“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!

Just kidding.

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?

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58 Response Comments

  • PeterG. James Sinclair  November 23, 2011 at 5:38 am

    Makes you wonder if we’ve all been fooled for years about the secret to being a successful author……Paulo Coehlo could really be Pauline Coehlo. Then there is Joanna Grisham – and don’t forget Stephanie King.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  November 23, 2011 at 8:34 am

      I love it. It’s commonly believed that women have written under the guise of male pseudonyms in order to get published, but all along it was actually the other way around. I’ll never look at Pauline Coehlo the same way.

      Reply
  • Karen  November 23, 2011 at 5:39 am

    LOL. Who have you been talking to?
    You sold your book because it is fabulous. It is fabulous because you worked your ass off.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  November 23, 2011 at 8:34 am

      You’re fabulous. No you are. No you are.

      Reply
  • Dave  November 23, 2011 at 7:07 am

    You = awesome. With or without your mustache.

    Having said that, since I’m in Thailand, I reckon I might go in for a Complete Dickectomy before I start on my manuscript, just in case. I need all the help I can get after all.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  November 23, 2011 at 8:39 am

      Thanks, I grew it for Movember with Photoshop. You’d better get that Dickectomy soon – someone else will steal the story!

      Reply
  • Erin  November 23, 2011 at 7:30 am

    My partner Simon and I were both pissed off when we saw those comments about you getting a book deal because your book is aimed at women. It’s bullshit. Your book is great and will be enjoyed by anyone who likes a good story. Those guys are just jealous.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  November 23, 2011 at 8:41 am

      Thank you. Now they’re going to be jealous of my thick, luscious mustache.

      Reply
  • wishy  November 23, 2011 at 7:36 am

    “…i kinda feel like punching Torre in the face”….. funny…

    as a man, i must say, i don’t really go looking for a love story… ever, but if i enjoy the surrounding environment, ie, adventure and exotic backdrops, no bullshit, and alot of humour, i can find myself getting sucked into the whole love story thing… i think i may be falling in love with Ivan 🙂

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  November 23, 2011 at 8:42 am

      You wouldn’t be the first man to fall for Ivan. He has to fend them off everywhere he goes.

      Reply
  • Sally  November 23, 2011 at 9:58 am

    I think you have handled this much more diplomatically than I ever could. If I were you and someone suggested to me that the only reason I had gotten a book deal was because I was a woman, I would gladly give him his very own sex change free of charge (i.e. I’d rip him a new one and he could call it a vagina… or Gladys… or really whatever he wants to call it).
    If anything, I would think it would be even harder to get your memoir published as a woman as there are ever so many memoirs by females on the market.

    Reply
  • Sasha  November 23, 2011 at 10:20 am

    My first reaction to this is what a bunch of sexist gits! You got published because you wrote a compelling and entertaining story, unless of course your flashed your girl bits at someone and didn’t tell us! I can’t believe that guys are saying such things, the top selling Authors in the world are often males, unless Dan Brown was once a women…Yes obviously your story is hugely attractive to female readers so yes you will have a huge female audience that makes giving you a book deal very attractive to publishes. But equally if males write a compelling entertaining story targeted at males that will attract a large male readership then they would get a deal for the very same reason! To all those silly gits I say if you put more scenes jumping out of moving trains while escaping from gun wielding bandits or any of that other stuff guys like to read, then darrr if you’re talented and hardworking enough you can get published too!

    Reply
    • Sarahsomewhere  November 23, 2011 at 12:05 pm

      I would love to see the random google searches that stumble on this post! Great choice of Key words Torre!
      Wha’eva. Your book is awesome because you are a uniquely talented author. Another writer could have told the same story and it would be yawn, and you could tell just about any story and make it entertaining. It Just so happens you had a great story to tell.
      And now I can’t stop thinking about sailing the South Pacific. Damn you Torre!

      Reply
      • Torre DeRoche  November 23, 2011 at 12:14 pm

        I know. Scary, scary thought. I didn’t know that ‘accidental nipple in public’ was a fetish until that search term became the number one hit for Fearful Adventurer. I’d rather not know these things about society.

        Thanks for your lovely comment, Sarah. I love your story too.

        Reply
  • Christy @ Technosyncratic  November 23, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    “My Vagina’s Secrets To Getting Published” — This SO needs to get written!

    The irony is that it’s been *men* who have historically had a serious advantage over women when it comes to selling books. Y’know, due to that thang we crazy kids call sexism.

    Reply
  • James Cook  November 23, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Great post, I have been trying for so long to keep focused enough to write something that is longer then a post but I really struggle to stay on track. I will try again now 🙂

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  November 23, 2011 at 9:41 pm

      Unplug the internet! We all have an attention deficit disorder in this day and age.

      Reply
  • Gillian @OneGiantStep  November 23, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    I think it’s too bad that the gender card gets thrown so early in the game. I can see that it’s probably your level headedness that got you through the torment of writing the book and will hold you well in the coming months. Success is success and to undermine it is disrespectful and hurtful…and to come from the travel community; those who are looking for the same success, is shameful. I hope you’ll pay them no more mind and instead will roll around in your millions of dollars gleefully, drinking champagne and eating bon-bons!!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  November 23, 2011 at 9:39 pm

      “Early in the game” is spot on, as it’d be advisable to read the book before making that judgement call, right? I hold no grudges. I think that jealousy flows through all of us, and it can rear its ugly head if we’re not careful. I know that this kind of reaction comes with the package, and I’m not hurt at all. I’m amused! If it gets personal, however, I’ll have to bring out my BIG guns. *Flexes not-so-big guns*

      Reply
  • JoAnna  November 23, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    Ugh. How lame that so many people have thrown the “she’s a girl” card. I call that insecurity and lack of self confidence. Writing takes A LOT of work, time and energy. It also takes an awesome story told by someone who can craft words well. It definitely does not take a vagina.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  November 23, 2011 at 9:19 pm

      I love a little schoolyard cattiness from the boy’s team. It makes me alive while I’m doing my victory dance.

      Reply
  • Emma  November 23, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Good questions! My memoir is also a love story, and while I think it will largely attract women, I do have some male blog followers who seem interested in the book. I don’t know whether women have an easier time getting published. My agent just started submitting my book to editors, so no contract for me yet. The publishing world is incredibly competitive in every genre right now.

    Reply
  • Jodi  November 23, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Enjoyed this response, Torre. You are far too talented a writer to pawn off your current success on fulfilling a niche, gender-based or otherwise. Congrats on the well-deserved book deals and film bids – looking forward to seeing your story in hardcover!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  November 23, 2011 at 9:14 pm

      Thanks, Jodi! It won’t be a hardcover, but it’ll be a handsome trade paperback. I’m looking forward to seeing the new covers! 🙂

      Reply
  • Rease  November 23, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    I don´t think there is any secret. You worked hard and you deserve the credit, not your vagina.

    Reply
  • Jana@AnAttitudeAdjustment  November 23, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    What a great post. I think so many of us want to get around the really hard work of making our writing damn near perfect (or perfect), so we come up with all kinds of excuses as to why we didn’t, or won’t, get published. I thank you for acknowledging that there is no secret. Lately, I’m realizing that it’s a lot of fun to just write the things I want to write and worry about publishing later.

    (By the way, that pen-in-vagina image is really messing with my head.)

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  November 23, 2011 at 9:11 pm

      “Lately, I’m realizing that it’s a lot of fun to just write the things I want to write and worry about publishing later.” – Great philosophy. If you’re not having fun, what’s the point?

      Re the pen/vagina – I’m haunted too. I’m haunted by the fact that my brain came up with it. Ew.

      Reply
  • Tatiana  November 23, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    I write for a specific demographic because it’s an issue of representation. How many mainstream black (or ANY person of color) LGBT books and authors out there? It’s really difficult to find non-white, heterosexual characters in books – whether they be for men or women. In fact, it’s WHY I hate “women’s fiction” because so much of it is overwhelming white and straight (and upper middle class, able-ist and the list goes on).

    So there’s that.

    Love stories aren’t for women. That tripe “The Notebook” was written by a man, wasn’t it? And it’s really popular amongst women readers/viewers (re: the cinematic adaptation). So I don’t think it matters the sex of the author, but I think there’s an intense amount of socialization and stigma in what people feel COMFORTABLE reading/writing. A boy may enjoy love stories, but experiences a great deal of harassment over his choices, so he rejects it (or reads it in secret).

    So, generally, I think many people associate love with women (which is problematic) and so publishers want to push what will sell, and don’t seem to be concerned with any amount of social progression. (Which I suppose is an inherent flaw when you discuss business + money + social justice/expanding the narrative/etc).

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  November 23, 2011 at 10:47 pm

      Nicholas Sparks is successful because he’s able to tap into what the mainstream wants. I totally respect that because it’s not easy. Stephen King calls himself the “literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries”, but I think he’s a genius. That said, I would definitely read a LGBT book before I read King or Sparks, but I’m not really the mainstream. It’s important that these gaps get filled, and it’s good for your soul to write what is true to you.

      You’re right about the stigma. I often wonder if digital devices have shifted book sales, as we now have the freedom to read whatever we want in public. Middle-aged men can lose themselves in a Marian Keyes novel, and women can drool over Playboy on their daily train commute. Or is that just me? Hello?

      Reply
  • Heather Sunseri  November 23, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    This post and the wonderful comments are only adding to my frustration that I did not buy your book before you got your deal!! It sounds like an amazing story and journey.

    As far as your question, I do write for a certain audience, but it’s more because I need to know how to pitch the story. I hope that I’m learning to create a story that will entertain a wide range of demographics after it’s published. I’ve definitely never thought women had an advantage over men. But I do think men and women write differently in many cases. I embrace that.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  November 24, 2011 at 3:17 am

      Sorry you missed out!

      At pitch time, it’s great to know who your audience is. I’m a big fan of writing for an ‘ideal reader’ as Stephen King suggests in On Writing. I usually pick one person to speak to, male or female. It’s much easier than trying to write for 50% of the population at once.

      Reply
  • Beware of Falling Coconuts  November 23, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    Some people will clutch at any straw to explain away your snowballing success in order to deflect their underwhelming achievements.

    – You’re a woman (vaginas have mysterious power).
    – You’re dad’s a writer (he prepped you since birth).
    – You have a supportive partner (my partner doesn’t even let me take a sick day).
    – You had the luxury of doing a creative degree (some of us had to do REAL degrees, like accounting).
    – You have time to waste on social media (who has the time to Twitter?).
    – You were ‘lucky’ to live such an adventure (wouldn’t we ALL love to be whisked away on a yacht and sailed through the South Pacific, if that happened to me, I’D write a book too!).
    – You have leprechauns in your garden (clearly – magic like that doesn’t just HAPPEN).

    The bottom-line is, not ONE of those factors will, as a result, write a book itself. To write a successful book you have to be an intensely creative, disciplined and hard-working individual who has to jump the daily, never-ending hurdles of self-doubt and self-loathing as you work alone in that suffocating office while the world seems to be passing you by outside the window, trying to tap into the inner, dark, scary recesses of your brain to dig out material for your manuscript.

    Then you take it to a leprechaun to get it sprinkled with magic dust 😉

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  November 24, 2011 at 3:13 am

      So true. And nobody understands the dark, scary recesses of my brain like you do, sista.

      Reply
  • Lisa McKay  November 24, 2011 at 2:52 am

    I create without over-analyzing.

    It’s tough, because I think you can fall into a certain sort of arrogance with that – a “stuff you all, I’m an ‘aaaaarrrrrtist’. You all better just love whatever I choose to put before you…” But I find it hard to feel genuinely excited and inspired when I’m too conscious of trying to write “for” a specific demographic.

    So at this stage I generally try to throw myself into projects I really want to work on and leave the thoughts of audience until the editing stages (or, uh, never), and accept the fact that this approach means I may not get these projects published through traditional avenues.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  November 24, 2011 at 3:21 am

      I do the same. I like to write the first draft from the “I’m an aaaarrrtist” perspective, and then click over into accessibility in the editing. The birth is messy, but the rearing is carefully considered.

      Reply
  • Jan Bass  November 24, 2011 at 3:34 am

    This subject of gender/sex has been a mystery to me ever since I hit the first key on my old tankofa 1930s Underwood, way back in ’89. That was the beginning of writing a weekly column for our local newspaper. I started at $5 per column and after 22 yrs now make only $30 per column. Needless to say, I do it for the joy of writing, learning to write tight, and seeing my byline, to say nothing of loving the attention from readers. Getting to my point — I have always felt that had I been sporting a set of testicles all this time (and maybe a moustache like you), I would have been more respected by thnewspaper editor and publisher and received more bucks per column from the very beginning. And now, after 22 years, I would see a much more handsome check every month than a freakin’ $30. Perhaps the difference is freelance column writing (personal column) versus book writing. What say any of you? By the way, I do have male readers. But they often attempt to “correct” me on some point in my article as if they think a female couldn’t do it right by herself…. somewhat like “Daddy” having to step in and help his “little girl” out because he knows the way it should be. Sometimes I think they’re just jealous of a female writer!

    Reply
  • Kirsten  November 24, 2011 at 4:18 am

    I’m not going to weigh into the male/female debate because if I open my mouth on that one I’ll have far too many cuss words for the man who suggested your vagina might give you an advantage. I want to … want. to. so. bad. – But I can’t.

    Instead, thank you, for writing this. And with such good humor. I might have just written a post to the naysayers with only the words the words, “f*** you” 😉

    Reply
  • Kim  November 24, 2011 at 5:27 am

    Dammit. I was really hoping my vagina would help me get a book deal one day. Back to the drawing board.

    Reply
  • Amanda  November 24, 2011 at 5:37 am

    I know the real secret to why you got published, and it has nothing to do with anyone’s genitals…

    You are a fantastic, witty, engaging writer, and people (ALL sorts of people) enjoy reading your stuff!

    And if people can’t realize that, well, then they are just jealous. And probably serial killers.

    Reply
  • Kelly  November 24, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    Pretty sure there’s an industry for vagina book signings. You’ll sell millions!!

    You see, this is why you’re book sold! Genius ideas of enterprise! hahaah

    Reply
  • Farnoosh  November 24, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    Hi Torre, I am so glad I read your “back story” here, if you will! Gosh I love just the right hint of sarcasm infused with amazingly simple yet powerful practical advice!! Torre, it is truly a happy occasion when someone who worked as hard as you makes it. The success is so very well-deserved but beyond that, we have another example to look to, and someone who says: the foundational stuff really works. Forget the magic formula and just write, edit, repeat, and don’t stop :))!
    Can’t wait to meet you!!! And congratulations again!

    Reply
  • Wanda St.Hilaire  November 24, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    Wish I’d been a little quicker … by the time I got to Amazon – Swept had disappeared!

    I hope my vagina helps me sell my travel romance memoir (it certainly helped me write it).

    🙂

    Reply
  • Chris  November 25, 2011 at 3:22 am

    That mustache photo is beyond disturbing. I may never achieve arousal again :-p

    But awesome tips. I’ve written 12,000 words in the past two nights. A long way to go, but your successes have inspired me a lot.

    Reply
  • Ian [EagerExistence]  November 29, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    You are one strange girl Torre!?!

    Movember?

    Thanks for listing the titles and authors, last time you made suggestions for me, you just gave me surnames… I’m not as “aware” as you about good books. I only started reading 6 months ago.

    Reply
  • Carolyn  December 4, 2011 at 4:03 am

    As usual…another great post. Certainly women have to fight that much harder to prove their worth as a writer/author. But if you’re good and your writing has appeal, it will be relevant to either gender regardless. The men that admit it are those that don’t feel threatened by your aptitude. Keep on doing what you’re doing cos we all love it!
    Lyn (http://inspirationescape.blogspot.com/)

    Reply
  • Raymond @ Man On The Lam  December 7, 2011 at 6:30 am

    I don’t think women have the market cornered when it comes to love stories (Bridges of Madison County anyone?), and I don’t think just women read “love” stories. I mean Madison had bridges, and yours has boats. Dudes love that shit. 🙂

    Reply
  • DTravelsRound  December 9, 2011 at 1:05 am

    Torre, I totally and 100 percent LOVE you.

    Reply
  • Noch Noch  January 12, 2012 at 6:28 am

    i think as a writer, we should just write, write what makes us tick, at least then there’s one reader 🙂
    Noch Noch

    Reply
  • Neda Lahrodi-Blake  January 26, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    Over the moon I’ve discovered your site. Love the way you write, very honest and brutally funny! You are so right;work hard, hone your skills and write some more. X

    Reply
  • Uttoran Sen  March 11, 2012 at 6:18 am

    Hard work is above gender bias. You just need to work harder to get a top selling book published.

    Great article, i know women who writes under the pen name of a Man. So really, the playground is fair for all genders.

    Reply
  • Mark Hill  February 20, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    First thing: Best book title ever! I love it!
    Second thing: How come I can’t buy it off Amazon for my Kindle?

    But to address your question, I don’t think women have an advantage in selling books.

    But I do think that women, generally, read more and better than men. I think that women like books that are more introspective and personal. And since women tend to be better at writing these books they gain an advantage. But is an advantage gained on merit, not on sex.

    I am a man working on a travel/memoir (much more memoir than travel) at the moment and I have found that amongst people in publishing, agents and ordinary readers, women just seem to get it. They understand what the book is about. Men (with a few exceptions) just don’t.

    Having said all that, I was told by a literary agent that she liked my book because it is the sort of thing that appeals to women but is rarely written by a man.

    Reply
  • Mark Hill  February 20, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    First thing: Best book title ever! I love it!
    Second thing: How come I can’t buy it off Amazon for my Kindle?

    But to address your question, I don’t think women have an advantage in selling books.

    But I do think that women, generally, read more and better than men. I think that women like books that are more introspective and personal. And since women tend to be better at writing these books they gain an advantage.

    I am a man working on a travel/memoir (much more memoir than travel) at the moment and I have found that amongst people in publishing, agents and ordinary readers, women just seem to get it. They understand what the book is about. Men (with a few exceptions) just don’t.

    So women have an advantage, but is an advantage gained on merit, not on sex.

    Having said all that, I was told by a literary agent that she liked my book because it is the sort of thing that appeals to women but is rarely written by a man.

    Reply

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