National service! More frogs! Better porridge!

National service! More frogs! Better porridge!

Oh glory of glories, it’s election time in the UK, a summer election whose most notable emblem so far is a Prime Minister getting fabulously wet in the late spring rain.

Whichever way you’re planning to vote (and this isn’t an invitation to let me know who you’re voting for because that’s not what this email is actually about) something I haven’t been able to help but notice as I’ve been watching the various parties campaigning is how they all use this time to come up with their sexy new offers. 

The Conservative Party have got their national service fairy tale, which probably would never even happen but is a good way to get lots of people talking (again, not an invitation to let me know your thoughts on this). I heard someone talking on behalf of the Green Party and, unless I was much mistaken, she got pretty close to promising the country more frogs. I haven’t in fact heard someone from the Scottish National Party promising us all better porridge, but they probably will.

(And, by the way, this isn’t a way to get you to vote one thing or another. I dare say that the Green Party probably would produce more frogs. My point is that the type of promises varies according to how likely they are to be called on.)

Which is all a roundabout way of talking about YOU.

What do you really want from writing? From this book that you are now working on? From the one after that and the one after that?

And what nature do those hopes and aspirations have?

Are you in the more frogs / better porridge zone, where you list hopes in the secret confidence that you’ll never truly be called on to deliver?

Or are you in the zone of grim realism about budget realities and overstretched public services, where your promises don’t really sound great, but they have a chance of actually being implemented?

It goes without saying that there’s just no point living in the more frogs / better porridge fairytale zone. It’s not just that these things won’t happen. It’s that if you tell yourself fairy stories, you’ll make worse decisions.

Take the tiny, but crucial, matter of book title.

If you simply avoid having to think about the commercial realities of what it will take to get published and sell books, you may end with a title that you love … and makes no commercial sense.

Now, I’m not in fact all that good at thinking of titles.

I think the working title for my first Fiona book was Cardiff Bay. Which is a nice title, in a way, but doesn’t tell the reader that the book is a crime novel and doesn’t allude in any way to the book’s basic USP which is weirdo-detective-who-used-to-think-she-was-dead. My agent suggested Talking to the Dead, which isn’t a brilliant title but ticks both those boxes very nicely. So we went with that. If I’d been living in more of a frogs-world, I might have stuck with the less commercial title that had greater emotional appeal. I’d have been less likely to sell the book.

Another example: I had a completely mad ending for The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths, which I loved. But it was kind of mental, and my editor kept nagging at it. Frog-world? I’d have stayed with my mad ending. Real-world? I edited the damn thing into shape – as I always do, and always will.

So you need a hard commercial answer to the following questions:

  1. Is your work good enough? Sorry, but it probably isn’t. I say that just because only 1 in 1000 manuscripts are taken on by agents. At digital-first publishers, who may have looser entry criteria, the ratio is still about 1 in 100. So probability says that you’re still in the 999 or 99. The way to jump out of that category and into the top echelon is simply work. Self-editing. Improving your craft. Being honest about what’s not yet good enough. Using Jericho editorial services as needed. All of that. But grim realism, please. This is the most important question to ask.
  2. Is your basic idea strong enough? Too often, it isn’t. I’ve blathered on enough about elevator pitches, so won’t do so again here, but they matter. 
  3. Does the basic commercial proposition of your book work? That’s similar to the question before, but it’s slightly different and it still matters. You have to be able to imagine your book in a store, or on an Amazon page, and competing with its peers on equal terms.
  4. Is your book one that will sell most in e-form or via print? That question will surprise plenty of you, but it matters too. I’ve seen people trying to pitch books to trad publishers that are really digital-first books through and through.
  5. Should you self-publish? These days, that’s a foundational question. You need to know the answer.
  6. Do you know enough about the industry? On things like approaching agents, picking titles, writing blurb – and, in fact, more or less every decision you make outside of actually writing the book – some industry knowledge matters. When you write blurb, what is the point of that blurb? What is it there to do? What length is standard? What do your competitors do? Any serious pro author brings some real knowhow to those questions. You can’t avoid them.
  7. Do you have realistic thoughts about marketing? Lots of people don’t. That matters less if you are being handled by a trad publisher. (Though even then, do you want to leave your career security in the hands of an editor who is handling 20 books like yours each year and whose life will not be much affected if your book fails completely? You do not.) But the more your route looks like indie-publishing, the more you have to have a grip on these things.

I could probably more questions there, but that seems like a decent set to start off with. And of course, Jericho Writers is on the Grimly Realistic side of things always.

Your porridge will not improve.

We will not deliver frogs.

No frogs, but … we will deliver a brilliant introductory course on HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL IN 6 WEEKS. Premium Members will get the whole course for free – course material, weekly tasks, and feedback via Feedback Friday. The first module will launch next week. This is ideal for people towards the start of their writing journey. (We’ll offer a more advanced course later in the year.)  If you aren’t a Premium Member and would like to be part of this course, this would be a good moment to join us.

Feedback Friday: Tools Season – Should you Self-Publish?

I said above that the question of whether or not to self-publish was foundational. And it is.

So watch this Is Self-Publishing Right For Me? masterclass.

And really, that’s the homework. Just spend a total of 9 minutes watching something that could push your career one way or the other. You need to make a smart, informed decision on this topic, so don’t put it off just because it’s scary.

That’s not much of a Feedback Friday type task though, so on this – the last week of our Tools season – I just want you to Ask Me Anything. Whatever’s on your mind, so long as it’s to do with the business of brand / platform / tools / marketing architecture. I’ll do what I can to help.

That’s it from me. Post your question here. There’s a Scotsman in my kitchen and frogs in my larder. My children are going to be snatched from me and turned into soldiers. It’s too much!

Til soon.


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