Monday, 25 August 2008

Enid Blyton: Modernising the Classic? - Part Three

Modern Markets
How far do you go to market your book by making the writing fit modern market expectations? Should you write the story you want to and to hang with the market, (HP, JKR - who could have known?) or if your main goal is to get published, first make sure that your plot, setting and characters will appeal to your target audience and the market gatekeepers - your agent or editor? How well do you know your ever changing market and can your writing keep pace?

I reviewed an extract from a children's novel recently, set in France. The descriptive prose was beautiful, clear and full of sensory delights - but the children say 'Fancy...' and are called Timmy and Sally. No matter how good the story might become, I fear that the author will just have no chance of making it past an editor's desk. At least, it seems, probably not past that of those behind the new “cool” Enid Blyton books.

Is this what the market wants? How well do the gatekeepers know the readers? I know I devoured every one of the Famous Five and in the 80's they certainly hadn't had a makeover with "Madonna-style" leg warmers nor did they warn each other of dangers via the pioneering models of a mobile phone, and I didn't expect them to.

Blyton once said that criticism from people over the age of 12 “didn't matter”, but the over-twelves in the publishing world decide what gets allowed through the gate to reach those target readers.

Open Sesame?
How do we convince the gatekeepers, the agents, editors and publishing houses, that what we have written will sell? Let’s be honest, as an author, no matter how well you feel you have done your research and know your market, it is their job. Those gatekeepers are the professionals in their field, just as you wouldn't try open heart surgery without a medical qualification and experience, what makes you think you know your book will sell better than they do?

However, don’t be put off by rejection if you believe in your work. On rare occasions, you may be right. Don't forget, after all those rejections, when the first Harry Potter was published in 1997, the novel was considered to have such modest prospects that Bloomsbury ordered a first print run of just 500 copies. And 300 of those were distributed to school libraries.

The market demand needs to pull the book from the publisher to convince them it is wanted. But it is a finely balanced partnership with the quality of the writing pushing the writing to stand out from the crowd, and saying to the gatekeeper and the reader, "pick me." New authors' energy and the advice given to them, seems most often to focus on the query letter, the pitch to an agent or publisher, but these people are not going to promote it (at least not until you are famous). Telling them how good your book is in itself, even why it is different from what is already on the market will not be enough to take it on and make it a success. The gatekeepers are in business and need to know it will sell. Therefore, in my opinion if we are targeting commercial success, we should change our mindset to focus first on the market and show in the query how we meet it. Who are your target buyers and readers? Why will they read what you are writing? What is similar to your work and what statistical data do you have to show it sells? If you can convince them why your book gives them something new that readers want and have some data to prove it, you have one part of the key to take to the gatekeepers.

Modernising our meaning?

So for the other part, how do you convince a reader of the merits of your work? Excellent writing, a good plot, well-rounded and engaging characters go without saying, there is no room for second-best writing in today’s market. But beyond that I believe, it is the values we have as a writer that shine through. If we believe in what we are writing and why, and can apply vision, passion and discipline, I believe you will find your market success. You need to make it happen. Think Christopher Paolini, Eragon.

Being true to ourselves as writers, makes modernity and classicism unimportant. If you write a book that has never finished saying what it has to say to its audience, you write well. And we can just hope it will be as loved sixty-six years on as Blyton’s Famous Five.

No comments: