If I have to use one word to sum it all up, that word is marketability. It underlay everything from publisher's perspectives to craft intensives, and these days, it's something no writer can ignore. I know we'd all rather escape to our ivory towers, but overall, keeping your eye on marketability at every stage of the writing process is a good thing.
I sat in one of the keynote sessions when I had one of those epiphanies that only seem to come to me during an SCBWI conference. A novel, it struck me, is like a tripod. To make the journey to successful publication, it needs a combination of three elements:
- a marketable concept,
- an engaging voice,
- a solid plot.
But coming up with exceptions isn't productive. Sure, I might get lucky with a wobbly novel and send it to the exact right agent at exactly the right time, and he or she might know the perfect editor for it. I'm not a big believer in luck though. I'd rather have a solid, marketable piece of work to submit. One I can stand behind and promote after it's sold, which is another thing that is clearly expected and necessary.
So is there a litmus test for deciding if a good novel is good enough?
Is It a Marketable Concept?
- Can you sum it up in a sentence?
- Is that concept memorable and attention-grabbing?
- If you tell someone what your book is about, do they want to know more?
- Are there details that differentiate your one-sentence pitch from pitches for similar novels?
- Is there a built-in niche market that you can sell the concept into? Or would it interest a broad enough group of readers to promise a return on the publisher's investment?
We all like to believe that getting an agent gives you the secret handshake into the magical world of publishing, that all your hard work is over from then on. Your agent will write all your pitches and sell you to the publisher, right?
Selling Your Novel
Your agent may help you polish your pitch, but you still have to develop it--and that before you waste time writing an entire novel around a concept that doesn't have legs. Your pitch has to sell the book to the editor, to the acquisition committee, to the marketing department, the sales department, the bookseller, and ultimately to potential book buyers.
Think about your pitch that way. Consider your intended audience.
Is your pitch strong enough to make a kid, young adult, or adult plunk down $17.99 he or she could spend on a lot of other things?
If not, rethink it. And if you can't, rethink your book. Find an angle. Make the writing sing. Make the action dance.
Make it unforgettable.
That's easier said than done. But so is selling a book these days.
The good news? Everyone at the conference made it clear there is a bright future in publishing. There's room for all kinds of books, in all kinds of markets. There's room for all kinds of writers.
Keep doing what you're doing. Think critically. Think magically. Think boldly.
Most importantly, keep writing.
More Conference Information
Right below this piece, we have a wonderful guest post from Ara Burklund about Deborah Halverson's workshop, including ten things you can do right now to make sure your manuscript is really ready for publication.
Tomorrow, look for an additional guest post from Ara and another of Leah Epstein's amazing conference round-ups.
And don't forget to go to the official SCBWI Conference Blog for all the information provided by Alice Pope, Suzanne Young, and a whole crew of bloggers who worked their fingers off to bring us the details as they happened.