Writing a Book? How to Improve Your Chances of Getting Published

Exemplary penmanship alone won’t guarantee success

Image: New Africa/Adobe Stock

The publishing industry seems to be on a roll, if a 2018 pilot study by the International Publishers Association (IPA) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is anything to go by. Research covering 19 countries revealed that the trade and educational sectors achieved a combined turnover of USD 50.3 billion, a significant increase over the 2016 figure of USD 41.9 billion.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), roughly 2.2 million new book titles hit the market each year, flooding both digital and brick-and-mortar bookstores. The rate at which these titles are published is impressive, too. In his book Brief Answers to the Big Questions, the late Stephen Hawking puts things in perspective, stating that “if you stacked the new books being published next to each other, at the present rate of production you would have to move at ninety miles an hour just to keep up with the end of the line.”

New titles aside, scores of first-time writers are making the scene, drawn to the conveniences of digital publishing and, of course, the prestige of authorship. Do you see yourself joining this group? Do you have literary potential and plan to write a book in the near future? Then here’s what you should do to improve your chances of writing a book that will sell well, if not make it to The New York Times bestseller list.

Research the market

You might have the literary chops, but what good is a well-written book if it isn’t what readers want? For example, if lush romances are the rage of the day, your sci-fi opus will simply vanish into the black hole of oblivion!

To prevent heartbreak after slogging over your manuscript for months (or even years), begin your literary journey by thinking less like a writer and more like a marketing expert. Study what’s being showcased by book retailers (online and off), paying special attention to the bestseller lists. If there are publishers you want to be associated with, visit their websites and check out the genres they prefer and choose a genre you’re comfortable with.

Get a fix on literary agents

If you’re committed to writing in a specific genre, you’ll need to know which agents handle your type of book. Some agents are focused on genre writing, while others stick to literary works. And, of course, there are agents that handle anything that comes their way.

You can access book agents by subscribing to trade magazines that offer agent lists, or you could google “Literary Agents Database” and see what the web throws up. Once you’ve decided on the agents you’d like to work with, research further to see the books they’ve handled. Buy some, if possible, because they should help you decide on the type of book you need to write.

Explore many story concepts

Don’t run with the first idea you get. Sit back and let your mind wander. Think wildly and jot down thoughts as they come, without bothering with analysis. You could also seek the stimuli of news reports (or even other novels) to generate concepts.

After you have more than a handful of story ideas, sound them off on friends. The one that appeals the most would be worth fleshing out into a novel. If it’s original with a capital “O,” it will break through the clutter and be noticed and bought.

Enlist beta readers when you’re done writing

Beta readers are different from average readers. They critically assess a written work, point out flaws (as they perceive them), and make suggestions for improvements. Beta readers are usually writers who take no payment other than asking that their own works be critiqued in turn.

The best time to reach out to beta readers is when you’ve finished with the second draft of your book and have refined it to the best of your ability. After you’ve received feedback and have incorporated whatever suggestions/changes make sense, go through another round of self-editing before sending your work to an editor.

There are many writer-oriented sites that offer access to beta readers. Stick to just a few readers with some experience. If you enlist more than three, you might be overwhelmed by feedback that’s confusing, contradictory, or even discouraging.

Choose an editor specializing in your genre

Editors, like literary agents, specialize in genres that interest them and with whose requirements they’re familiar. If, inadvertently, you send your work to the wrong editor, it will be rejected (not least, because you’ve not done your homework).

Build an online profile

In the good old days, before the Internet and the proliferation of websites, blogs, and social media platforms, books had to sell very much on their own merit. Authors did appear on radio and television, but their reach was limited compared with that offered by the digital space. Use it to expand your presence in the world and promote your book, whether you choose conventional publishing or go indie all the way.

A good many writers rush into writing and publishing without doing their homework.

It’s important to remember that a book is a product like any other. It must target a specific reader-group (the larger, the better) and answer its needs in order to sell.

Write the best book you can, but also practice due diligence and your literary efforts will pay off in spades.

I come from a land down under | Manners will take you where money won’t | HR Consultant | OHS Specialist | Personal Trainer

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