I was perusing some of my favorite writing links and made a pit stop off at Editorial Anonymous’ house for tea and crumpets. Oh who am I kidding, EA strikes me more of a vodka and Ritz crackers type, but I digress…
There was a wonderful post about “issue” books – books that concentrate on a particular issue, be it alcoholism, divorce, or the heartbreak of an inverted bellybutton and webbed feet. EA’s point is that since these issues speak to a limited populace, sales will be also be limited.
To that end, it’s important to consider your subject matter when embarking on your writing journey. This requires research – with your audience and the marketplace. Remember, unique is good, but not so unique that it falls off the table with nary a thud.
Since I have a penchant for memoirs and biographies, I receive a vast amount of these “issues” manuscripts. “Please consider my story about how I conquered fear of bicycle pumps!” one pleads. Another shouts out a personal journey of overcoming halitosis. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating just a bit – but not by much. There are many days that I shake my head and mutter, “Are they serious, or trying to see if I have standards?” To which the beagle normally replies that my standards went out the window with cassette tapes and my love for The Monkees.
Do you have an audience?
I honor the fact that you overcame your fear of flying by chanting “I”m an Oscar Meyer wiener,” or beat cancer by eating peach pits, but I have to weigh that against whether there is an audience large enough who has experienced the same malady. I receive all kinds of revolutionary “this worked for me” stories, but most of them are so silly or unfounded, that I have to consider their relevancy.
It may very well be that peanut butter enemas cure the hiccups, but where is your audience? Have you seen articles in the paper, or on the news that cover the same issues as your topic? The notion of “If you write it, they will come” is passé. Finding your audience, or whether you even have one, takes research.
Do you have proof?
Let’s take our peanut butter enema/hiccup example. For most obscure, strange, weird issues, you need to have proof that this is a common problem that afflicts a large populace – hiccups, in this case. To prove that applying peanut butter where the sun don’t shine is the cure, you will need to have data that verifies your claims – and I’m not talking “the lady in the audience” data. Data that has M.D. and Ph.D. after their names. You’ll also need to have a platform that places you at the top of the “expert” list – meaning that when CBS does an expose on hiccups, they’re going to call you for an interview – and request that you bring a jar of Jif or Skippy.
Without this, you’ll pretty much be regarded as just another kook.
Been There, Done That
Then there is the other side of the “issues” spectrum that takes us from obscurity to overcrowding. The biggies are what I call the Unholy Trinity – Divorce, Cancer, Drugs/ Alcohol.
Over the years, I’ve received roughly 250 manuscripts for divorce and 170 for cancer. Drugs and booze come in at about 120. If I see another divorce manuscript, I may suffer a blown ventricle. There are just so many “how I overcame my divorce by…” stories that readers can stomach. The same goes for the rest of the Unholy Trinity.
There MUST be something unique about your “issue.” Something that hasn’t been done before. Or very little. For instance, Alzheimer’s is a HUGE genre. If you check Amazon.com, you’ll see that it goes for pages and pages. However, if you type in Early Onset Alzheimer’s, those numbers drop off exponentially. And that’s why I was thrilled to have Jan’s Story. There is very little of Been There, Done That. And the fact that we’ve blown through 10,000 units in a little over two weeks supports that.
As with any project, it’s wise to define your intent for your story.
What do you want to impart to readers?
What is it you want them to learn?
And is that message unique, or has it been discussed many times over?
It’s great to have an issue – heck, we all gots us issues, right?
The trick is to be the go-to person for your particular issue, and that takes planning and research. The world is already filled with nutballs or others who have written your story before you, just be sure you are at the forefront and not playing catch up.