Checklist to Publication

By Joe Moore

I started writing in one form or another over 30 years ago. It included book reviews, magazine articles covering professional audio and video and operational and tech manuals. As marketing director for an international manufacturer, I was required to generate corporate reports and business plans. Some have said that my first venture into fiction were my business plans.

In addition, I reviewed fiction for 3 newspapers in Florida. I constantly read action-adventure novels (Cussler, Clancy, Fleming) and fantasy (Peake, Tolkien, Brooks). The reason I eventually tried my hand at fiction was because I got tired of waiting for the next Clancy or Brooks novel to come out so I attempted to write stories that would fill in the gaps between their books. If you read any of my novels you’ll see elements of all these authors peek out from between the words.

One of my motivations in blogging at TKZ is to share what I’ve learned with other writers, especially those that are just starting out. I try to cover the stuff no one told me way back when. If I can reveal the answer to a point of confusion or suggest a tip to a writer that’s just starting out, maybe I can save him or her valuable time and even possible rejection.

So my writing 101 series continues today with a checklist to publication.checklist_cleaned

Your manuscript is finished. You’re ready to find an agent/publisher or to indie publish.

First, you need to define your audience. It’s important that you know what type of person or group will go out of their way to find and pay to read your book. What are the characteristics of your target reader such as their age, gender, education, ethnic, etc? Is there a common theme, topic or category that ties them together? And even more important, what is the size of your target audience?

For instance, if your book is a paranormal romance set in the future in which the main characters are all teenagers, is there a group that buys lots of your type of book? If not, you might need to adjust the content to appeal to a broader audience. Change the age of the characters or shift the story to present day or another time period. If your research proves that a large number of readers buy books that fall into that category, making the adjustment now could save you a great deal of frustration later.

Next, you need to define your competition. Who are you going up against? If your book falls into a specialized sub-genre dominated by a few other writers, you might have a hard time convincing a publisher that the world needs one more writer in that niche.

The opposite problem may occur if your genre is a really broad one such as cozy mysteries or romance. You’re going to have to put a unique, special spin on your book to break it out of the pack. Or accept the fact that the genre and your competition is a wide river of writers, and you only hope to jump in and go with the current. Either way, make the decision now, not later.

The next issue to consider is what makes your book different from all the others in your genre. Do your homework to determine what the characteristics are of books that your potential audience loves. This can be done online in the dozens of Internet writer and reader forums. And you can also do the research by discussing the question with librarians and books sellers. Once you know the answers, improve on what your target audience loves and avoid what they don’t. In the early stages of your writing career, don’t be shy in seeking advice. There’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Just keep in mind that you can’t time the market, meaning that what’s really hot right now might have cooled off by the time your book hits the shelves. The moment you sign a publishing contract, you’re still as much as 12-18 months behind what’s on the new release table right now. Indie publishing can help, but there’s a motto in the business that applies to publishing: First to market wins.

Another detail to consider in advance is deciding how you’ll market and promote your book. Sadly, this burden has fallen almost totally on the shoulders of the author and has virtually disappeared from the responsibilities of the publisher. Obviously with indie publishing, it’s all on the author’s shoulders. Start forming an action plan including setting up a presence on the Internet in the form of a website and/or blog, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. Also, is there a way to tie in your theme to a particular industry? How can you promote directly to your audience? For instance, if your romance novel revolves around a sleuth who solves crimes while on tour as a golf pro, would it be advantageous to have a book promotion booth at golf industry tradeshows? If your protagonist is a computer nerd, should you be doing signings at electronics shows? How about setting up a signing at a Best Buy or CompUSA? Follow the obvious tie-ins to find your target audience.

Writing is hard work. So is determining your target audience and then promoting and marketing to them. Like a manufacturing company, you are manufacturing a product. Doing your homework first will help avoid needless detours on the way to publication.

Any other “I wish I’d know that” advice?

15 thoughts on “Checklist to Publication

  1. Like a manufacturing company, you are manufacturing a product.

    A good analogy, Joe. Imagine you are in charge of R & D and have to sell your project first to the sales department, and then the CEO!

    I also like the analogy of a movie studio. Before you “green light” a project, you want to know what the possible market is. Is it wide, or a niche? Either is okay so long as the author knows the reality.

    Also like a studio have several projects in various stages of development.

    • Thanks, Jim. Comparing writing with manufacturing always helps to make the whole process clearer. Keep orders coming in and product in the pipeline. Never stop working on your backlog. The author must be the designer, general sales manager, assembly line worker, shipping and marketing manager. Other than that, writing a novel is easy.

  2. Wow! Your post was perfectly timed for me. Someone just asked me this morning who my target audience was for a particular short story they are reviewing for me. I have to admit that audience isn’t something I’ve always thought about. I’ve always read what I’d like to read which puts me at an audience of one. I guess if I never want to sell books, then an audience of one is ok. BUT, I do want to sell books.

    • Nichole, if you’re reading what you like to read, chances are there are others just like you. Saying that you’re the target audience is right on track. There are tons of sites online that will help determine a target audience. But the best place to start is with fellow readers, preferably a local critique group. If you’re not a member of one, try using Join a group, read your work to them and ask who they think is the target audience. If you’re a member of a writer’s organization like MWA or ITW, ask if there’s a mentor program. Not only will it help your writing, but your mentor can also assist you in finding your target audience. I’ll try and post a blog on this topic in the future if one of my blog mates doesn’t beat me to it. Hope this helps.

  3. In addition to an Internet presence, it’s important to begin accumulating names and email addresses for a mailing/newsletter list. All those ‘friends’ on Facebook belong to Facebook, and only by collecting emails can you own your list. (Just be sure you NEVER add someone to your list without their permission.)

    One thing I learned at SleuthFest was that a publisher only gives you what they think you’ll give them. In other words, those book signing tours and hundreds of review copies don’t happen if you’re a new author. If you’re thinking of setting up book signings, be aware you might have an audience of two, or most people stopping by your table want to know where the restrooms are. If you don’t have a strong base, it’s unlikely you’ll be selling boxes of books at these kinds of events.

    Then again, maybe I’m biased, since about 95% of my sales come from the digital versions. And, since that’s where my readers are, that’s where I focus my marketing.

  4. Thanks for the great advice, Joe. And for all the other posts in the Writing 101 series. I rarely have time to respond, but I read them.

    And thanks for your technical skills, here at TKZ, to keep this site running smoothly.

  5. At SleuthFest, I moderated a panel on which Neil Nyren, the vice prez of Penguin-Putman (can’t get much higher than that) was asked what was the one thing he would advise new writers to do, marketing-wise. He said:

    Invest in a website that is clean and easy to navigate that has all the basic info readers and others need.

    I say amen. When you book final appears and you start to do appearances at stores or libraries or such, the folks arranging these events need to be able to, with a couple quick clicks, download your brief bio, your pic, and a pic of your cover for publicity purposes. Make sure the last two are GOOD HI-REZ jpegs.

    No one is going to chase you down for these things.

    And invest in biz cards with a small pic of your cover, your website, etc. It’s cheap and goes a long way. (Vistaprint…500 for $8.50!) I just handled out four cards at my bagel store this morning when someone asked where they could get my book.

  6. Nicely done, Joe. Your checklist today is infallible.

    Also, wanted to mention, we have nearly identical backgrounds and timeframes… 30 years ago I was writing corporate marketing and training on the agency side, and got into fiction reviewing and then writing my own stuff (novels, then screenplays, then novels again) for the same general reasons. I mean, how many HP printer videos and brochures can we write before the thirst for something a little more dramatic and rewarding drives us to one of two places: insanity, or writing fiction.

    Maybe the same thing, some could argue. But at least there’s no on-off switch involved, and there isn’t a smug 26-year old MBA from the client side shaking her head because “the branding isn’t quite right.” Now THAT is the stuff of insanity.

    • We must be brothers from different mothers. 🙂 Sounds like we both took the same path. And I can relate to the 26-year-old MBA. Dealt with many of them. Now we’re both doing what we love.

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