“How do you write a book that sells?”
Since announcing my book news, this question has been flying at me in many forms. Some people have asked if I could please outline all of the magic secrets for self-publishing success. Others want my social media secrets. In one interview, I was asked if making money from travel writing is something that any average Joe can hope to accomplish. And a few have suggested that it’s all about sex:
“You got a publishing deal because you’ve written a book for women,” I’ve been told more than once.
“If you want to get published, aim for the female readers,” said one man in a discussion about my book deals.
“I should get a sex change in Thailand and write a memoir about it,” another man joked. (I would totally buy that memoir, by the way.)
Apparently, all the magic is in the genitals.
So I’ve been thinking … with all of this talk about the importance gender, perhaps my vagina should hold the pen at all book-signing events?
The big secret
With so many questions coming my way, I figured I should share my magic secret. Would you like to know how to sell your book to a publisher?
Are you ready?
Well, for just seven easy installments of $49.95, you too can write a publishable book if you subscribe now!
But if you want, you can still pay me $49.95 for this little nugget:
There is no magic secret.
The ‘secret’ is the same tried and tested method for any big accomplishment: hard work, honing your skill, endurance, research, and a steady supply of red wine (preferably delivered intravenously).
It’s editing and editing and editing and editing and editing until you feel like using your red pen to edit your brains out of your ear holes. Then, it’s editing another ten motherflippin’ times.
It’s listening to your intuition when it whispers, “Hey, this would really read a lot better if you scrapped 50,000 words and started again.” Or, “Hey, that chapter you just spent a month fine-tuning really interrupts the rhythm. Cut it.”
It’s about not giving up when you look in the mirror every day and think, “I’m a stay-at-home nobody! My face looks like the blemished underside of complete and utter failure!”
It’s acknowledging that you need the unique perspective of several test readers to improve your story.
It’s not falling to pieces when your first-draft readers rip you a new orifice. It’s thanking them for their time and honesty, even when they say “No offense, but your character is really annoying. I kind of feel like punching Torre in the face.”
It’s letting go of self-loathing so that your best traits can shine through.
It’s learning to be okay with failure, but more importantly, it’s learning to be okay with success.
Lessons from the masters
There are no magic secrets, but there are many lessons to learn. You’ll find them in books like On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner, Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, and Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood.
You can also find excellent tips in writing magazines, agent blogs, and a never ending range of online resources. Books like Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody can Write by Elizabeth Lyon and Publish Your Nonfiction Book by Sharlene Martin and Anthony Flacco are invaluable for studying up on what publishers want.
The best lessons can be found in the pages of popular books. How does Sara Gruen move the story forward using dialogue? How does Bill Bryson manage to turn a mundane encounter into comedic gold? How does Douglas Kennedy set up an intense dilemma in the first 50 pages so that, by page 320, my nail beds are gnawed raw? How does Augusten Burroughs manage to make his personal tragedies utterly hilarious? How does Wally Lamb create empathy for loathsome characters? Be inquisitive, and let the masters show you how.
Back to sex …
None one of these resources mention that being a woman or writing for women is a necessary part of the process, but perhaps there’s an opening (pardon the pun) for an ebook: My Vagina’s Secrets To Getting Published.
A lot of writers say, “Write what you know.” If you want to capitalize on a trend, do so at your risk. But be aware that, in a few years time when your manuscript is complete, publishers may be looking for memoirs written by men, for men, and you can’t get your genitals back from that Thai surgeon.
Just to clarify, my book wasn’t written specifically for women. I wanted it to be accessible to women, men, sailors, non-sailors, travelers and nesters. This makes it a love story with broad appeal. “Love stories are for sissies!” I hear you shout. I don’t buy into that. You could be a thug with snakes tattooed onto your bulldog neck and down your tree trunk arms and I’m still willing to bet that The Notebook had you leaking from the eyes. If it didn’t make you choke up just a little bit, you’re most likely a serial killer. Please check your basement for dead bodies.
So, I’m going to leave the pen-in-vagina trick to the sex change author, which means I’m sorry to announce that my skirt will not be signing autographs at this time.
But my moustache will …
What do you think? Do women have an advantage over men when it comes to selling books? Are love stories only for women? If you’re a writer, do you write for a specific demographic, or do you create without over analyzing it?