’ve taken some things which are freely available, which are just as much yours as they are mine, and given them a shape and now I want you to pay to come and see them.’
What you’re really ‘selling’ is not the ideas, images, etc — they were never yours to sell. What you’re selling is the way you have presented them.
Another analogy: two children, playing in a field full of daisies. One makes a daisy chain and says to the other ‘I’ve made a daisy chain — pay me a penny and I’ll let you see it.’ The other child, if she is sensible, will realise that she could have made a daisy chain herself, and that therefore she has no need to pay. The only way that the first child could counter that, and persuade her friend to part with her penny, is to claim that the way in which she has put together her daisy chain is worth paying a penny for. She’d have to work out exactly what it was about her daisy chain which was unique, which was insightful or beautiful or different to the freely available daisies in the field. Why should her friend part with a penny unless she could be persuaded that what she was going to see was a) something familiarly ‘daisy-like’ but b) something very different to the daisies all around them?
That’s the challenge of selling fiction. (It’s actually the challenge of selling anything: how to present the familiar as different and worthwhile.)
Take your book right now and try the following steps:
1. Realise that it’s not ‘your’ book. If the content of your work is so uniquely yours that no one else will recognise it, then it will probably fail anyway. Most of what you have written is, or should be, universal in nature. Spot the daisies.
2. Work out what it is about our book that would attract attention, that's different. How have you made the familiar new? Distill this down into a set of core themes, images, words. Develop a patter so that you can communicate these things quickly but in a fascinating way.
3. Carefully select those whom you feel may already be ‘warm’ to what you have to offer.
4. Approach them and use your core themes, etc, and your ‘patter’ to appeal to their curiosity. Sell your daisy chain.
Let me know how you get on.