Friday 1 July 2005

How to look at your work with commercial eyes

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

These are said to be the five stages of death – which is how a lot of writers feel about commercialising their work. But if you want to get published, you probably ought to fast forward to the last one. Here are tips to help get you going, based on a talk by Kelly Cauldwell, senior editor at Random House UK:

  • Jumping on a bandwagon? Give your boy-magician-in-boarding-school plot a twist that keeps you-know-who glued to your manuscript. Kids may still have an appetite for fantasy, but spare a thought for the frazzled Random House reader on his 300th magical adventure of the season.

  • Editors have to stand up in a meeting of publishing bigwigs and talk up your book. Kelly says: “Think of how your book will sound when it is presented to somebody else.” It’s useful to think up a catchy answer to the question, “What’s it about?” Here’s what they said about Artemus Fowl: “Die Hard with Fairies.” Beat that.

  • Go to the section of the bookshop where your book will most likely be displayed, if published. Which books sit neatly on the shelf in a tidy jumper and which ones have big hair and padded shoulders, bungee jumping into passing shopping bags? Consider your book’s marketing potential and, when you get your next rejection, consider the thought that the editor might have loved it but could not think of a way to sell it.

  • Kelly says: “Think of who will buy your book.” Dads? Mums? Kids? Grannies? Librarians? These are your market – so impress them!

  • Kelly says: “We are looking for something we can make a splash about but because it is so expensive to produce we rarely sign up individual titles for this age range (six to eight).” Series, anyone?


  1. Thanks for the excellent advice. I've never understood writers, authors, artists, and musicians who complain about having to be too commercial and starving for their art at the same time.

  2. Good advice indeed. There is nothing wrong with deliberately crafting something that people are going to want to buy. I recently received from my publisher (Andersen Press)an A5-sized slip of paper which is being given to their sales people (to equip them for marketing 'Sophie and the Albino Camel') - it lists 'sales points' very starkly, in a way I would not have thought of myself.

  3. Steve, would love to hear what those sales points were! Congrats btw on the Albino Camel book

  4. Disappointed to hear that its rare for publishers to take on individual titles in the 6-8 age group, as its such a strong period for inbedding learning in children and can be used to inform their coping skills for the future -
    + I have a wonderful cross cultural story that falls into this age group !


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