So, if perfect writing doesn't sell a book, what does?
We all want an easy answer to that question. We search the far reaches of the Internet for tips, read agent blogs, study published books--all with the hope of finding an answer to the question: What will help me sell my book? We think if so many others can reach publication, then we can too--if only we could discover how they did it.
The truth is, there is NO ONE formula that sells books. What works for one writer is not a sure-fire way to land an agent or book contract for another. So, I hesitate to share a few of the things I think may have helped me, because what worked for me will likely be different for others.
However, with that said, I will attempt to break down some of the possible reasons my book sold. (These points are taken directly from the email notes my editor gave me when she sent me the rewrites I moaned about last week.)
1. Overall excellent writing. (Notice they didn't say perfect!) There's no doubt we must have a grasp on the craft of writing and the myriad of "rules" that make books appealing to the modern reader. I recently read Little Women. And while this book is a classic, the style, pace, and craft techniques would not appeal to most of today's readers. We can't hope to sell if we don't know how to craft page turners.
2. Gifted story-telling ability. Let's be brutally honest. Everyone might have a story to tell. But not everyone can tell it well. We're not all gifted in the same way. I'd never attempt to try out for American Idol--not even with voice lessons and years of practice. I don't set dogs howling when I sing--at least not yet. But I can easily accept I'll never be the next American Idol. Not all of us are equally gifted story-tellers either. In fact, I'm quite sure there are plenty more gifted than me!
3. Draw the reader in right away. We all know how important the first page and chapter are. With each of my books, I almost always have to rewrite chapter one. In other words, none of my first scenes survive my personal edits. Once I get into the depths of my book, I have more fuel and a better feel for how to open the book, and invariably I rewrite it.
4. Portray action scenes well and weave tension throughout. Since we're a movie generation, I'm convinced we have to view our books in terms of scenes, similar to the construction of movies. Most of my book cuts from one scene to the next. I have narration to show the transition of time in some places, but even now during the rewrites, I'm analyzing the few spots of narration and trying to trim them more.
5. Create a cast of interesting and unique characters. While Bethany House didn't like the arc I'd developed for my hero, I guess he was still interesting and unique. Even though I need to go back through and make changes to his character development, this isn't quite as daunting as it first seemed. I can tone back his original "flaw" and make one of his other weaknesses bigger instead. In other words, his character is already defined but I just need to change the emphasis.
I'm sure my book sold for many other reasons that I don't even know and can't even begin to fathom. But I DO know "perfect" didn't land me a contract. Instead, "perfect" was the harsh task master that pushed me to do the absolute best I could. It forced me to put in many years of learning and writing; it demanded that I hone the craft and my storytelling, until finally, it was. . .Good Enough.
What do you think of my editor's list of positives? Are there any other things you think help sell a book?