Product Management

For those of you who don’t know, my day job (you know, the one that currently pays my mortgage, buys groceries and gets me up and mobile every day) is Product Management.  “And what exactly do you do as a  Product Manager?” you might say.

Well, thank you very much for asking.  I’ll be happy to tell you.

As a Product Manager, I spend my day identifying market requirements (see talking to customers and asking them what they want/need), researching solutions and products that might fit the customer needs and then building products and solutions within the entire framework.  Pretty clear right?  Right?

Would it help if I mentioned that I also create marketing materials that describe what the value and benefits the products and services bring?

No?  What do you mean who cares?  Alright, fine!  I’ll get to the point, since you seem to be asking yourself if there is one.

My point is, what I do for my day job is equally important to what I hope to do for my next career.  And yes, I still want to be a full-time author, thank you very much.  So let’s talk about Product Management and how it relates to writing.

I was listening to one of the excellent podcasts from “The Writing Show” a few weeks ago.  PaulaB was interviewing Dick Margulis who was talking about treating your story like a product.  It really spoke to my inner Product Manager.

Dick said that once the story is finished, you must treat it like a product, not like your child.  You have to get out there and market the story, get the publishing world interested in it.  He also talked about getting the reader community interested in it as well.

But what does that mean?  Treat my story like a Product?  I don’t understand.  Fear not, young Jedi… I’m getting to that… eventually.

I want you to think about submission guidelines for a moment.  Typically, a publishing house wants you to send a cover letter that mentions your writing credits, a bit about the story and so on.  They also want you to send some sample chapters (2 or 3) and… a synopsis.

So how does this translate into marketing terms?

The cover letter is your very brief chance to show how good you are.  Market yourself.  Maybe you’ve written and had published 15 books to critical acclaim.  Maybe you’ve written several short stories that have been well-received.  Or maybe, you’ve devoted your life to reading detective novels and can recite every major plot point from memory.  Whatever it is, you get the chance to get an editor interested in you.

The sample chapters are like pictures of your product.  You give the potential buyer (the editor) the chance to take a look at how great your writing (product) is.  Make darn sure that the sample chapters are well-written, without spelling mistakes, typos and bad grammer.  Buyer beware exists in the writing world too; any of those problems are red flags to editors.

Now, the synopsis.  Where to begin?  When I wrote about creating a synopsis a few weeks back, I hadn’t completely “gotten it” yet.  I understood the mechanics of the document, but not the importance of it.  In a nutshell, the synopsis is the single piece that will grab the editor by the lapels and say “Look at me when I’m talking to you!”.  It’s the document that will (hopefully) pique that person’s interest enough to ask you for a longer look at your story.

For some editors, this might mean an 8 – 10 page document that gives some good depth into the characters, the setting, the plot and the problem.  For others, a single page, bulleted, outlining how the story develops.

I hadn’t expected the latter requirement; only the former.  But as I was building my submission package last weekend, one of the publishers I was targeting was looking for exactly that, a single page.  That was my aha moment as to how marketing is important to your story.  Different customers want to see different things, but they all want you to get them excited about your story.

Repeat that to yourself:  the publisher WANTS you to get them excited about your story.

They don’t want to reject your book.  They want to read your submission and be able to say to themselves: “This book is a winner!  I can’t wait to get started on it.”

It’s your job to create a compelling product, complete with the marketing materials, to make that happen.  Now, go ahead… make your future publisher’s day!


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