Yesterday, I took a few mug shots of my kids. We’re in the process of getting their passports, and it got me thinking how books are passports to exotic destinations. They take us on adventures unimaginable, with friends we never knew existed. They show us horrors we never want to experience and provide us with experiences we are lacking in our every day lives.
As writers, we create these worlds. We toil away beside characters we love and resolve conflicts in foreign kingdoms with new age technology. We sweat blood and cry caffeine tears in the hopes that someday, somewhere, somebody will stamp our books into their literary passports.
So, where are these passports that honor our long hours and days and characters and scenes? Where is the proof that such incredible worlds exist beyond our keyboards and how do we invite others inside our words?
In short, how do our manuscripts become destination spots for eager literary travelers?
Cat’s Passport Guide for Writers
Create a unique destination. Few people want to visit an uninhabited island devoid of food and water. As writers, we must build all-inclusive resorts for our readers. Plot, character, yada, yada, yada. We have to have it all, or nobody will book a flight. We also have to provide something unique along with all our other amenities. If our novels sound, feel, smell and taste exactly like the book it will be shelved next to…? Seriously, what’s the point of trying out a knock-off
Customer service, baby. Few people shell out cold, hard cash to stay at a resort where they wash their own dishes and dodge trash on the walkways. Get rid of typos, cut down on wordy sentences and dispose of purple prose. All those things detract from the experience and rarely garner repeat business. Bad customer service = bad business.
Know thy audience. A five-star resort with adult only beaches does not attract middle class families with small children. Likewise, a water park resort with ice cream stands every fifty feet will surely turn the noses of prospective honeymooners.
Books must fit on bookshelves and in book clubs. Librarians need to know where to place your masterpiece so it receives the best circulation possible. “But, but, but, I have a crossover, multi-genre, space-opera, noir adventure for middle graders that everyone from age 8-80 will love,” you say. “With hot cowboys telling fart jokes.”
To which I say, “It’s doubtful this conglomeration–placed willy nilly within the historical romances–will be picked up by stay at home moms looking for an exotic escape while the kids are at school.” Sexy cowboys or not.
Very few books have genuine cross-over appeal. They are the exception, not the rule. And breaking into the vacation market with an unknown is risky business.
Make connections. Travel agents are great at directing customers to hot vacation spots. Advertisements in the right magazines catch readers’ attention. Discounts and deals make potential travelers feel good about their purchases. A personal touch, a bit of history, a quiet sense of comfort. These things effectively draw people to certain resorts.
Whether we self-pub or use
travel agents and traditional publishers along the way, the key to booking sales is tasteful visibility–to the right audience (as proven by number 3 above).
Lastly, don’t brag. Vacationers love to spill when they return from a fabulous island hop. Their word of mouth often sells others on the same resort, while their pictures frequently entice on-the-fence travelers to pack up their bags. Not so with the resort owner–who lives in this exotic locale–who can’t shut up about sipping frozen drinks while you literally freeze in sub par temps. Not so much when her weekly vial of cornmeal beach sand arrives in the mail just as you vacuum your kid’s daily deposit of pea rock from your front rug.
It is unbecoming of writers to oversell themselves. Let your novel speak for itself. Then sit back and let your satisfied customers rank your book with five stars, making your story the hottest literary destination around.
Are you a frequent flyer, buying books to support the industry while getting a better handle on what is available? Do you know your competition and strive to provide unique characters, settings and stories? Have you ever been surprised to see similarities between your manuscript/idea and pubbed books? How do you reconcile that within your own writing? Which similarities can make a novel? Which ones can break any chance of every getting published?
Curious minds want to know.
Love this concept–there’s something about Passports… I still have the one with a photo of 10-year-old me (in a German dirndl with braids wrapped around my head) and stamps from a couple dozen countries, some of which don’t exist any more on the map (Rast Germany, Iron-Curtain days)… Just looking at it makes me want to pack my bags again! 🙂
[that would be EAST Germany, oops] 😉
LOL, I was wondering which geography facts my teacher left out back in the 10th grade!
Traveling is definitely a treat and it sounds like you thoroughly enjoyed a childhood filled with adventures!
Yes, I agree. Real locations that folks can relate to and picture in their minds, or ones they have visited can draw the reader in. And if one happens to be a native California boy who has lived abroad for almost 10 years … that helps with the details for fleshing out one’s storyline. Add a few foreign workplace experiences … various cultural differences … and even a character or two (we have lots of refugees here from around the globe) and …
Authors can only be so lucky as to actually live in unique places to bring truth and flavor to their writing and their literary destinations.
As to the refugees, this is definitely an audience that is underaddressed in our books today. America has always been a melting pot of cultures, but not every culture melts as thoroughly as others. Because of this, we need to be respectfully mindful that an entire audience is being missed because we’ve completely Americanized our stories and characters.
Thanks so much for this wonderful perspective.