As writers, our Muse often pulls us toward the idea that offers the best creative challenge. But before dedicating months of our time to this creative endeavour, we should step into the publisher’s shoes and consider it from another angle.
At the panel, a publisher said, “when we consider a book, we’re looking at it in an entirely different way from a writer. Even if we love the book, we have to convince our sales team and executives and accountants that it’s worth the investment.”
So what? Who even cares what accountants think about your book?
That is, if you want it to have the best chance at commercial success.
Even if you intend to self-publish, you should take that accountant into consideration. Because that accountant will help you get lots and lots of money in your wallet (theoretically – nothing is guaranteed in this business).
Pretend you are your publisher. (If you’re self-publishing, you don’t have to pretend). Sit down with yourself (you can even dress up if you want to, or pour yourself a drink) and throw down your ideas like a wicked rap battle. If you like to take notes, you may want to draw up a piece of paper with different ideas in boxes, and pro/con lists next to them.
(I come from the Rory Gilmore school of decisions by list-making.)
Pitch your ideas as a writer. Note down what excites you creatively about them.
Now, put on your publishing hat. You are no longer a writer at the mercy of a fickle muse. You are a hard-nosed business person who has an accountant to placate.
Look at each idea. Consider it from a commercial standpoint:
1. Ask how this idea fits in with your currently established audience? If your pen name writes urban fantasy, will your contemporary women’s fiction really be the best fit?
2. Are you the right author or publisher for this book? Do you have the skills or expertise needed to do the idea justice?
3. Think about the potential marketing plan for this book. Can you see where it fits on Amazon or on the shelf in a bookshop – if you can slot it into a category, it’ll be easier for readers to find and devour.
4. Look for similar books and try to gauge how well they’ve performed. Is there a market for this type of work? Does that market need more?
5. Are other publishers (not you) acquiring these types of books? Have a look at their websites and the #MSWL hashtag to see what people are looking for.
6. Can you foresee how the project will be marketed? Will there be a series or spinoffs? Is it a good candidate for crowdfunding?
7. Are there current trends, news pieces, or cultural discourse that fit the themes of one of your projects?
How does the idea fit with my current audience?
If your pen name writes urban fantasy, will your contemporary women’s fiction really be the best fit?
Am I the right author/publisher for this idea?
Do you have the skills, expertise, or platform needed to do the idea justice?
What's my marketing plan?
Can you see where it fits on Amazon or on the shelf in a bookshop – if you can slot it into a category, it’ll be easier for readers to find and devour.
How have similar books performed?
Is there a market for this type of work? Does that market need more books or is it saturated? Will the book sell enough copies to make back your investment?
Are other publishers acquiring these types of projects?
Have a look at their websites and the #MSWL hashtag to see what people are looking for. This tells you that there might be a rising trend in traditional publishing you can take advantage of.
Can I see long-term potential?
Will there be a series or spinoffs? What about companion books – a workbook or dictionary for a non-fiction book, etc. Is it a good candidate for crowdfunding?
Does my project speak to a zeitgeist?
Are there current trends, news pieces, or cultural discourse that fit the themes of one of your projects?
Of course, these commercial concerns aren’t the only considerations when choosing a new writing project. You should also weigh up your own creative mind to figure out if you’re more drawn to one particular idea. You might consider:
In an ideal world, your project will be the perfect intersection between what you’re excited about writing and what's exciting readers in your genre. This is the perfect formula for a fulfilling career with money to pay the bills.