Using a Laser Instead of a
by Katherine Pryor
all started over a power lunch a few months ago. Sitting across a
linen-draped table from the owner and editor of a Seattle publishing
company, I found myself trying to pin down the target market for my
two unpublished novels.
“Well, they’re contemporary women’s fiction….Except this last one,
which guys would probably like, too….People who like books? Yeah,
that’s my target market,” I stammered.
raised a thick silver eyebrow.
“What’s wrong with contemporary women’s fiction?” I asked.
“Girl,” he sighed, “you’re using a shotgun when you need to be using
I guess this really started seven years ago, when I decided I wanted
to be a writer. With no background in English, no connections to
the publishing industry, and no savings, I sold my car to write my
first novel, 50 Ways. It felt good, so I wrote another, then
time, I joined writing groups and began attending conferences. I
published 50 Ways in 2004, and marketed my little heart out.
A couple people read it—and liked it—and I thought I was on
my way. Then efforts to publish my second novel stalled, and
depression set in. Efforts to publish my third novel stalled, and I
began to wonder what I was doing wrong. I began to question the
validity of my dream.
friend introduced me to a local publisher, hoping he could help me.
I sat across the table from him, trying not to spit out my iced tea
as he pointed out my mistakes in excruciating detail.
“You’re aiming at a huge audience and trying to hit anything that
moves. You need to be more specific. Don’t just write for all
women: write for women in Seattle. Write for women who care about
the environment. Write for women like you.”
cupped his hands together, and narrowed the space between them to
“Figure out how to use a laser, then break out your shotgun.
Go home and write another book. Then write another one. Then we’ll
pulled away from the curb in his red convertible, I felt like I’d
been punched in the stomach. It was hard to breathe. My vision
does he know?
My pride whispered.
man had worked in publishing for 30 years, and eventually I had to
admit that he knew what he was talking about. I put down my
shotgun. I started looking for a laser.
the months since that lunch, I’ve starting freelancing for
environmental magazines and newspapers. I accepted a pro bono
position as Writer in Residence for a local non-profit, and am
working with them on a non-fiction book for regional publication.
I’ve narrowed my range; I’m finding my focus.
faced some rejections, but I've also embraced some victories. I'm
researching stories on subjects that interest me, like building
regional food networks, and interviewing fascinating individuals.
Although I've been warned against "writing to a market," the advice
works when your market is yourself.
phrase "Write what you love" has become a cliché of writing manuals
and conferences, yet most clichés stick because they're true. I'm
researching the topics I want to read about, and apparently I'm not
alone. If I'd like to know more about, say, organic farming
practices, chances are others are curious about it as well.
Authenticity is interesting, and writing about subjects I'm
authentically interested in is building my reader base. If I keep
writing authentic articles, and attracting new readers, my chances
of publishing for a larger audience increase. I'm following my gut
and my curiosity toward a lifetime of professional writing.
is not the road I imagined seven years ago, but it seems to be
taking me where I want to go. I’m publishing on a national level,
and being paid for my work. After years of groping for readers, I
found them in the publications I subscribe to. The answer was in my
mailbox all along.
novels are still waiting for their day in the spotlight, but I’m
building my name and my credibility by publishing for a select
audience. I’m honing my skills while building my platform. I’ll
write another book, then another. Then, we’ll talk.
Katherine Pryor is author of
the novel 50 Ways. She lives
and writes in Seattle.