An Introduction to an 'Author Prospectus' - the Document That Could Change Your Writing Life
Followers of this blog in recent months may have detected a trend towards a new look at being successful as a writer.
This is a ‘new look’ precisely because it is at variance with the methodology used by 99% of writers in their efforts to achieve recognition and commercial viability. Those writers take this approach: they pluck ideas and words straight from their heads and write and write and write and then submit and submit and submit to every opening that presents itself in the hope that one day they will get a ‘break’, be recognised and ‘make it’. If they have plenty of stories or books written, they tend to adopt the same approach to marketing those stories or books: they simply bombard the internet with ads or mentions or links, again in the hope that by pouring out promotion in massive volume they will at some point reach sufficient readers and achieve viability.
Recognise that model? It’s the common, contemporary model of a writing career. And in 99% of cases, it doesn’t work. People only keep doing it because of the allure of that 1% of cases who get lucky.
The assertion here is that they ‘get lucky’ precisely because, underneath all the noise and wastage, they strike the principles outlined herein.
Hundreds of hours (and in some cases thousands of pounds or dollars) can be spent chasing the goal of literary and commercial ‘success’ in the way described above. We have been exploring how to do things differently, based on a study of what actually works, beneath all this rush and hype and activity. Readers can review earlier articles at their leisure: in summary, what this builds up to is an inward-looking strategy rather than an outward-looking one. Instead of writing and then bombarding, let’s examine and discover; instead of ‘pushing’, let’s ‘pull’, and see what happens.
What occurs when you look inward, and explore your own work, is that you develop a powerful, lasting and extensive foundation for yourself. Not only do you ‘come to life’ as a writer as you see connections, patterns and meaning in what you are producing, you also simultaneously form a picture of who amongst the general reading marketplace your particular and peculiar readers might be. Once you have these two things, these dual sides of the same coin, you can proceed with much more confidence: you know exactly what you want to say, what you’re good at saying, and to whom you want to say it.
Here, we’re going to explore how to go about this new approach in a systematic way. We’re going to look at something called an ‘Author Prospectus’. It’s a unique document, for your eyes only, which will empower you by bringing to the fore many of those things of which right now you are only semi-conscious, and elucidating them in such a fashion that you will feel invigorated and more hopeful as a writer.
You won’t find anything like this anywhere else. But it is the basis upon which many build successful careers, as they accidentally apply its principles.
‘Prospectus’ is a word from the mid 18th century which originally came from Latin, literally ‘view, prospect’, from the verb prospicere, from pro- ‘forward’ + specere ‘to look’. You may have heard the term used in relation to schools or businesses — a prospectus is something normally offered to potential clients or customers (or students) which serves to explain what the business or school is all about. It’s generally a sales tool in other words. But that’s not what it will be in this case, unless you consider that it will be used to ‘sell’ yourself and your work to yourself.
Because that’s what it effectively does. Once you have formulated this document, you will have a new understanding of what you, as a writer, are all about. And, if it’s done properly, you’ll be on fire to write and you’ll know exactly to whom your fiction will appeal, where those people are most likely to be, and how best to approach them as customers.
Readers and potential readers need never see this prospectus of yours. It’s really not what most of them are interested in. What they want is your fiction. Only a few will want to ‘look under the bonnet’, so to speak, or to examine the blueprints from which your fiction arose. Most will only want to see the sleek exterior, and to experience the rush and glory of the effects your stories will produce for them. So think of it as a ‘For Your Eyes Only' piece of work — apart from anything else, this may help you to be more honest with your assessments and thus result in a better document.
Of course, there are certain basics that we’ll need to work on. Your prospectus will need to continuously flow at a smooth pace. When you read it to yourself, you should be excited by your own writing, your structure and your style. As you read through the finalised work, you should put yourself in the shoes of your potential audience who will be considering investing in your fiction. Questions you’ll be asking as you go along include: Does your prospectus make sense? Is there an underlying message that compels a prospective reader to make an affirmative decision to invest in your books? Or, is your work taking the reader all over the place?
The above questions, if not adequately addressed, can sink your chances of reaching a viable readership. You’ll learn in the following articles how to frame the 'value propositions' of your fiction in a manner that is designed to grab readers’ attention from the outset. Crafting your prospectus with structure and style is the beginning of a stable, vibrant and profitable career as a writer.
We’re going to be looking at your greatest strengths, what emotional effects you love to create, how your style helps you to achieve maximum impact, who your readers really are, how to grow your scope and power as a writer, and how all of this feeds into a career plan as a writer.
Be prepared to do some work. This isn’t necessarily going to be an easy ride, in which I feed you all the answers. You are going to have to dig deep and make plenty of notes; you’re going to have to think and look and feel in ways that you might not expect. But at the end of the process, you should emerge fresh, enlightened, empowered and energised.