The first four of eight professional writer modules will be published here on a weekly basis. Between them the entire workshop should only take 90 minutes to read and, hopefully, to understand. Please feel free to post, repost, tweet, facebook or use any other social media network you belong to and spread the word. Albert Jack – December 2013
Chapter 3 – Market Research – What is the Publisher Looking For?
The answer to this question is as obvious as it is easy. All publishers, large and small, are looking for the next book that will, hopefully, sell one hundred thousand copies and beyond. Naturally, the professional publishers realise that these opportunities, for that is how they would regard a unique book proposal, are very rare indeed. In fact, it is about as likely to happen as it would be for J.K. Rowling to walk in one day and declare, ‘I’ve decided to write ‘The Further Adventures of Harry Potter,’ would you like to publish it for me?’
Realistically, publishing houses are all looking for a book proposal that will sell between five and ten thousand copies because that is their popular, or ‘bread and butter,’ market. This is why there are so many special interest books available because experience has shown them that they are likely to sell over ten thousand copies of, for example, ‘Manchester United – The European Cup Diary.’ Publishers know that out of the millions of fans Manchester United have the world over there is a high chance that ten thousand, or more, passing through airports or buying Christmas and birthday presents will pick up a copy for either themselves or others.
Publish a couple of hundred of those types of books every year and they are making money. The author, on the other hand, is not. And that is why this is not contrary to the point made earlier about alienating every other football fan in the world and limiting the natural market for your book, even though it now looks like a good way to get published. Although this is the sensible way for a publisher to approach their industry it is still not a sensible way for a professional author.
Every time a book proposal, especially from a debut author, attracts the attention of a commissioning editor the process from there is always exactly the same. The author will receive a standard ‘thank you’ email in reply suggesting that the idea will be considered. Then, the editor will do some research of his or her own before the next editorial meeting which will be held on a Thursday afternoon. I don’t know why, but they always are, perhaps it is tradition, perhaps it has something to do with Thursday lunchtime being a traditional deadline to submit something current to the printing company, or book designers. Whatever the reason is, Thursdays are book proposal meeting days. Perhaps it is because Fridays are reserved for lunch.
Now, if the particular editor you submitted to already has a couple of ideas to present to the meeting, for that is all he or she will have time for, then your idea will be held back until the following week, or even later. This is the reason it may take a month or so for a proper, considered response, unless you have a great idea that the editor can see resulting in 100,000 sales or more. And that is why your market needs to be as unlimited as possible. That book about Man United might have taken months to get to the editorial meeting room because, in reality, that book would only have to be ready for publication a few weeks after the cup final, which means it would have been submitted the year before that and written during the season. However, when Man Utd do not win the cup in the end, it is going to be scrapped anyway. See how that wasn’t such a good idea after all now that we are starting to understand how the publishing industry works.
Unless, of course, the writer has already done all the work, finished the manuscript and Manchester United do win the cup in the end. Then it’s a great idea to have a book like that ready to go to print within days. I once knew a very well known actor who is, like me, a Chelsea supporter. Some years ago he told me he was writing a very funny diary about his adventures following Chelsea through every single game they played anywhere in the world, throughout one particular season. And off he went. There were cold winter nights in Grimsby and cold hostile hotels in Eastern Europe. He is very funny guy so I am sure it was a very funny book. But did it ever get published? I think you know the answer to that. Despite all his time, effort and money invested in ‘making it happen;’ it didn’t happen. Probably because Chelsea didn’t win anything and the publisher could not see a wide marketplace for it. And he would have found all of that out a year later.
But, back to that editorial meeting! By the time the editor sits down in front of her fellow commissioning editors she will have done a little research on your book proposal. She will know how many books you have sold. None. She will know how many books with a similar theme have sold during the previous few years. Hopefully many. She will also know how many books with a similar theme her own company has sold and she will know which audience the book will be trying to attract. This last point is an important one because she will also know that the first question her managing editor/director will ask her, if he likes the sound of the proposal, will be. ‘Who is going to read that book and who is going to buy it.? And if the answer is ‘Afrikaans speaking butterfly collectors’ then she also knows she is going to feel rather silly shortly afterwards.
So, after we have decided on a few ideas that we feel are strong enough to be presented for the international publishing industry we need to start doing our research. Firstly, ask the question, do I have any personal experience about the subject? It doesn’t matter if not but if you do then make a note to inform your commissioning editor. She needs all the information she can have about the book’s audience and its author for her own presentation at that meeting. Try to make it easy for her. If you don’t have any personal experience in the subject then there is no harm in exaggerating a little, but no telling lies. ‘I have been a big fan of steam trains since I was a small boy’ is one thing. ‘I drove steam trains for thirty years’ is quite another, if it is not true.
The Structure of our Thoughts
One of the best ways to gather market research about a book idea is to ask your friends. ‘Would you be interested in a book about….?’ I do it all the time and even sometimes ask complete strangers. I just did it with you with the idea for ‘Beware False Prophets’ and I am not worried about anybody stealing it. Go for it! I am sure I am not the only writer in the world who has had that idea. And I have others. Perhaps even send your friends and family a copy of the book proposal. It may seem a little awkward at first but you will usually be surprised and encouraged by the positive feedback you get. Although it isn’t always positive. We all have friends and family who are naturally negative in their enthusiasm and wouldn’t want to see your hopes and aspirations raised unrealistically.
But this is fine too. Keep focussed and positive and one small comment here and there can lead to new ideas and stronger proposals. I often say that the best book ideas come to people during a pub conversation. Probably because I was in the pub when I had my best book idea but I am not the only one. Open discussion, awareness and other people pitching in with ideas is always good market research to include with a book proposal. You will be surprised how many people enjoy being part of the process of creating a book, especially when there is little or no chance that they themselves would have the discipline to see it through to completion.
Preparing for Work
My friends and relatives are all familiar with the expression ‘they don’t write themselves you know.’ They have heard me say that often enough when turning down lunch, golf, drinking or any of my other serious hobbies. Now is the time a professional writer begins by preparing themselves. The first thing to do is organise work space, open word files and pages, gather information and begin by writing about the book. Who would want to read it? Who would want to buy it? What is it about? These questions can be posed as bullet points and a writer then begins to answer them for their own benefit. At this point a writer will be reading as much about the subject as possible and ideas and structures will soon start to form.
But no book is ever written from the beginning to the end or, at least, rarely is. Start by writing passages that come to mind as they come to mind, and not with the introduction. A working draft file can be opened and all thoughts, information and ideas added to it. Then a draft manuscript file can be opened which will eventually become the proposal. Any writer will only need between three and four thousand words before a book structure begins to form naturally. But you must have the words – it doesn’t help to be only thinking and making notes. Start writing! A writer will also only need the same amount, four thousand word, as sample material, to submit to a publisher at this stage, along with a well written proposal or introduction. The important aspect is to keep writing, every day, even if it is only a few hundred words. Momentum can take a little time to gather pace. A writer knows when there is enough for a professional proposal, perhaps by circulating it amongst friends and colleagues and carefully considering the feedback. The moment somebody responds with ‘that’s a great idea’ or ‘yes I see exactly what you mean’ then it means you have done enough for them to understand the point of your book and that will probably then be enough for a commissioning editor too.
For example; the following is a genuine book proposal my agent has submitted on my behalf to Random House in London and Penguin Books in New York. There is a good reason for showing you this and that is to reveal what a professional book proposal looks like. There a few matters to consider here. The first is that these publishers already know who I am and so for me to include a short author biog would be ridiculous. They would probably regard that as sarcasm and that is not a good thing. First time authors will need a short biog but it can be as short as. ‘Albert Jack is 39 years old and has been a school teacher for twenty years. He has two children and currently lives in London.’ That would do. The other matter to consider is that mine is a non- fiction proposal. Novels will need to be described by way of a 1500 -2000 word précis with a similar word count by way of example as this is a proposal for a story of fiction. Practise for this by reading quality book reviews that outline an entire novel in only 1000 words. The Sunday Times website is a good place to do this. Novels will also need sample paragraphs or chapters in order to demonstrate the author’s writing style.
Now, I am not pretending that the example I use here will be enough to secure a book deal. But it is enough to submit to a commissioning editor for consideration. Long gone are the days of writing the whole book, printing out the manuscript, submitting and waiting for an answer. At this stage, just the outline and some samples is more than enough to attract the attention of an editor or agent and any writer could do half a dozen of these in a month.
The Meaning of Dreaming
approx 60,000 words
By Albert Jack © 2012
There are many common themes for dreams shared by most, if not all, of us at some time in our lives. Sometimes these are striking and vivid, to the point where later in life they can be remembered as clearly as a real personal memory. And there are the familiar dreams we all share, such as falling or being chased. And we all have recurring dreams of a similar nature but varying in forms.
Such as, in my case, continually finding myself disconnected with the people I am with, perhaps going past in the other direction on a busy road, or in a different hotel corridor or perhaps I can see them in another building, but each time I catch up with them, they have gone in the opposite direction to look for me and now I can see them almost exactly where I was only moments earlier.
We never do meet up, instead I wake up wondering why I keep having that dream and intending to find out what it means and if, in fact, real dreams (not daydreams) actually ever come true. And that has led me, eventually, to The Meaning of Dreaming and within these pages I hope to answer that and many other questions we all wake up to first thing in the morning.
The Meaning of Dreaming will be cartoon illustrated with humorous interpretations of my text. The target audience is the gift buying public of Christmas 2013 and for many years beyond. The intention is to earn a place on the front tables of book shops and take the subject of dream interpretation away from the Mind, Body and Spirit sections and onto the gift/humour shelves for the first time. It is possible that a book written about this subject, which has universal appeal, may never need to be updated. But it could easily be added to.
The Meaning of Dreaming by Albert Jack
This is often a sign of insecurity, especially in children. Something that happened is leading to guilt and fear of being caught one day. It appears the dreamer is attempting to run away or leave something far behind but has been unable to either forgive themselves or cope very well with their shame, even if nobody else is aware of the event troubling them. Children experiencing this dream have quite often been found to be the victims of bullying. Freud had a radical explanation, as usual, claiming men were running from the fear of castration and women from sexual attackers they may have encouraged, either unwittingly or through initial flirtation. Native American Indians, or Real Americans, as I call them as all the others are relatively recent immigrants, believe a dreamer should turn on their pursuer, confront and unmask them. The belief is you will then find your fears to be less frightening than you imagine. To dream of being involved in a chase often also means you are hardworking, ambitious and will eventually be well rewarded for your efforts.
There are many variations of the falling dream and they can mean different things to different folk. For example, if you have fallen out of a tree some believe this will lead to a loss of a job or other career. Others are certain that if they fall over in the dirt, in dreamland, then in conscious life they need to be alert to treachery and deceit by another person. Falling into water indicates personal danger although falling into a fountain signifies great honour and personal gain. I’ve experienced this myself although, unfortunately, not whilst I was asleep and there was no great honour for me in this outcome.
Falling into a ditch warns of sudden danger and falling from a great height indicates you will never marry. Although I would question that, as that is exactly what happened to me after I got divorced. To a trader it suggests bankruptcy, to a sailor it warns of shipwreck and falling without landing suggests the onset of depression.
Many people dream of being famous, as the current British television schedules will prove, and it is always a bad thing. Many people become famous by being good at something or working hard on a talent their whole lives, such as a guitarist, sportsman or entertainer might and who then rightly deserve the fame and attention they receive. To dream of being a famous guitarist is a good thing, and takes years or hard work and practise. To dream of being famous for the sake of being famous is a bad thing and often indicates a change of lifestyle for the worse, or great personal loss is on the horizon. To dream of being a writer is to be an idiot, as its hard work I tell you. To dream that a friend or family member has become famous suggests you will in some way be badly let down and disappointed with them.
Dreaming of seeing a naked man suggests terror, or fear. Or in my case revulsion. However, dreaming of a naked woman who is fair and beautiful signifies great joy or honour, which means I must be the happiest man in the land because I am always dreaming of that. But, dreaming of an old and ugly woman suggests bad luck, shame and eventual repentance and I have nothing to worry about there. A husband dreaming of seeing his wife naked suggests impending deceit, although I am sure that’s as close as most husbands are going to get anyway, although if a wife dreams of her naked husband it would suggest great success in her adventures in life.
Dreaming of a naked prostitute suggests great danger ahead and I recommend you do not wake up from that one with words, ‘darling, guess what I was dreaming about?’ because great danger won’t be very far ahead at all, I promise you. Dreaming of a naked friend will lead to arguments, which seems obvious, and a woman who dreams she is naked in her husband’s arms could suggest bad news is on its way. Sometimes dreaming of yourself naked implies insecurity and a fear of disapproval.
To pay a debt in dreamland usually means you have been careless with money and lost some, perhaps by gambling, But be aware of someone paying you a debt as this could mean a friend or family member is about to ask for a loan, which should be avoided as their accompanying reason will be false.
If you dream of being dead then you should wake up in a good mood as this usually means you will live a long, healthy and prosperous life in some comfort. If you appear dead and buried as you dream then you may inherit great wealth and property in your lifetime, however, if dead relatives return in your dreams it can mean you are grieving the loss of a relationship or perhaps have been the victim of an assault. To dream you are standing next to a dead relative or friend would indicate marriage is imminent and talking to dead people in your dreams indicates a clear conscience and personal courage. When you dream of being robbed by a dead person some people believe that means you are about to lose a close friend or relative and simply seeing a dead person in your dreams means your relationship is a sham or you will be the victim of another great con, which is one and the same thing really.
Albert Jack books available for download here
By Dr Johnson C. Philip (author of over 100 books)
I have been a committed writer now for four decades, and it all started when noticing my interest in writing I joined a course in journalism. One of the first things my mentor advised me was to keep reading books on writing. Thus I picked up this book with great expectation to find something new, in spite of me having read a hundred other books. I was not disappointed.The author of this books has substantial experience in writing, editing, and publishing and he is in a good position to explain the art of writing from three different angles — from that of a writer, and editor, and a publisher. That is what makes this book unique.He introduces the art of writing, and then a lot more. If want to be a writer and if you have never read any book on this topic, I suggest that you read this one. If you have read many, I suggest that you read this book in spite of that. The book has to offer something to every writer, whatever his level and experience might be.Highly Recommended!!
By Mary Crocco (Book Reviewer – Las Vegas)
Discovering Albert Jack’s book of advice for new writers came too late for my first book, but perfectly timed for my second. Packed with information and guidance, I took copious amounts of notes before concluding I needed the book in print, so I ordered a paperback.I found the most appreciated recommendation about writing narrative: to get the plot and ideas down first, and then add the dialogue. This relieves my current struggle of interrupting the flow of ideas while trying to write dialogue, the simple fact to write first and add dialogue later, works. I’ll try a chapter at a time, but the way my mind works, I’m confident in success.Unaware all submissions should be presented with 1.5 line spacing surprised me, I thought 2.0, double spacing.Consider reading, Want to be a Writer? Then Do It Properly by Albert Jack, because it includes easy and significant approaches for writers to develop their skill.
By Stephanie Millar (Australia)
If you want to read ONE book that has EVERYTHING you need to know before you turn on your computer and start the first chapter, then this is the book you need…so much information from this brilliant writer, you can’t go wrong.
Johann David Renner (Australia)
If I had come across this book years ago it would have saved me a lot of time and pain. In this book you find the knowledge and the wisdom many writers work out for themselves over a number of years. Of course, some never do, because they give up. This book starts with the basics, moves on to the really challenging stuff and provides answers to important questions: Why do you write? What about market research? What makes a book a good book? How do you find a publisher? So, ask yourself: Do you want to be a writer or do you just want to write? If you want to be a writer, reading this book can save you a lot of time and pain.
By Eamonn Kelly
This is a very useful book and I found it very informative. This is a useful book in focusing the mind on the whys and wherefores of creative writing and the publishing world.
If you want to read ONE book that has EVERYTHING you need to know before you turn on your computer and start the first chapter, then this is the book you need…so much information from this brilliant writer, you can’t go wrong.
I’m not a writer but I want to learn enough to have a good blog.
Reading this book by Albert Jack gave me lots of good tips.
Now I’m anxious to start using his suggestions.
D Jones (Boston)
Book is very down to Earth, and inspiring for armature writers. I would recommend this book to anyone that is still in closet about being a writer.
This book was not what I had expected at all. If you’re looking for a book that makes fun of the craft, then this your book, but if you are looking for an instruction on how to be a writer, look for another of the zillions of other titles that gives more substance.
There are so many writers out there. Some read books and their new books are not more than summaries of what they read elsewhere.
Albert Jack is different. What impressed me most here was that a writer who is able to live by the income of his books gives advise. Albert Jack is not a dreamer. He writes every day and he states and gives hope to the millions out there who want to be a successful writer, too: Everybody can become a good writer. Talent is good but regular practice and daily writing makes the difference between a nobody and a popular writer.
The first look at the cover did not attract my attention. It looked like the design effort of a child. This book needs no professional design. Its content is enough to make it a “must read”.
It is interesting to see and understand how publishing houses work. The way they choose a book to be publish out of thousands of manuscripts. But I will not quote too much. Read and learn yourself.