When New York Times Bestselling Author Charles J. Shields spoke to the Virginia Writers Club symposium recently, I was especially interested in his comments about thinking about what will sell before proceeding in writing a book. Too often, we as writers are drawn to work on the "book of our hearts". Then, we are disappointed when the finished product does not sell well.
Shields is a well-known biographer who chose author Harper Lee as the subject of his "highly acclaimed, bestselling biography" Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. He also wrote And So It Goes:Kurt Vonnegut: A Life. During his talk Shields explained how he did research for both biographies and pointed out that research is much easier now with the availability of the Internet. There are online journal sources and librarians who help out by looking in folders and making copies for authors who pay for that convenience.
A retired educator, Shields noted that writers should not overlook the school publishing market for their work. He won several awards for his young adult version of the Lee book - I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee.
These are some of the thoughts and tips Shields gave:
*Don't look for approval from other people.
*If you are a serious writer, you have to treat it as a job.
*Read your work aloud; it should just flow.
*Good writing should read like good conversation (from Virginia Woolf).
*Interviewing is a reciprocal process.
*Follow you bliss; take a chance.
The last thought seems in opposition of the idea of considering what will sell before writing a book, but perhaps it is not. After all, we as writers can first study what will sell, then follow our bliss with the right idea for today's writing market.
So much to learn in this amazing and ever more exciting world of writing...
Mary Montague Sikes