Monday, May 27, 2013

Writing for the Market... NOT

Last month, after the advance reader copies of my novel, Brotherhood, had been circulating for a bit, my editor emailed to say she’d gotten this feedback: the word “damn” appeared so many times that some school librarians might choose not to carry the book; teachers might not add it to reading lists.

Oops! This was serious stuff! Way back in 2011, in my very first conversation with my editor, she’d said that my book belonged in the “school library market” – a market I’d never heard of. Oh, sure, I’ve heard of school libraries. I just didn’t know that publishers viewed them as a particular market. In my mind, books for young readers fell into these categories: picture books, early readers, middle grade, and young adult. Done. What did I know about selling books? Nada.

Well, it turns out that because mine is set during Reconstruction, and because there are few (if any) books for young readers set during that time, Brotherhood has the potential to bring social studies textbooks to life. My editor wanted to market it to middle school readers and up, and because some middle schools include the fifth grade, the book had to be suitable for a fifth grade reader.

In the revision stage, I thought I'd already walked a tightrope between age appropriateness, historical accuracy and modern sensibilities. I’d removed words that were more offensive than “damn,” particularly words spoken by the bad-boy-big-brother character (who is 17). And now, here I was, in the eleventh hour, removing “damn” everywhere except instances when a character had to call it like it was: damn Yankees!

Truth to tell, I didn’t mind making these changes. I love the editing and revision stage of writing. But when I completed these final revisions on Brotherhood (set for release this September) and refocused on my current work-in-progress  new characters, new setting  for a few days my writing wasn’t flowing. I was trying to please the school library market! Trying to write what I thought teachers would want. And it was killing the story. I had to step away. Had to take a deep breath. Had to listen to my protagonist again. I asked him to pour out his heart to me, and he cried, “No one will want to read my story!”

I’m writing his story, anyway, but hanging over me is the fear that my editor won’t want this next book because she won’t think it’s right for the school library market.

But I'm letting go of the market. I have to. While I’m writing, I can’t care what others might think. Instead, I'm digging deeply into the truth of this character, even if the truth isn’t pretty. It’s too early for me to say what this next book will be about, mainly because I’m still trying to figure that out. But I can say that it doesn’t fall into a neat school library category. I don’t know if it will be considered middle grade or young adult or even publishable. Right now I’m trying to get to the end of the first draft in order to see what I’ve got. And later, much later, if the manuscript happens to find a home, at that time I’ll worry about revisions to make it suitable for the market my editor thinks is best. What do I know about selling books? Very little. My focus is on writing them. Of course, once my book comes out, and in the weeks pre-release, I'll do everything I can think of (within budget) to find readers, but right now in the first-draft stage of a new novel, the last thing on my mind is the market.    

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A. B. Westrick is the author of Brotherhood, coming from Viking Children's Books in September. Set in 1867 Richmond, Virginia, it's the story of a fourteen year-old boy who sneaks off for reading lessons from Rachel, a freed slave, at her school for African-American children. By night he runs with a brotherhood, newly-formed to protect Confederate widows like his mom. As the true murderous intentions of the group, now known as the Ku Klux Klan, are revealed, he finds himself trapped between old loyalties and what he knows is right. You can read more at ABWestrick.com, on Facebook, and at Goodreads, and follow her on Twitter.

4 comments:

  1. I was trying to restyle one of my books to be more market-friendly when I was querying it two years ago, then realized I was kind of selling myself out and misrepresenting the book. Why pretend I wrote some trilogy when it was deliberately planned and written as a very long book? I let the "word count" police get to me, and ever since then, I haven't cared how long or short a book is. A good book will find its market, be it traditionally published, indie published, or self-published.

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  2. You are so right. "A good book will find its market." Yes! Our job is to write the best books that we can, the most honest books that we can. If an agent or editor likes the opening ten or twenty pages, or three chapters, or whatever you've sent along with the cover letter or email, s/he will ask to read the rest, and only then might the word count issue arise. Deal with market issues later. Step one is to write an awesome book.

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  3. When I wrote my debut novel, the furthest thing from my mind was 'market'. To tell you the truth, I had no idea what a 'niche market' was. I wrote my novel just for the sake of writing and hoped that people would read it. Any people. Even as I work on my WIP, a sequel to the first, the market has never entered my mind. All the time that I might spend on trying to find that 'niche group' of people who would want to read my novels, will be better spent on writing them. And while you say that 'a book will finds its market', I'm hoping 'the market will find my book'. Great post, Anne.

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  4. Thanks, Dave. And all the best with your writing!

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