OK, so we have a rough sketch of your ideal readers, and a fairly good idea of what you want to write about and why you want to write it. Over the last few articles we’ve also been working on priming up your imagination so that you are more in control what it comes up with and what you select from it.
It’s time to start putting this all together.
Your Author Prospectus is a document which will explain your solution to your specific problem. Your problem in general terms is that you write and write and write and don’t seem to connect with enough readers to generate a viable career; your solution is to find the core of your writing (something unique and valuable that only your work contains) and, in the same stroke, find the readers most likely to avidly want to read about that.
Until you establish that core and your likely readership, you will most likely fly about, look busy writing story after story or just sit there staring at a blank page or screen. However busy you might be, you will not be generating a viable career from writing fiction. You will complain about ‘not being good enough’, ‘not knowing enough about the craft of storytelling’, ‘the difficulties of marketing’, 'the unfairness of modern publishing', on and on — but these complaints are ultimately excuses to yourself in the absence of truly understanding your own work and your own potential readership.
Here’s the tough point: you have to be brought to understand that until you reach a viable readership you are not doing your job as a writer no matter how many stories you write or submission calls you answer or how many reasons you have for the lack of success. You probably have not noticed and do not realise that you are ‘faking it’ or 'going on hoping'. You are perhaps imagining that getting stories flooding out into the marketplace is creating a career for yourself ‘at some point’. But you are not confronting the fact that no money — or not enough money — is coming back to you from all this effort.
If you really are doing your job and getting out products — which means work of such a volume and kind that it generates an income for you — you probably don’t need an Author Prospectus and need proceed no further. But only real viability will do. A busy writer is not necessarily a productive writer in viability terms. So if you are not generating a reasonable level of income for yourself from your writing for whatever reason, you don’t yet really exist as a professional writer. You don't have an operational writing career if you don't have viable, purchased stories being written and income coming in from them. Only these reveal the hard truth.
You can tell yourself all kinds of wonderful things, and that’s fine — it’s your career, your life. But as soon as you superimpose a need for viability onto what you are doing, the truth leaps out at you. Where is the money?
It’s hard to persist asking this question of yourself. It can make you feel uncomfortable and introverted. You may well go through a period of self-doubt and want to give up the game of writing altogether. But if you do manage to persist, you will bring yourself up to confronting the interesting fact that you don’t actually know exactly what you are doing, or exactly for whom you are doing it.
A silly parallel might be finding a young chef in a pizza restaurant. He keeps throwing together ingredients at random and shoving things in the oven, but what emerges is barely classifiable as food. He can pretend he likes it and even try to get others to eat it — but no one will be paying him in the meantime. Only when he keeps looking for the answer to the question ‘Where is the money?’ will he begin to be aware that he does not yet know how to cook adequately, nor exactly for whom he is cooking.
Once the chef realises that, he will snap out of his trance and start making pizzas that are edible and even exciting to eat. He will pay attention to customers coming into the restaurant and learn from their feedback. Suddenly, he will be observing his working environment and making the best use of it that he can.
Same for writers. They can shove ingredients together blindly, be prompted by subconscious stirrings, throw together short stories of various genres and even novels, but their work won’t find a readership of any viable size until they learn how to ‘cook’ — until they learn what it is that they are doing and for whom they are doing it.
Some writers go into shock at this stage. They will try to follow through, but will produce little of value. Most likely they will give up. But if they don’t go into shock, there are other things to do to help their careers along.
We’ll look at those next.