Your success as a writer is going to depend on two thing: How you define success and your marketability.
I am not going to define success for you, but for me, it was seeing my name on a book on a shelf at my local book store. It isn’t about royalties or numbers sold or even sustainability, it has all been about making my dream come true. And I did it.
With that out of the way, your success depends all on you. You, after all, have to write the story that you can sell. I’ll leave that to you, but I want to talk about what marketability has to do with your success.
Your marketability starts before you sign a contract. Think of it as ripples on the pond. You throw your story out there and the biggest waves are created by your inner circle. These are your friends and family who tell you how great your story is before you have even finished your first draft.
Then it ripples out and the farther it gets away from you, the bigger the circle, but the smaller the ripple. These are your social contacts. They may be online or in person through organizations that you are a part of. The ripple has less of an impact, but it is there.
Now, imagine your inner circle tosses out their own pebbles to add to your story (likes, shares, retweets and word of mouth) and now you have multiple ripples that spread your message. And each time you share or post something new and those people cast their weight behind you, your marketability grows.
So what is your message? “Publish my story!” “Buy my story!” If that is your message, your voice will be drowned out by the thousands of other people who are doing the same.
What you need is a clear message as to why an editor or the public should want to buy your book. And it isn’t just about being a good story. Every year hundreds of good stories go unpublished and dozens of not so good stories get published.
Over the last few years, I’ve seen many stories getting published by celebrities who are “writing” stories. A few are okay, but to be honest, a majority would have never gotten published if you or I submitted the same story word for word. So why did they get their book published?
One word: Money. Not necessarily their own, but because a publisher is expecting to leverage star power to sell books. They expect that people will buy the book because of the name on it. So if you are a movie or tv personality or some sort of influencer with millions of people knowing you just by your name, then the editor can hope that 1% of those people buy your book, you are looking at tens if not hundreds of thousands of book sales.
So how do you and I compete? We write good stories and we have a message. That mean to make your stories didactic, but be sure you have a voice, a purpose for writing the story. Then think of where it falls in the market. Who is going to buy this book? Focus on that and make your voice heard there.
For example, I wrote Pedro’s Pan which is a story about gold panning. I needed to leverage my voice by looking at my market. My story has content about history and minerals (education), Alaska (tourist), it is for children 5-9, it is about mining. So what is my message?
I am an educator who works with children 5-10 years old. I grew up in Alaska and my family mined for gold. I am a member of the Gold Prospectors of America. I am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
When I submitted my story to my publisher, they could see that I knew the needs of the age range. I had a connection with education and could provide content in that area. I am committed to improving my writing. And I am an expert in the area that I am writing about.
All of these, separate to my social media, have established my voice and platform. I have connections to people who can help me spread my message. They will become the most impactful of my ripples.
So then I can turn to social media to help boost that message. Again, my message isn’t “buy my book” but is instead, here is my story. I provide content that boosts my message. Gold facts, history, personal anecdotes, connecting to events and telling my story.
Take note that your marketability has nothing to do with your story. It is all about you. What do you have to offer? When people connect with that, they are more likely to be another ripple in your pond and buy your book. But even if they don’t, if they share your message, then you reach more people.
Once you sell your book, your marketability and the need to be marketable increases. Most publishers have a limited promotional account and they rely on you to get your story out there and that is done through the hard work you did to making yourself marketable.
And even when you sell a second or third book, even if the topic is different, your market platform is already there. Your content might need to change, but you will still rely on the same people to help you form ripples in your pond.
So go write great stories worth sharing. And as you do, be thinking about the people who are most likely to read it and start thinking now of how you will reach them, because if they never hear about it, they will never buy it.