As I said in my first post about the 2011 Write-Brained Network Writing Workshop, David L. Robbins gave a lot of great information in his “Redline Your Writing” talk. So much that I’m going to split it up into bite-size, easy-to-digest blog posts. I’ll include some of my own thoughts on things, too, so if something seems off-base, blame me, not David.
At the beginning of his talk, David cautioned us that there are fewer and fewer slots in publishing for writers these days, so now more than ever your writing has to be better than anyone else’s. How do you get better? By repetition — doing this writing thing over and over again. And by taking very seriously what you’re trying to do as an artist.
But David went on to say that if you want to sell your writing to magazines or publishers, it’s also important to be able to recognize a commercial-grade story. Considering the rejections I’ve been getting lately, I can see the truth in that. It’s all well and good for a story to be written well, but if the story itself isn’t something people are interested in reading, you’re not going to get them turning pages. Which means you’re not likely to get an acceptance letter when you send your story out.
Is that fair? Maybe not. But it’s true.
So, how can you tell if there’s a commercial market for a story?
David gave two bits of advice on that. First, when you get an idea for a story, ask yourself if there’s an audience for it. I’m going to go a step further and tell you to be honest when you answer that question. We all know from revising our work that as writers we tend to live with blinders on. Often we love our stuff so much it’s hard to see when it doesn’t work. The same holds true for ideas. Just because you think something’s an interesting idea for a story doesn’t mean anyone else will. Kind of like telling someone about that really bizarre dream you had last night. Having the dream was interesting for you; hearing about it isn’t necessarily interesting for someone else.
So how can you honestly tell whether there’s an audience for a story so you know if there’s a commercial market for it? David didn’t talk about that per se in his panel, so I’ll take a crack at it:
Read what’s getting published now. Read what other people are reading. Read what’s hot in your genre. Those are stories that you know there’s an audience for, that you know are commercially viable. I’m not saying copycat published stories. I’m sure we’ve all read enough blog posts by agents about how trying to jump on the Twilight-Harry Potter-Da Vinci Code bandwagon means you’re showing up late for the game because publishers are already looking for what’s going to be hot next year. But if your story is in the same vein as work that’s already out there that publishers and readers like, you can be reasonably assured you’ll find an audience for your baby. If not — well, it might be tougher. The audience might even be limited to one. Namely, you.
Which takes us to the next bit of advice from David, a startling revelation about something I’m sure we’ve all heard time and time again.
And I’ll tell you what that is in the next blog post.