The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Writing full-time opens writers to the world of risks — including such painful and formative experiences as repeated rejections and the standing threat of poverty — and the sooner they learn how to cut their losses, the greater their chances of survival. The first thing to learn in a market-driven society is that the placing of their work is what finally matters, and this effort requires an entirely different set of skills than does the act of writing. A shift in perspective is required when you move from creating a work to selling it. Like it or not, all successful full-time writers have kept this business side of writing in mind.

Obviously the writer has to perfect both writing and marketing skills to get into print and be accepted by the market. The writing must be simple — few compound sentences, verbs of everyday usage — and clear. Above all, the subject must be expressed economically and directly because every one now only reads what is strictly required and prefers not to have to consult a dictionary. This requires writing and re-writing till such time, as a great writer put it, “when you can no longer add but when you can no longer take away,”. Sadly, we write too much to say too little and our editors are too feeble (or lazy') to make the surgical cuts to remove the fat and get “close to the bone”.

To get down to marketing. The first rule is to get focussed on a specific segment of the market. This goes as much for non-fiction as for down-market fiction. If it has to be juvenile or feminist literature, or glitz, sex and romance (Jackie Collins, Sidney Sheldon), or horror (Stephen King), or inspiration literature (Chicken Soup for the Soul), do-it-yourself manuals, or cookery titles, then so be it. “Be specific” is the name of the game; make a mish-mash and you are out.

There are solid reasons for niche-driven publishing. After the book has been published, sales and marketing professionals know where to take the book — the specific institutions and retail outlets that would be interested in the book. Make it vague, or attempt to cater to a whole cross-section of readers, and you would be hitting out in the dark. Of course, serious fiction carries layers of meanings within a single story, but not many copies of such books sell and therefore, the big publishers are simply not interested in them.

The second consideration is not to submit a typescript of more than 120,000 to 150,000 words, which would make a book of not more than 350 printed pages. More pages mean higher investment, both in editorial and production costs. The ideal, one that is a near-perfect ratio of length and breadth would be a finished book of 192-212 pages that is around 100,000 words.

And finally, submit the typescript in a floppy. If there are illustrations, submit a CD, with the illustrations embedded in the text. This saves the publisher from having the book composed, proof-read and then laid out in pages before printing. The costs incurred by the author could be recovered from the publisher either against a flat fee or higher royalties.

The floppy/CD would also ensure that the publisher doesn’t spoil the final product by way of sloppy proof-reading or wrong placements of illustrations, and that the book turns out as the author wants it to be.

What authors don’t realize is that publishers are, first and last, businessmen now. The notion that, instead of catering to public taste, publishers might seek to improve it has been tossed aside as too antiquated. Success is what counts; and success means money. If this is what publishers want, why should authors be squeamish about demanding their fair share, especially after they have catered to the publisher’s demands'

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