Saturday, August 18, 2012

Thinking Like a Publisher: Hot Button Topics

Self-publishing authors need to think like traditional publishers. 


A couple of years ago I met a writer at the ACFW conference who had just finished a novel set in the time of the American Civil War.  We talked about the book, and it sounded interesting enough that I asked if I could read the manuscript.  He graciously consented and gave me a copy. 

The story idea was intriguing, about two soldiers, strangers on opposite sides of the war, meeting just before one of them dies at the hands of the other.  In his last moments, the dying man asks his killer to deliver a Bible to his loved ones back home. 

The story sounded like a winner, but I could tell from even the little I knew about fiction writing at that time that the manuscript would need some major revisions. I sent it back to my friend with suggestions about how he should change it and wished him well, but, in my great wisdom, I didn't think he'd succeed in his search for a publisher.

Within a few weeks he sent me word that the Zondervan editor he'd met at the conference had loved the manuscript and had offered him a contract.  Two years later, in 2011, An Eye for Glory came out and sold well.

The manuscript did need major revision.  I'm sure both Karl and his editor worked hard to make it publishable.  So why was the traditional publisher so keen to go with the book?

Because the Zondervan editor was alert to hot topics.


In January, 1861, the south seceded from the Union and the American Civil War began. January 2011 was the 150th anniversary of that historical event.  Small towns all over the southern U.S. would be putting on pageants to celebrate the battles; museums would be setting up special book displays on the topic; and tourists would be streaming into the area all year.

Sue Brower, the savvy Zondervan editor who loved my friend's book, was looking ahead.  She knew, back in 2009, that by 2011, when the book would be published, they'd have a specific target audience big enough to make publication profitable.

Traditional publishers think into the future.  They have to, because publishing takes time.  At least two years if it's done right.  This is true for both traditional and self-publishing.  Though the actual publishing process can happen in days if you do it yourself, the editing, manuscript preparation, and marketing plans--all essential elements of a marketable product--take time. 

Zondervan's timing was perfect.  So was the editor's visionary eye.


Such perfection doesn't always happen.  It's hard to predict trends and future events accurately.  But looking ahead is useful if you're wanting to produce a book that will appeal to enough readers to make your efforts worthwhile.  And gearing both your story and your marketing strategy toward that predicted trend or event can pay good dividends.  

Sometimes the marriage of story and hot topic happens without planning.  When I started writing Zinovy's Journey over 35 years ago, I had no idea what environment the book would be birthed into.  I wasn't even thinking ahead to publication.  I just knew I had to write this story about life on earth after the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it. 

The book was published in October of 2011, sliding neatly into the hot button atmosphere of end-of-the-world, doom-and-gloom predictions.  Two years ago, there were over 6,000,000 page hits a month on the official December 21, 2012 website.  I'm sure there are more today.  I'm preparing a strategic marketing blitz on that target audience between now and December 21st. 


If you're planning to publish a book it makes sense to spend some time researching genre and reader market trends.  If you've got a manuscript ready to publish, even a few editorial tweaks could steer the story into more marketable directions.  

Google makes it easy to do this research, as usual.  In just a few minutes I found the following two websites.  There must be many more.  If you find some let me know.  I'll re-post any good sites you comment on.


We writers have to tell the story that's in us.  But if we want the story to resonate with readers, we need to spend a bit of time hot on their trail.  Hot button topics will help us find pathways that will benefit both ourselves and our readers. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Repenting and Reforming!

DUST AND ASHES~~I'm returning to the world of blogging here after a long hiatus, determined to become more disciplined and regular about posting.  I don't know if you care that much, but I feel obligated to those of you who have expressed an interest in reading my posts, and I'm sorry I haven't given you much benefit so far.
Is it wrong not to blog? Seems like it shouldn't be. Blogging is a voluntary act, after all. So why do I feel guilty for starting a blog and not doing something with it?  ;-(  Is this a usual problem with writers who feel the urge to write but don't have enough discipline to follow through? I'm not sure where the guilt comes from.  

In any case, I thank you for your grace.  I repent in dust and ashes.  And I'll try to follow up on my resolve to put some words down, on a regular basis, that will be of interest to you.

MY AUDIENCE~~I'll be posting in this writing blog about both Zinovy's Journey, the novel I've self-published, and the process of writing and self-publishing, so the blog is intended to be of interest to both readers of the novel and writers. I hope each of you benefit in some way from my random thoughts. 

If you've read the novel and are interested in hearing more about the story, the characters, or the ideas expressed in the book, you'll find that kind of information here in the weeks to come.  

If you're a writer with an interest in the growing, and rapidly changing, phenomenon of self-publishing, you'll also find posts about the writing/publishing process. 

I elected to self-publish on my own, without help from self-publishing presses, so my experiences will be of special interest to writers who are considering going in that direction.  Going the total self-pub route has its drawbacks, for sure.  But since my book came out last October I have had no regrets about doing it this way. I'll try to give you an insider's view of the process.  

YOUR COMMENTS~~Whether you're a Zinovy reader or a writer, I would love it if you would comment on posts that interest you, giving thoughts on your own reading/writing experiences, or asking questions about specific things you'd like to hear about mine.

One of the first rules of blogging is to keep posts short, so this one will end here.  If you're reading this blog for the first time and would like to read more, please sign up on Feedblitz to be notified each time I post.  I promise your mailbox will not spill over with notices that I've said something new!  But I also promise I will try to make the sign-up worth your while.

And please don't forget to comment!