Updated: Feb 19
We’re going to dive straight into putting together a prospectus, the primary aim of which is to sell yourself to yourself.
In other words, by doing this exercise in full, you should arrive at a far better understanding of what it is you are trying to do as a writer, how you in particular (as opposed to anyone else) do it, and what that all means for achieving viability as a writer in the shortest possible time.
We’re going to start by asking some tricky questions, the first of which is:
Who are your readers?
Don’t worry, your first answer to this may be ‘I haven’t the faintest idea!’ or simply ‘Just readers’. That’s perfectly fine — as long as you realise that the lack of an answer to this question is a major obstacle to achieving your goals. We will definitely come back to this later, but for now, the following sub-questions might help you to break down a workable answer for the moment:
•what kinds of genres do you prefer to write in?
•are your protagonists of a certain age, gender, disposition, race or career?
•what are the outcomes of your best stories?
•where do you set your best stories?
•when do you set your best stories?
•what would you say (and there’s much more on this later, don’t worry) your best stories are about in terms of theme?
•what do you hope readers are learning from your best stories?
•what do you hope readers are experiencing from your best stories?
Note that I’m saying ‘best stories’ — that’s on purpose. All writers will have some work which is ‘better’ than other work, in their own opinion. As we want to boost your career and maybe even your writing beyond your current condition, we’re going to base all of this on your best work.
In answering the sub-questions above, did you see any patterns emerge?
Does it look like your best readers might be young people? Old people? Male? Female? Are your stories mainly historical? Fantasy? Literary? What are they mainly ‘about’?
All you need at the moment is a vague idea in response to all the above.
From that vague idea, make a rough guess as to who would be most interested in reading your work. Old people? Teenagers? Children? Men? Women? Try to pin this down according to:
and any other denominator that seems to emerge
What you’re after is a rough approximation of your ‘perfect' reader. Of course, there will be exceptions. You might write Young Adult fantasy with a leaning towards London-based gothic horror, leading you to suspect that your audience will be British teenagers seeking an escape from contemporary society, but there’s nothing to stop an old lady in Hull from picking up your latest work on Amazon and devouring it passionately. Exceptions make the world go round — but for the purposes of this exercise, we want an amorphous generality. Who is most likely to read and enjoy what you write?
You may be asking why this question is number one, and what does that have to do with compiling a prospectus. The answer is: everything. You are writing fiction for a specific audience or set of audiences. Whether you are consciously aware of the fact or not, this audience is probably haunting your mind when you write. If your fiction relates to contemporary France, you do not want to write stories from the standpoint of prehistoric Russia. Your target readers are interested in France and today’s society — mammoths wandering around the steppes won’t cut it with them.
‘But what if I write more than one kind of fiction?’ asks the multi-talented author at the back. Good question. Many of you reading this will be thinking that thought; many of you write a variety of kinds of fiction, from detective stories to fantasy, from space fiction to literary drama. The answer is to do this exercise for each subset of your fiction.
For example, run through the sub-questions above for your detective stories. You’ll find a quite different grouping of readers than might be interested in your space fiction. Of course there may well be an overlap — readers are not confined to one set or another, their tastes are wide and also vary. But the exercise will probably prove enlightening. And in fact, if you are one of these multi-genre authors, you might be on the brink of major enlightenment, because as you track through each of the sub-sets of your work, you may see common denominators emerging — maybe you have the same type of protagonists, settings, periods, or perhaps similar themes? The more you look, the more you will see patterns.
Yes it involves quite a bit of thinking and work to do all this. But it will be worth it. As I say, we’ll come back to it soon. It’s a starting point in revolutionising your career.
We’ll look at the second question next time. It’s a doozy, and it needs its own space.