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January 10, 2014

Valerie Douglas: Top Questions Asked in Writing Groups Answered

What should I write?

That’s one of the most common questions that pops up on my author group. What they really want to know is what kind of book will be popular, what kind will make the best seller lists. As with so much else, there’s no one right answer.

When I was a child I remember when the first Stephen King novel came out. Horror had been declared a dead art. Then there was Carrie, and Salem’s Lot. Suddenly everyone and their brother was writing horror. Those were the days of traditional publishing. The gatekeepers – agents and editors - wanted more horror. It was a ‘sure thing’. Except, of course, there are no sure things. Instead there was a glut of horror, and enormous pressure on authors like King. More recently Amanda Hocking came out with her books, and gave birth to the Young Adult genre. The Twilight series took that to a new level. 50 Shades of Grey introduced Mommy porn, but it started as Twilight fan-fiction. Now there’s Hugh Howey, he introduced post-apocalyptic science fiction/fantasy.

So, back to the question. What should you write? Write what you love. Write because you have to. If you’re shooting for the bestseller lists, you’re writing for the wrong reason, and you’re doomed to failure. Write what you read. If you like post-apocalyptic science fiction/fantasy, then go for it, and follow behind Hugh Howey. Remember, though, that he set the trend.

Next question.

Traditional publishing or self-publishing?

The Coming StormThere are pros and cons to each. Traditional publishers will have a built-in reader base, and of course, they’re in all the bookstores. They will provide the cover art, an editor and the formatting. All that in exchange for approximately 2/3 of the profit from your book. Forget the marketing – most traditional publishers don’t do much marketing for new authors, you’ll be responsible for most of your marketing. By the way, one of the other things that you’ll give up will be control. You’ll have a little input into the cover, and a good editor will work with you, but be prepared to kill your darlings. That favorite passage, gone.

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Oh, and by the way, you’ll even need an editor if you’re going traditional. There are two sure ways for your manuscript to wind up in the circular file (trash) – a bad query letter and a poorly edited book. They don’t have time to fix your basic spelling/grammar errors – they’ve got a lot of clients, you are only one of them. The belief that your writing will be so remarkable that they’ll overlook that sort of thing is a pipe dream.

Should I stick with one genre?

If you’re going traditional publishing, you won’t have much choice. As an Indie? Just write. Some of the best writers write in more than one genre – some traditional writers had to do it under another name. Stephen King/Richard Bachmann, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb. Some of that has relaxed, but you’ll need to be a proven commodity with a traditional publisher for you to get away with it. Or work out a Hugh Howey deal – keep the e-book rights and control, while selling the print rights to a publisher.

As an Independent/Self-published writer, you can write in any genre. However… It will still serve you better to have at least two books in the same genre to start, so that readers are assured they’ll be able to come back to familiar characters.

Which brings us to…

My book isn’t selling well. What can I do to change that?

Write another book. Seriously. If you write something readers like, they want to have more like it. Only a few writers over the last century were successful with only one book, and most of those intended to write others. Harper Lee with To Kill a Mockingbird, Margaret Mitchell with Gone with the Wind. J.D. Salinger.

So write more books.

How can I sell more of my books? What’s the secret of marketing?

Work. There’s no secret. Just do it.

A lot of writers get burned out on the marketing. I know I have. The best advice I can give you is to schedule it around your muse. No one likes a spammer. Endless ‘buy my books’ ads can make people crazy. So, one week do about an hour of promotion/marketing M/W/F and the next week Tuesday and Thursday, or whatever works for you. Take advantage of free offerings if it’s your first book to build your name. Ditto free promotions on sites that allow it.

Join writer/author groups, ask for suggestions.

As you generate income consider doing paid promotions on sites like Pixel of Ink, E Reader News Today or Bookbub.

By the way, if nothing is working, look at your book especially in comparison to other books in your genre. Does your cover art stand up? How are your reviews? How many of them mention that you’d do better with some editing? Some of that is subjective, but if the majority say you need it, you might want to consider it.

Last word – Patience. 

There has never been a writer who blasted out of the gates. It may have looked that way, but what you didn’t see was the preparation beforehand, the editing, the choosing of cover art, the research into effective sites for promotion. It takes time for word of mouth to build.

To all of this I’ll say one more thing. Write. Write what you love. Keep writing.

And good luck.

About the Author:

Valerie Douglas is the multi-published author of novels of fantasy, mystery, suspense and romance, among them, The Coming Storm series, Heart of the Gods, Song of the Fairy Queen, The Last Resort, Two Up and Dirty Politics. Under her pen name of V. J. Devereaux she's also the author of several well-reviewed erotic romances - Cherry's Jubilee, Special Delivery and Demon's Kiss. Valerie lives in the beautiful heartland of Ohio with her beloved husband, two dogs, three cats, and an African clawed frog named Hopper.
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