Treat Your Book Like a Startup (PNWA session round-up)


Friday morning at the conference was comprised mainly of the agent and editor sessions in the main ballrooms. Even though their names and bios were published in the session booklet, it was still insightful to hear them talk about what they were looking for and answer questions. Unlike my first conference in 2010, we were able to get through all of them and still have time for questions. 🙂

The first true sessions, then, were at lunchtime, but even these were “sponsored” sessions—meant to be informative, but given by one of the conference’s sponsors. Now, I have no problem with conference sponsorships, but I was wary of the value of such sessions. However, I’m pleased to say that I actually enjoyed this one, which was sponsored by BookCountry.

The BookCountry rep began by asking the audience to name products that began as startups, and we got the familiar ones like Twitter and Uber. She defined a startup as a business that can test the waters of its market with a small investment and change based on feedback. (For example, Twitter was originally a podcasting platform.) These strategies allow startups to morph into better fitting a marketplace they might not have originally targeted or thought was open to them, and allows them to slowly build up a positive buzz instead of blowing all their marketing money on a campaign that doesn’t create a splash. (Or worse, that creates a splash but dies out due to an inferior product.)

How do you know if your product is good? Get feedback. Doing so reduces risk, because you understand how your product will be received. Now, what if your product is a book? How do you find objective beta readers who can give you great, specific feedback on your work?

  1. Local writing groups
  2. A developmental editor ($)
  3. Paid writing classes, online or in person ($)
  4. Writing conferences or retreats (probably $)
  5. Writing contests (possibly $)
  6. Online workshops, such as BookCountry

BookCountry sounds similar to CritiqueCircle, both of which are free platforms that allow you to earn “credits” by critiquing others’ work and use the credits to post your own work for review. With any free service, it’s important to know where the money’s coming from so that you can judge whether it’s likely to pollute the quality of the service. In BookCountry’s case, it’s run by Penguin, which appears to be hoping to crowdsource some of its slushpile filtering. While of course Penguin has a profit motive, there’s a lot to be gained and nothing that would obligate you to Penguin (AFAIK), so it seems like a safe place. Either way, the rep’s suggestions were good and her points well-taken.

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