Turning Whine into Gold
Why should anyone pay you for your writing?
Few aspiring authors give enough thought to answering this question. It is your key to effective marketing, yet many writers would rather skip the tough questions, whine about discoverability, and resort to gimmicks.
Yet I have never bought a novel because it came with a cupcake, a blinking pen, or a candle with a custom-designed scent inspired by one of its scenes. The novels in which I invest my time and money have inherent worth. They are stories that offer new perspective and deepen my understanding of what it means to be human. They are entertaining, engrossing, and enlightening—books I will recommend to my friends.
The marketing edge many authors seek can be found in the answer to one question: “How can I make my writing matter more?”
The following questions, answered quickly, might lead you in a useful direction.
- Is your main character a man or woman? Why?
Humans are intensely interested in this primal question: Is it a boy or a girl? And if it's not clear, or a bit of both—ooh, even more intriguing! Male and female roles are always evolving. How can you make gender matter more in your story?
- What was happening the last time you cried? The last time you laughed so hard you couldn’t breathe? The last time you were so angry that you want to hurt someone?
This speaks to what moves you. And what moves you will move your readers.
- People write for many reasons. Why do you write? What are you seeking? Circle all that apply:
* Part-time income
* Pain relief
* To inspire others/self
* To entertain
* To learn
* To work something through
* To educate
* Other: _____________________
This question speaks to how you define "what matters."
- What kind of story are you interested in writing?
Different genres reveal your concerns by raising different questions. Will the hero and heroine get together? Who will win the war? How will inner conflict be resolved? Will evil be vanquished? Will your dark character ever find hope? Invest us in their concerns by showing us their deeply felt motivations and laying bare the dire consequences should they fail to meet their goals.
- What “real characters” have you known in your life? Who have you truly admired, literary or real? Who have you reviled? What details set them apart?
Characters you feel deeply about can lead you toward your true story material.
- What makes a house a home? What details do you love most in your favorite room at home? Is there a place outside that you particularly love (use details)? Is there a city, building, outdoor space, or room in your world or story that is “hot” (rife with conflict)? Why?
This speaks to the way the settings we choose reveal us, as authors and characters. An interesting contrast can be found between the central barroom in Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist J.R. Moehringer's memoir, The Tender Bar, and the tennis courts on which Andre Agassi plays out inner conflict in his autobiography, Open (ghost-written by Moehringer).
- Complete this sentence: everything changed in my life the day that ______________. What life experiences can you draw from? How have they shaped you? How did these events reveal your character?
This is an inciting incident: the moment beyond which all changes, that raises a question for your protagonist and your reader and tips him into the story. What happened that mattered so much it rocked your world, and inspired the story only you can tell?
- Stories are best told through the eyes of an “outsider.” When were you an outsider? When were you an insider, and what outsiders impacted you?
This speaks to a powerful point of view—the perspective of your story. Readers will relate to this perspective because at some point or another we've all felt the pain of being an outsider.
- What philosophies and religious notions shape the way you believe the way the world works? What life experiences impacted them? Compare before and after.
You don't have to work hard to build philosophical underpinnings into your story. They will simply be there, revealed in every decision you make. Identifying the beliefs revealed through your story, however—even after they reveal themselves to you in the first draft—will help you make the most of them.
10. Think of a story you like to share about your own life. Think of a favorite movie. Now think of a favorite book. What do all three have in common?
What does this say about what matters to you?
BONUS: You wrote ten books before you died, and now your fans have gathered at your funeral. What would you like them to say about you?
I'll share my bonus answer: At the end of my life, should I be so lucky as to have a group of readers at my grave to see me off, I hope they'll say, "Those books were so her."
How about you? Would love to hear your bonus answers in the comments.
Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing.
Kathryn lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA.