I’ve written a three part series about cover letters in this blog, and it struck me today that what many might find useful is some advice about writing a book that you want to get published. About what you should know before you write the book. Please keep in mind that I am not yet published. However, I did my research, and there’s no reason that you, first time author, cannot benefit from that research. The following advice comes both from my own head, and a myriad of websites I visited along my journey. I wish that I could list those websites, but I was researching long before I even thought about creating a blog. Tap that Google, you can find all sorts of advice on how to get published.
Let me say right now that this advice is specifically for those authors whose main goal is getting published. Sure, all writers want to get published, but this may not be your main goal. Your main goal might be telling the story you most want to tell, or writing the genre closest to your heart. If that is the case, please move along, this post is not for you. However, if your main goal is getting that first novel published, this information might be useful. Some of it I figured out before I started writing. Some I figured out along the way, and wish that I had known it when I started. Here I am, sharing it, so that you can benefit from my journey.
These bits of information are certainly not all that you need to get published. You still have to be an awesome writer, build a platform, and have a bit of luck. But they will help your first book not turn into something no agent will touch with a pointed stick, let alone represent.
1- Know what genres sell. What are the most popular, saleable, and read genres in the business?
Firstly, fiction remains more popular than non-fiction, so this entire article is about writing novels. Novels, not poetry, not short stories, not novellas. Those things all have a place, but not in the “most marketable” section.
Secondly, adult fiction continues to outsell children’s and young adult. Certainly those markets have grown more popular thanks to Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games, but they still lag behind adult fiction, and we are talking about m easier to sell here.
What genres sell the most? Let’s look at Amazon’s top ten customer favorites for 2012. Five romances, four mystery/thrillers, and one non-fiction current affairs. Romance is and has been the most saleable genre, perhaps since the dawn of time. Romance novels account for over half of book sales every year. Every frickin’ year. Mystery/thriller has also remained majorly popular through the tests of time. Horror remains popular, though sales are not as big as mystery/thriller.
If you want to be published, sure you can write that fantasy novel you’ve been itching to write. But I’ve seen far more literary agent listings that said “no sci/fi or fantasy” than were interested in the genre. In all the listings I’ve looked at, there was only one that accepted Steampunk.
2- Refine your sub-genre. Crime and legal mysteries sell better than cosy mysteries. I’ve seen many “no cosy mysteries” on agent sites. In romance, erotic and paranormal are getting higher in demand. Mystery has different qualifications than thriller, just as paranormal romance is different than historical romance.
3- Research your genre. I’ve read thrillers all of my life, and I am quite familiar with the beast, but I was still thrown for a minor loop when I reached chapter 12, and realized it should have been chapter 24. Thrillers are defined by short chapters, often having over 40 in a normal sized paperback. Mysteries have longer chapters. Find out now, before you write your book.
4- Don’t write to trends. Yes, Vampire stories seem very popular right now. I imagine that is why I’ve seen so many “no vampire stories” comments in agent listings. If you are an unpublished author, you will have major trouble getting an agent to look at your vampire novel. Their slush piles are full of novels written to current trends. Trends come and go, and it takes a long time to get your book from your head, to paper, to an agent, and through the publishing process. Agents don’t seem to like gambling on whether the trend will hold.
5- Book length. This is especially true for books you wish to see printed in paper and ink. Paper and ink cost money to print. No one is going to be willing to take a large financial risk on an unpublished author. Agents very rarely look at anything in any genre that’s over 100k words. Period. In a first book, you want to be between 60k and 80k, unless you are doing historical romance or fantasy which can be in the 100k to even 120k range. Look at Stephen King’s first book, Carrie. Look at J K Rowling’s first book in the Harry Potter series. They are both in the 60k range. Both authors had to prove themselves with a short book before they got to do the big stuff. You want to be published? Then you have to prove yourselves. My mother’s first book is almost 200k words. No one will touch it. Maybe you can’t edit down that 200k word book without ruining it. Then I suggest you write another, far shorter book, and try to get in the door with that.
I hope that this article is helpful for those hoping to get published for the first time. Certainly I am no expert, but I wanted to share with you what I have learned.