Monday 12 September 2011


Yesterday, I did a workshoppish eventish thing for aspiring writers at the Stirling Off the Page festival and I promised that I'd put something from it up here. I'd created a list of questions that I think writers need to ask themselves to assess their readiness for publication. And here it is!

If you find the questions hard to answer, that suggests you and your book are not yet ready for publication.

How ready are you for publication?

Your genre and your readers – knowing your book
1. How well do you know your readers? What books do they read? Name three books. (You should be able to do this immediately, without struggling.)
2. Do you read and love the books your readers like? Are you an expert in your genre?
3. Why do they read? (Eg: Pure pleasure/escapism? To be challenged? To have their thoughts provoked? To learn? To identify?)
4. What do they want in a book? (Eg: Happy ending? To be scared? Action? Reflection?)
5. What would be your dream review comment?
6. On a scale of 1-10, how closely does your book match that expectation? Are you good enough yet?
7. Is your book more commercial or literary? How realistically can you place your book on that continuum? Are you comfortable with its position? (This is about how well you understand your market and how committed you are to this writing.)

Ingredients - fiction
8. In a sentence, what is your MC’s main problem/goal and what will happen if he fails?
9. Do you think that is enough? Are the stakes high enough? (Different genres have different requirements in this respect.)
10. If your MC is asleep right now, what will be his first thought on waking? (This indicates how well you know him/her and how deeply in your head he is.)
11. Have you thought about and worked at voice, pace and pov? Are they appropriate for genre? (If you haven't thought about these or feel uncertain, Write to be Published has much to help you.)

Ingredients – non-fiction
12. What are the competing books?
13. How is yours different?
14. Who needs your book? (Define your readers.)
15. Have you matched the voice/tone to that need? Have you written what those readers need and want?

Research and submission
16. Have you started to research publishers and agents?
17. Are you reading blogs/books about how to become published?
18. Are you networking or at least prepared to? (You may need to buy Tweet Right! £2.74 on Kindle or the free Kindle app for laptops etc.)

19. If it became obvious that this book won’t be published, what would you do? (If you would give up, then you don't have the right mindset for a published writer. You should be writing your next book while submitting the first - no agent or publisher wants or will take a one-book-wonder.)

Do those questions make sense? Have they challenged you or provoked you to aim higher or work harder, or to be patient? Do they daunt you or inspire you?

I'd love to know!

Most interesting question from the audience: "How do you tweet while drying your hair?"



Shauna said...

Brilliant opening question. It's so important to know exactly who you are writing for, and something a lot of people don't seem to give much thought to - other than to say everyone!

Joanna Cannon said...

Great questions, Nicola. I especially like the one about your MC's first thought when they wake. The commercial/literary question is also particularly interesting. So many books I've read recently seem to stretch between the two, which is wonderful, but I think you must have to work extra hard to tackle this market.

Nicola Morgan said...

Shauna, I agree. It's worth saying, though, that some successful writers don't think very much about this, or not consciously. But I maintain that they have subconsciously tapped into what readers want and therefore the readers are very satisfied. But a very common reason for failing to be published is not thinking about readers and missing what they need and want, so I definitely believe that for most of us it's important to think about it.

Jo - I think books that stretch between the two are the ones I most love. But i think that in order to be sold they need a very strong idea or hook. I'm thinking of things like Incendiary and Chris Cleave, Room by Emma Donaghue (sp?) and Then by Julie Myerson.

catdownunder said...

Hmmm - well I do know exactly what my MC is thinking when he wakes up. Prowling off to think about the rest of the questions!

Dan Holloway said...

I have no problem with any of these questions, except for the little curve ball you've thrown into number 6 - "Are you good enough yet?" - that's a very different question from all the others. And sadly, as Dunning-Kruger tells us, those most likely to say yes are least likely to be the ones for whom that's the right answer. The other questions, though, are an excellent way of replacing subjective "am I good enough?"/"am I ready enough?" questions with objective ones.

On the commercial/literary continuum thing - I'm very excited by the amount of attention being paid to the forthcoming release of 1Q84 (some of us have been drumming our fingers for 2 years waiting impatiently for the translation). I've read that some stores are holding late-opening parties for it the likes of which haven't been seen since Harry Potter. Let's hope it revitalises the literary market (especially as Murakami-esque is the adjective I always use about my books)

C D Meetens said...

This is a great list of questions, Nicola. Thank you. I'm rewriting at the moment, so will bear these in mind, although I can answer straight off about the MC's thoughts upon waking up, which is something.

JO said...

So helpful to have this written succinctly like this - much better than some of the airy-fairy ideas about 'making sure your book is ready' without saying what 'ready' looks like. Thanks.

Delia LLoyd said...

Hi Nicola. I absolutely LOVE this list. As I get ready to send out my ms. (again!) I'm going to bear all of this in mind. Some of it easy to answer; some harder. I particularly like the question about MC/sleep. Brilliant and so spot on!

Delia Lloyd

Karen Baldwin said...

Wow! I had answered many questions...but you've posed some new ones. This post is great.

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

Interesting post, Nicola. Great fiood for thought with the searching questions.

Kristina Stanley said...

These are thought provoking comments. Thanks for taking the time to share. I agree with Dan Holloway's comments on question 6. This is a hard one to be objective about and I think the harder you are on yourself, the better your story will be.

Anonymous said...

Such good questions, Nicola - especially as I'm an inhabitant of that literary-commercial crossover space too.

I shall pass them on!

Daniel Blythe said...

I found those tough questions and I'm published! They're good ones, though...

Margaret Morton Kirk said...

I wondered about the hair-drying too - you must have very cooperative hair!

Thank you for a very informative and interesting talk-I actually feel better about my chances after listening to you, which I really wasn't expecting. (Hope that doesn't place me in the 'deluded' category).

It's a shame time didn't allow for more discussion of 'platform' - would have been well received, I think.

Anonymous said...

That's a really good list to check through. I can do it all for my finished book but I still wander if an agent will bite. However, I'm going to bear it all in mind while plotting and writing my new novel even while I await that other decision. It can only help to keep it on track.

Dorte H said...

Very useful questions.

And I was so certain I had written exactly the kind of cosy mystery that I would enjoy reading that I went on and published it myself.

Readers´ reactions: very favourable on the whole. They have suggested an old-fashioned list of characters, though, as I have many. Again, self-publishing has an advantage: I could just add that list myself.

NB: I am not saying self-publishing is best for anyone - I have just spent enough years of my life waiting for that contract, and I don´t see the point of being published post-humously ;)

stephen said...

Yeah, the "M/C waking up" one hit the spot for me - made me rethink my latest chapter - and hopefully the rewrite made it a better one.

Just that one tip is worth a million thanks - now I feel confident I can be good enough...

Patsy said...

Great questions - they've helped me decide where next to focus my writing efforts.