Sometimes, in the course of coaching an author, they ask if they’ve got what it takes to be successful. The harder question is whether their book that we’ve development-edited can be published. Everyone who’s ever written a book has this question, asked every time. Asking it is the way you know you’re serious about your life as an author. When your writing is a hobby, you won’t be asking if you’ve got what it takes.
The answer rides on how much an author will work to improve their book. Multiply that by the number of months you’ll spend developing your book’s market plan. That development is outside of the work to make the book the best one you can write. The best way to give that market plan a chance of helping is to learn about the market and industry you’re trying to crack.
Authors visit the Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors conference with varying degrees of love for publishing. They’re locked in on their love of storytelling, plus the wordcraft that makes a book easy to enjoy. The business? Not so much, for some authors. They will leave this to their publisher. Embracing this part of the author's life is more fun when you have an avid curiosity about how books get sold. The selling of books is the business heartbeat of publishing.
In a nutshell, that’s what it takes to be a success in publishing: curiosity. Learning how to write more clearly, how to craft great characters, how to introduce suspense and write endings that are spoiler-worthy and inevitable — those are simply the Publishing 101. Graduating into making a profit on a book means understanding the industry, driven by curiosity.
You can be reading Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, a good blog like Jane Friedman’s, or a teaching publisher like Anne Trubek; she runs a press in Cleveland and has a terrific book, So You Want to Publish a Book? Mike Shatzkin’s The Book Business is another bible that I savor.
Your query letter offers the easiest early steps to see if you’ve got what it takes to succeed. Part of your query that you can serve you fastest are your comps — the recent books like yours that have succeeded in the market. Or books that succeeded in the market and are sort of like yours, but they left one part out. Your query helps an agent, or a publisher, imagine the success of the book.
Publishers have to make a case to whoever sells their books. That might be a distributor, which is a sales force not working strictly for one press, but for many presses. Or it might be an in-house sales force, if you got to a big enough publisher. Whether your book gets picked up, or doesn’t, is going to be in the hands of the people who sell books. Knowing about their trade makes it easier to know if you’ve got what it takes.