Being a Better Writer: Selling the Vision

Today’s post is going to be more about editing. Sort of. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So first, welcome back readers! I hope you all had a good weekend! Especially with Episode 12 of Fireteam Freelance having dropped on Saturday. Was that a ride or what?

Now, I’d like to say there’s more news, but at the moment … not yet. There have been some interesting developments on my side of things, but at the moment they’re still in the formulative stage, so I’m going to hold off talking about it as of yet. There’s still time for things to go one way or the other.

Which means we’re going to dive right into today’s Being a Better Writer topic. Also, the quicker we dive in, the quicker I can get to work today on Starforge, which is WHOA. Patreon supporters know what I’m talking about.

So then, let’s talk about selling the vision.

This is kind of an interesting topic because it’s a little more to the end of the book process than the beginning. So a bit less with writing, and a bit more with the marketing. But also, not quite, because this also ties into the writing, and then the editing … But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s flip this and talk about a single statement.

What’s the vision of your book, and how will you convince someone to read it?

One of the earliest issues that a lot of young writers discover—as I myself certainly did—is that once you’ve written a book it’s a lot harder than you’d think to sell it. Many first-time authors, while writing a book, often have as a source of inspiration friends or family, people who encourage them to publish and get it out there with the line “If you sold that, I’d certainly buy it.”

So these young would be authors become actual authors, pouring a heart and soul into a book, doing all the work and getting it out there. It hits the shelves and they find … sales aren’t as high as they thought.

Don’t get me wrong. There will be sales. A number of the people who swore they’d buy the book will, in fact, buy it. But there will be another group of them that will continually pass off excuses such as “Oh, I’ve been meaning to, but I’m just so busy.” This will go further, too. If the author releases another book, they’ll find that many of those first time buyers who just bought the first one to be supportive but little else aren’t that interested in simply financing their passions with no result to themselves (after all, a number of them are buying it to be supportive, not to read it). And by a third book, well … The sales that do remain from that crowd are going to be fans who not only read it, but enjoyed it.

Apologies if this sounds a little depressing, but it’s the reality of publishing. Many young authors have visions of being the “lucky” one whose friends all buy their book and tell everyone and since one works at a massive media outlet they become the next breakaway hit, but …

The odds of that are pretty long indeed. No, instead what’s going to happen is marketing and the pursuit of fans who enjoy an authors works for being an authors works. And for that to work, there’s something that an author really needs to understand and explain.

The vision of the book.

See, the issue with the wave of readers we spoke of above, the ones buying an author’s first book because it’s an author’s first book … Is that they’re doing exactly that. They’re buying the book because of the author, not because of the book.  They may be somewhat interested in the subject matter of the book, and may even enjoy it, but at the end of the day they didn’t purchase it because of the genre or the content, they bought it because they know the name on the cover.

Note that this is different from the sort of “name power buying” that can happen later in an author’s career, where a fan thinks “Oh, I love this author’s books, and this is a new one! Purchase!” No, this is more “Oh, I know this person and I want to support them, so I’ll purchase this thing that they made.”

Not exactly what any author wants their book to be purchased for. A purchase is a purchase, sure, but we would prefer our readers read and enjoy the work. Most of us anyway.

But yea, this first wave didn’t buy the book for for the book. They bought the book for a sort of “social credit.” And that’s not the book market you really want to drive for (for one, it’s not that sustainable, and for another those that do purchase books for social credit are both flighty and driven mostly by the mass-media, so unless you have an in with them and are okay having a moment in the sun …

Which you don’t. Which means finding those readers (who can become fans) who want the book for the book, for whatever is inside its pages. It also means convincing them that your work is worth trying out (and the newer you are, the harder this is), spending their hard-earned money on and taking the time to read.

If you think this is easy, I assure you that it is not, and that it is much harder than it sounds. This, readers, is marketing, and marketing is a nebulous beast both so complex and simple at the same time that many go to schools for degrees in the subject yet still resort to arcane summonings to try and get things to fit together.

But it’s a lot easier once you’ve got the vision figured out.

Okay, it’s time to finally talk about this “vision” thing I’ve been touching on before darting away for paragraphs now. Some of you might be thinking “Oh, it’s your elevator pitch!” Good guess, but incorrect. No, a vision is a bit broader than that. More encompassing.

A vision, for the context we’re using here, is what kind of book you’re selling. Not just in terms of genre or length, but in what takes place, what sort of mood the book enjoys, and what happens in it.

Now, quick aside, why wouldn’t I just use “genre” for something like this? Because genre is a far-ranging category. Shadow of an EmpireThe Codex Alera, The Goblin Emperor, and The Lord of the Rings are all Fantasy … but each is pretty different, and there are definitely readers out there that prefer one but didn’t enjoy another.

But I use the term vision talking about this for another reason as well: Because this vision isn’t just limited to the marketing/sales end of the book process. This vision is also going to be something you have when writing the book, and something you need to make sure you’ve captured when editing the book. So that when you go to sell the book on that vision, it’s in there, and you can find the audience that’s attracted to it.

This may still feel a little confusing, so let’s hit this with an example. Let’s say you wanted to write a vigilante crime thriller about a character who suspects there’s more to a mugging than initially appears and goes vigilante trying to solve it. A good base, but there are a lot of ways this idea could be taken. This could be a darker, brooding look on self-deception and self-destruction as the protagonist gets deeper and deeper in while ignoring the consequences and in the end solves the mystery at the cost of everything they had. Or it could be a lighthearted comedy about a character who’s determined to solve the mystery but utterly clueless, bumbling around much like Inspector Clouseau and wreaking utter havoc while still managing to come out on top due to dumb luck.

Both of these are radically different crime thriller mysteries, but both are also perfectly valid stories. Both will involve very different approaches not only the story and writing, but also to the way the book is pitched at readers. Readers looking for a darker, more serious thriller, naturally, will not be as enthused if they purchase your book about a bumbling vigilante that, rather than somber seriousness, looks to get belly laughs from its audience.

So you carry this vision, from the inception of the story, through the writing, through the editing (more on this in a bit), and then you convey this vision to your perspective audience, so that this audience can say to themselves “Oh, well I quite like that, I should buy this.”

You’ve sold them the vision.

Okay, so let’s break down the steps here and talk a bit more on them. First, writing the vision.

Writing the vision is personally the easiest of the steps, and I don’t think many would disagree. Because you, as the writer, know what you want the story to be. You know what you want the readers to get out of it. You know what the emotions and pivotal moments are going to be. It’s your story, and you know what you want it to look like. Even if you’re a novice and the writing isn’t that good, the shape of the vision should still be there, much like how even a really, really bad painter can at least make a mass of similar colors sharing a shape bearing a resemblance of some kind (This, by the way, is me. I am not a painter).

Of course, you still need to keep that vision in mind. What moods are you going for? What big scenes did you really want to sell? What setting?

For example, going into Shadow of an Empire one of the bits of the vision that I really wanted to sell was the hot, dry grit and dirt of a desert. That baked feeling that wandering around under a hot, arid sun can drive home. I wanted the reader to feel like they were under that hot sun with Sali and Meelo. I wanted them to feel the grit underfoot and the dust on their legs, the hot sun baking down and the cool refreshing shock of a sip of cold water after a long day.

That was, to me, a very important part of the vision of the story as I went in. That sprawling, sun-baked “old west” feel needed to be there. And so as I wrote, I made sure to work with that vision in mind and let it impact every chapter.

Now, this wasn’t all of the vision for Shadow of an Empire, but it was a portion of it. Having it fixed in my head while writing was important to keep me on track with working it into the book. But the writing wasn’t the only bit I had to think about. Sure, I needed to convey that vision, but I also needed to make sure that I actually had. So when editing rolled around …

Normally when one says that editing is crucial to the success of a book, they’re thinking about the basic stuff. Typos. Plot holes. Character consistency. Etcetera. All the usual things. But there’s one aspect of editing that isn’t talked about as much, and in all honesty it probably should be mentioned more.

You guessed it. The vision. Is the work selling it?

This one is a bit tricky, because you can’t just tell your editors what the vision is and ask “Does this story sell it?” if you did, they’d probably be looking for it, and might convince themselves “Well, this sells it, so yes.” It’s like the old science adage of “You can’t examine something without changing it.”

So then how do you know if your work is selling your vision?

You look at the feedback.

For example, with all of my Alpha Readers I’ve always encouraged them to leave thoughts on each chapter (at the least) so that I can see how the story is shaping up to them. Thoughts and impressions like this from my readers about how a chapter went are invaluable to the editing process because they show me, in no uncertain terms, if a reader is getting the “vision” of the story. If several readers get to the end of a chapter and focus on something else that wasn’t supposed to be the vision (not an error, just something else) or comment with regards to the vision, I can edit based on those comments to draw things closer or (if the inverse is needed) push them back a bit.

Again let me offer an example (a recent one) of this in practice. One of my visions with Axtara – Banking and Finance was to make the protagonist’s chosen occupation (banking, finance, and math) exciting to the reader. After all, the protagonist loves it, and I wanted that love to come across as a theme of “Everyone can have their own likes that they enjoy.” I worked pretty hard to show that Axtara enjoyed her work, loved math, and hey, that’s fine (as opposed to a lot of YA novels these days which have reacted to old gender/age pigeonholes by simply inverting them).

Then, when Axtara went to the Alpha Readers, I watched the comments carefully, waiting to see if that part of the vision would hold out once readers got their hands on it. Did they sense and react to that vision? Or did it skip them by?

And rest assured, if the readers were not seeing the same “vision” that I was, that would mean I’d need to make changes, either to correct where the vision had gone, or to bring the book in line with a new, different vision (assuming they liked it).

Keeping the vision in mind as you edit is key, because if you don’t and your book doesn’t deliver on that vision, you may end up selling the wrong readers the wrong vision. Which would then leave them with a slightly sour taste in their mouth as they got something they didn’t expect.

So, when you edit, make sure to get feedback on just general thoughts and reactions to your work so that you can see that your readers are reacting to your vision. Or not, in which case editing should immediately ensue.

Of course, this isn’t the last time you’ll need to sell that vision.

See, there’s definitely one other area that should sell the vision: The cover. Yeah, I know, a lot of books don’t get this choice, and maybe you’re not even going to be in charge of any cover decisions because you’re selling a short story or something. But if you are going to be making decisions on a cover, here’s what to do:

When you get your cover artist, explain the vision to them, then let them show you some concepts.

Look, the biggest problem a lot of artists will readily complain about with authors is authors that think they know more than the artist at how to frame a picture, etc.

Don’t be that author. With Shadow of an Empire, I handed the artist I hired the opening chapters so they could get their own feel, suggested a few cover elements, other artwork of theirs that had a similar “feel,” and that was it. They gave me a few concepts, I picked one, and away they went.

Shadow of an Empire - Text Wallpaper

The end result that they came up with worked wonderfully, as it does convey the “vision” of the book quite well.

So yes, you want your cover to convey the vision of your story, but you also want to let the artist you hire do the job you hired them for. Don’t overcoach. You’ll end up with something that isn’t quite as good.

All right, with that, we’re on to the final element of “selling the vision.” The actual sale. How do you get the reader to realize that your book has the vision they want. You know what it is. But they don’t.

Your last job is getting them to see that vision so that they’ll pick up your book. How do you do this?

Well, the cover is part of it. So is the blurb. But the biggest two you’ll make use of are advertising and personal pitches.

Of these three, advertising is, early on, going to be your most effective tool. Lining up ads places is going to be the best way to get people to notice your work. But how can you convey vision?

Two ways come to mind. The first is making sure that your ad’s blurb, whatever that may be, does in some way convey your pitch. Action-packed military Sci-Fi? Romance Fantasy? Get that in the pitch.

But second? Find works that have a similar vision to your own and use them as recommended audience for your ads. Ads these days are tailored. If you’ve noted that The Expanse books are similar to your own in vision, then advertise to readers who like that series! Get those readers to try your work based on that similarity!

What about in person pitches? Well, in general you want these to be short and sweet, but still hook someone. But it only helps if your pitch conveys the idea of the vision behind it. Even just in the way it sounds or the questions it leaves in the listener’s mind.

And … that’s it. I’ve said enough about working to sell your vision. Yeah, it encompasses a lot, but I think some of you will have found this was an angle you really wanted to know about.

So, let’s refresh before we go: Your “vision” is the kind of book you’re selling. Not genre, but just the sort of feel and approach you have to your work. A focus (or several) of some kind. Maybe a theme, maybe a character.

However, this vision should be kept in mind through both writing and editing. Writing so that the vision comes across in the work, and editing so that you can make sure that the vision is indeed being felt by the audience.

From there, you still need to consider vision with the cover, and with your advertising, so that your work reaches the people who will be the most interested in that vision.

Good luck. Now get writing!

Being a Better Writer exists thanks to the aid of the following Patreon supporters: Frenetic, Pajo, Anonymous Potato, tiwake, Taylor, Jack of a Few Trades, Alamis, Seirsan, Grand General Luna, Miller, Hoopy McGee, Brown, Lightwind, and Thomas! Special thanks to them for helping keep Unusual Things ad-free and the Being a Better Writer articles coming!

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