Monday, November 8, 2010

Write the Novel You Want to Read: guest post by AmazonEncore author Rob Kroese

Readers, if you hear some strange mumbling akin to "Word count, word count, how many words to make word count?" then do not slowly back away... it's just me, busily typing away for NaNoWriMo. The good news is that I'm a quarter of the way through my new novel, and I'm confident I'll make it to 50,000 words by November 30. The bad news is that most of those words are pretty crappy. But that's what makes revision such fun, I suppose. That, and I'm writing the novel I want to read. Not a crappy one, but... oh, you know what I mean.

So, because I haven't had time for much else, my good friend and fellow AmazonEncore author, Rob Kroese, has graciously offered to step in and post something here for you. Rob is having a pretty good November himself so far. Although he's not mumbling things to himself (that is, no more than usual), he's busy promoting the AmazonEncore re-release of his fabulously funny book Mercury Falls, currently shooting up the Kindle Store rankings in both the US and the UK. If you haven't had a chance to sample his work, I highly recommend you do so, be it Mercury Falls or The Force is Middling in this One, a best-of collection of blog posts from his equally funny Mattress Police blog. Rob's books are available both in electronic and print form.

Or, just follow him on Twitter.

Aside from Rob's humor and his infatuation with Huey Lewis and the News, Rob and I share a similar philosophy about writing. Here's his post about how important it is to Write the Novel You Want to Read. Everyone who leaves a comment will be entered in a drawing to win a signed copy of Mercury Falls!

If you're like me, when you finish readin a novel you usually think one of two things -- either:

1) Wow, that was really good. Some day I’d like to write a novel that good.


2) Wow, that was really bad. I could write a better novel than that.

Again, if you’re like me, #2 happens quite a bit more often than #1. I sometimes say that good writing inspires me to write and bad writing provokes me to write. Yet while the amount of lousy writing that finds its way to the shelves of bookstores can be a source of encouragement, it’s a mistake to think that if you write a novel that’s better than 90% of the crap out there, it will be a surefire success. The fact is, while quality is certainly an important factor in determining a book’s success, it’s far from the most important factor. There’s only one surefire way to write a bestseller, and that’s to be famous before you write it. Stephen King could put together a book of stories about his visits to the supermarket and it would sell ten million copies. Sarah Palin’s book is outselling the Bible because she’s pretty and she’s been on TV, not because she has anything interesting to say. Yes, Stephen King was once an unknown too, but the point is that as an aspiring author it’s a mistake for you to compare your work to Stephen King’s and think, “My book is as good as that, so a publisher will snap it up and readers will buy millions of copies.” First, it probably isn’t. Second, your book is going to be missing the one element that has been critical to the success of every Stephen King book since Carrie: the name “Stephen King” on the cover.

The good and bad news about marketing fiction is that beyond being a celebrity (or at least a known author), no one really knows what goes into making a successful novel. Look at J.K. Rowling, who is one of the bestselling authors of all time (and the twelfth richest woman in Britain). The first of her phenomenally successful Harry Potter books was rejected by twelve publishers – and that’s after she had gotten a reputable literary agent to represent her. If any of those publishers had had the slightest inkling that the Harry Potter books would be even a tenth as successful as they turned out to be, they would have snapped it up in a second, but they hadabsolutely no idea.

Imagine if you were to take the Hope Diamond to twelve of the most reputable jewelers in New York and not a single one of them would give you a dollar for it. It would make you start to think that the whole profession of jewelry appraisal is a lot of bollocks, wouldn’t it? Now imagine that someone in the know about the jewelry business informed you that most jewelers lose money on most of their sales and only manage to stay in business thanks to a handful of fluke successes. At the very least, you would think twice about trusting one of those jewelers with the success of your own gem. You’d be well advised, in fact, to eschew the guidance of professional jewelers altogether and take matters into your own hands. Replace “jewelry” with “manuscripts” and “jewelers” with “publishers” and you’ll have a pretty good sense of how the publishing industry works (or doesn’t work).

A moment ago I stated that no one knows what causes a novel to be a success, which isn’t entirely true. The one characteristic shared by all successful novels (other than those written by known authors) is that they are books that people tell their friends about. The rub, of course, is that no one knows what exactly causes someone to be filled with the urge to tell another person about a book. Quality helps, sure, but when’s the last time a co-worker brought in a copy of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House or Voltaire’s Candide and said “You have to read this”? What makes people do this with the Harry Potter books and The Da Vinci Code and Twilight? Like most people, I have no idea. But I do know this: for someone to want to recommend a book to other people, they have to be excited about it. And how do you know what people are going to be excited about? The best way to answer that question, in my opinion, is to ask yourself what you are excited about – and then write about that.

This is a critical point. Writers are often told to “keep your audience in mind,” which is good advice – unless, when you think of your audience, you imagine some amorphous crowd of people who fit some particular demographic. If you target your book at 30something college-educated male science fiction fans or 20something white single mothers, you’re going to fail. No one wants to read a book targeted at a demographic. You want your reader to think, as they are reading your novel, “Wow, this author knows me.” How do you do accomplish this? Again, write what you are excited about. No matter how eclectic your interests, there are other people out there like you – and they have friends. Did J.K. Rowling know that there was an untapped market of tens of millions dying to read about British children attending a school of wizardry? Probably not. But she was excited by the idea, and that excitement is infectious.

Don’t write for a demographic. Don’t write for publishers, reviewers or agents. Write for yourself and maybe for that handful of people who really “get” you. Don’t worry about the appeal of your book being too narrow. My novel, Mercury Falls, certainly isn’t for everybody. To be honest, I’m surprised that its appeal has turned out to be as broad as it is, considering that it’s filled with obscure references to everything from Occam’s Razor to Creedence Clearwater Revival to Wargames. What I’ve learned is that, ironically, by intentionally refusing to pander to my audience, I actually made Mercury Falls more interesting for readers outside of what I originally thought was my target demographic. Readers respond to authenticity, originality and excitement, even if it’s not packaged in a way they expect.

I’m convinced that these days being “published” by a traditional publisher is a meaningless detour on the road to being a successful author. The only real advantage to going with a traditional publisher is that you’ll have an editor to help make your book as good (or at least as marketable) as possible. That was the main reason I attempted to go the traditional route before finally self-publishing Mercury Falls. Unfortunately, while I got some positive feedback from literary agents, I just couldn’t get any bites. So I started to float the idea of self-publishing it.

The fascinating thing to me was that the people who screamed “NO! DON’T DO IT!” were themselves aspiring authors who had not yet been published. All of the published authors I knew said, “That’s a great idea. Go for it. Get your work in front of readers and show publishers that you can sell a few thousand books.” Published authors already know that being published ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. That’s not to say there aren’t challenges associated with self-publishing, but compared with the challenges facing any unknown author, the challenges of self-publishing are nothing.

It’s true that the odds of a self-published book being successful are extremely small. But to say that self-publishing generally results in failure is to confuse cause and effect. The odds of any book being successful are extremely small. Books published by traditional publishers are more likely to succeed because publishers have the luxury of cherry-picking the one book out of a thousand that they think will sell (and they are still wrong most of the time!). Saying that publishers create bestsellers is like saying the NFL creates great football players. The NFL doesn’t create great players; all they do is try to predict which players will be great. Similarly, if a publisher decides to publish your book, it’s because your book has a good chance at success. The difference between writing and playing football is that writing is a solitary endeavor. While a professional football player would have a hard time succeeding outside the NFL, you don’t need the approval of a Big Publisher any more than a marathon runner needs the approval of the National Marathon Runners Association. If you have a book in you, write it.

So, to the question “How do I write a bestselling novel?” I can only answer that I have no more of an idea than anyone else. What I do know is that writing a novel that you’re excited about is a very good first step. If you’re excited about it, there’s a good chance other people will get excited about it – and if one of those people is a literary agent or an editor at a big publishing house, that’s a nice bonus. But don’t write for that faceless agent or editor. Write for yourself.


Rob Kroese said...

Thanks, Elisa! Am I eligible to win the free copies? People keep taking mine.

Elisa said...

Sure. I'd be curious to see the inscription you'd write to yourself, however.

And the pleasure was all mine!

William Curtis said...

Having a PDF copy, I would love a hard copy as well. I need to buy a few as gifts... Note placed on record...

@Bill_Curtis_42 at Twitter... :)

Bubblewench said...

Pretty interesting post! I'm more of a reader then a writer, so I hit the #1 more often. I would love a signed copy of Rob's book! He totally rocks.

Peachez Villa said...

I'm very excited to read Mercury Falls. A signed copy would be amazing!

Elizabeth said...

I'd love a signed copy! :)

Elizabeth Brown
@frugalereader on Twitter

Tawania said...

This post was very interesting, and intriguing. I am always curious about what inspires, and drives a writer. I think its awesome you didn't listen to everyone else, and self published. You made your dream come true, and that's always a beautiful thing.


Eric J. Krause said...

You make many excellent points, Rob. I think publishing is getting to the point, thanks to the explosion of ebooks, where self-publishing is a viable option. And those like you, Rob, are proving this correct. Though I still dream of a publishing contract, I believe the self-publishing route is a good one. If you believe in your work, even if agents and publishers don't, put it out there. As long as you've worked hard to make it the best product you can, there should no longer be any shame in pronouncing yourself as a self-published author.

Greg said...

I would love to write the novel I want to read, but I fear that years of writing technical reports would mean that it would be written entirely in the passive voice...

Rob Kroese said...

Greg - If your book is as funny as that comment, you're gold!

Thanks, everybody! This whole process really has been a dream come true for me. Sales of the AmazonEncore edition have been so strong that my editor is asking me when the sequel will be ready! (Soon, I hope!)

Jamie D. said...

I've been meaning to read Mercury Falls for awhile now - you're a marketing machine, Rob, and I certainly won't *forget* to read it because the title is everywhere (in a non-spammish sort of way). After reading your philosophy on writing here, I'm even more intrigued to check it out.

These days, self-publishers have easy access to good editors (love mine!), great cover artists, and direct contact with readers...wider distribution is really the only thing a trad. publisher can provide. I know for me, self-publishing my first novella has been such a great experience that I really don't know that I'll ever chase a contract.

I do write what I want to read...and apparently there are a few other people out there who want to read them too. Who knew? ;-)

Anonymous said...

mr Kroese, you're such a tempter lol Having a signed copy of your book would be awesome!



Anonymous said...

Trying to get up energy for another go at the NaNoWriMo word count. I've read MF (1st edition), and really enjoyed it. I'm still trying to figure out the difference between a writer and an author, and glad to see that you've broken the code.

@bruceschindler on twitter

Jenni said...

Ok, ok! The fire has been lit, I will yank the idea that has been brewing out of my head and onto some paper (for NaNoWriMo). You have inspired me.
Plus, I'd love a chance to have a signed copy of Mercury Falls!

JackBSmoke said...

I believe part of the success your story had is that people like to tell their friends about books they like. You've just taken that a step further by being the friend who told your friends about the book you like, and, coincidentally, wrote.

You started following me on Twitter, and I followed back after checking that you weren't a Spambot, which you might actually be, but in a good way.

You've won me over by some funny statements, questions, and shamelessly marketing your book, and while I haven't read it yet, I guess I'll get a copy sooner or later - whether winning a signed copy or not. And if I like it, I'll tell my friends.

Thing is - you made a "friend" in whatever sort of Twitterish way, and you've convinced him to have a look at that book you like. Genius marketing, and hard work, I guess.

Rob Kroese said...

Jack - I am a shameless whore, it's true. But hey, if I'm not excited about the book, who else is going to be?

BTW, if you have a Kindle, I'm going to be doing a special Kindle charity challenge in the very near future (as in later today). I'll be posting details on

So even if you don't win, you can get an e-copy for not too much and support a great charity!

Les DuLunch said...

I'll stick with reading the novel I want to read.
I was going to re-read Mercury Falls, but as soon as I get it back someone else borrows it. That's what I get for having cheap friends with good taste.