Often, when people approach a ghostwriter to help them finish their story, they confidently assert: ‘My book is going to be a best-seller!’ Or: ‘Everyone says I MUST write a book!’ Unless they are already famous and have some exclusive revelations about equally famous folk, the ghost knows that this is going to be a difficult conversation.
In a contrasting manner, many introverted writers who have worked for years on their first novel are shy about it; reluctant to seek feedback from potential readers prior to publishing, and nervous about promoting their work after it is finally published.
Although these examples display contrasting personal traits – almost the extremes of narcissism and self-deprecation – there is a common thread. In both cases, the individual is self-absorbed, lacking in knowledge of how a book comes to be appreciated, and with little curiosity about the potential readers and their experience.
At the recent Margate Book Festival, I gave a talk with PR expert Gemma Pettman about book promotion, and we challenged the popular view that writing is pure artistry and that marketing is grubby commercialism. The two disciplines, we argued, ought to be seen as being closely linked, with marketing seen as an extension of the story-telling. Both as writers and as marketers, we should be relentlessly communicating with readers, and potential readers, finding out what they like.
There’s a summary of our talk on this podcast interview, which lasts around six minutes. Now, I include the timing of the interview out of respect for you, dear reader. You may be reading this blog on a crowded train, or over a mug of coffee while the kids are spilling their breakfast cereal. You probably don’t have much time. Six minutes is a bit long for a podcast; sorry. We think it’s good; I hope it’s worth that much of your time, and I’m fairly confident that if you’re involved in writing or publishing a book you’ll find the content helpful. But I shouldn’t be presumptuous about that.
In the case of a book, you’re asking people to spend a few hours of their precious leisure time, not six minutes. If it’s your book, how much thought have you given to their experience, their desires; whether the story will enchant them, intrigue them, or bore them? For authors, market research is an exercise in generosity and altruism, and a way of becoming both a better business-person and a better author.
- Philip Whiteley is an author and ghostwriter, who pens fiction under the byline PJ Whiteley. There is more information at pjwhiteley.com