Writing The Right Book

I was having an imaginary conversation with an aspiring self publisher who owns a pet store while I was out running this morning. She was bouncing ideas off me for both fiction and nonfiction books she was thinking about writing - I'm rubber. The conversation went something like this:

Adrian: "I really love dogs, I've been working with them for over 20 years, I go to all the shows and conventions. If I know one thing in this world, it's dogs. So I was thinking of writing a novel about an alcoholic vice cop whose daughter turns tricks to support her drug habit."

Morris: "Uh, does the cop have a dog? Does the daughter have a dog? Is there a crime in a pet shop? Do you have any experience with police work, or, uh, you know..."

Adrian: "Well, I read a lot of books and watch a lot of TV and there don't seem to be that many dogs in prominent roles. I want to give myself the best chance of success."

Morris: "If you really feel you have to start off with an action novel, I'd at least try to work some dogs and a pet shop into the plot, maybe even the title. It helps quite a bit with believability if you can write from experience."

Adrian: "Oh, if you mean I should write some how-to book about animals, I have been thinking of a book on raising possums for pets."

Morris: "Uh, is there a lot of demand for pet possums?"

Adrian: "Well, I did some research, and there aren't any competing books, so I should be really successful."

Morris: "That's not always a great sign in publishing, it could mean that there isn't much demand. Have you considered writing a book about, you know, dogs?"

Adrian: "Oh, there are thousands of books about dogs, I sell them in my store. How can I compete when it's all been done before? Every show I go to there are dog books for sale, dog breeding, dog feeding, dog psychology, dog humor, and most of them aren't any good! People are always asking me to suggest a book about choosing a puppy, but it's hard because I don't agree with the authors of the published books."

Morris: "That's usually a good sign in publishing, that there's a lot of demand. If you write a good book, even if there's direct competition in your niche, say, "Purchasing A Pet Shop Puppy", at least you know that there''s a market. If you write the better book and do a better job marketing, you'll do well."

Adrian: "But I could practically write that book in my sleep! What would that prove?"

Morris: "That you're a pretty smart self publisher."


tcn said...

I think, Morris, it has to do with building your platform as well. For example, I have now written four books on distance & nontraditional learning. I also do workshops, write articles, etc. all on that same subject. Why would anyone buy a book from me on how to make the perfect strawberry daiquiri?

It's the same deal. Write what you know and write what you have done.

Morris Rosenthal said...

I agree with you 100% about platforms, tough to sell books without them unless you focus 100% on Amazon. I'm sure I've written about platforms in prior posts, but maybe it's time for another go around. When I wrote that Adrian goes to pet conventions and shows, I thought about adding,

"I know everybody and everybody knows me." but figured it was getting over the top.



Morris Rosenthal said...

Almost forgot, somebody published a comment on this post that I didn't approve. It seemed to be saying that writers should follow their inner muse and not be so commercial. I have no problem with writers ignoring commerce, but that's not what this blog is about. After corresponding with thousands of writers over the years and participating on multiple lists, I know that there's no shortage of educators telling writers to ignore the market. That's great if you have a trust fund or an understanding spouse, but if you want to make a living, you better pay attention to what people are willing to pay for.


tcn said...

Following their inner muse explains why so many folks out there make the decision to self-publish fiction. While I encourage people to follow their dreams, fiction is such a tough market. With my book, Complete Guide to Online High Schools, it's easy to convince folks that they need it (because it provides information). Convincing folks they need to buy your self-published fiction is another deal entirely.

Inner muse is good. Sometimes cash is good, too.

steve said...

Hell, no problem if you approve or don't approve comments. But I guess that would be me--the comment you didn't approve, that is. I also guess I expressed myself poorly, because I was not speaking about following the inner muse. I was speaking about paying more attention to writing and then producing a good book. Solid writing and good production values, is what I was suggesting gets short shrift by many self-publishers.

I understand and have no issue with writing to publish and sell books, sell a lot of books, by all means. But write and produce a book worth buying first was my point.

Morris Rosenthal said...


I might have read you poorly, hard to say since I didn't save the original comment anywhere.

I suppose I take writing and publishing a book worth reading for granted, I do tell people to write what they know and not to do their own editing and proofreading. I also preach publishing online first and not following up with a book unless the e-mails start coming in asking when the book will be published.

Oddly enough, I know a couple self-publishers who are capable of doing their own editing and proofreading, I'm just not one of them.

I have seen self published books that are poorly written and edited, but I've seen far more trade books that are poorly written and edited, simply because I've read far more trade books. The only metric on which I think the major trades would win hands-down is on typos. Some self publishers just don't bother with proofreading.


Morris Rosenthal said...

Posted for Thomas by Morris:


Hi Morris and readers,

Adrian should stick to the dogs. You're right in telling Adrian why there are so many dog books: a lot
of people love dogs! My six year old just purchased a thin, B&W $20 book that contains nothing but cute
photos of pugs. The book itself exudes great care and passion for pugs and you just won't see that if an author goes for a "success formula" instead of what he
or she can sincerely contribute.

About not focusing on sales. If people like your book, they will exchange their money for your book.
If you can't convince them to do that, then they didn't like your book. If they didn't like your book, then any rational person could conclude the book's value is not worth the price of the book -- perhaps at any price. :-) There are writers 10x better than I am at writing but they can't seem to get published yet publishers contact me regularly. Even to me, it seems unfair. But I am passionate about my subject matter.

I've already proven that people would pay their hard-earned money in exchange for what is offered from my platform. Therefore, whether you're self-publishing or working with a publisher, the book has to sell. If you don't think it'll sell then stamp FREE on the cover if you simply want to share your message with the world.

Another thought provoking blog post, Morris!