If there’s a way to guarantee that every piece you write will be wildly successful then I have yet to find the secret. There are some identifiable things that do affect how well a piece is received and it also depends on whether or not your metrics are quality (is it well written) or quantity (how many people read it). Another metric might also be financial but that is not the topic under discussion here.
What I’d like to share is the genesis of an article I recently wrote for StarBurst Magazine. The article is called The Eighth Doctor’s Five Companions Explained – feel free to have a read (the title is the link) but that isn’t essential for the point I wish to make.
What’s the story?
If you are a Doctor Who fan then you may well have watched the short episode The Night of the Doctor which leads up to the show’s 50th anniversary. This brought back Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor after 17 years. There is one line where he lists five people who are not explained.
Fandom and parts of the Internet went wild. I happen to know a fair amount about the show and the five people are all from audio stories produced by a company called Big Finish. For the last few years I have blogged, reviewed, met and interviewed numerous people to do with Big Finish so had plenty to say.
I penned a feature (the one linked) explaining a few key things about the five characters Paul McGann named: the feature has been popular in terms of readers and tweets, my own Doctor Who blog where I cross-link had a spike in visits and I got some good feedback from writers whose opinion I trust.
What are the drivers for success and how do you maximise their influence?
In summary for those in a hurry I would like to suggest that the drivers are:
- Skill in writing
- Market knowledge
Consider each of these in turn.
Skill in writing
I have been a writer for many years mostly for work and more recently as a blogger and freelancer. With experience comes some skill. This is easy to influence – put in lots of time, get feedback and improve.
Key here is that I had something to say that would not be obvious to most people who saw The Night of the Doctor. As a writer you owe it to yourself to be well informed on at least several topics which then form your niche (or brand if you like that word better).
Read, learn, enjoy experience; make connections and interact with others. These are ways you can develop insight.
Clearly this was a huge benefit – the episode had just been shown, the anniversary is near so I produced a very timely piece. Not everything will be this opportunistic but there are always chances to write a piece that will be more sell-able and readable by virtue of when it happens.
We should all know (if we write non-fiction) that there are plenty of anniversary lists and it is perfectly possible to plan a piece to match an event six months away; this is why magazines are flooded with Christmas submissions at Easter!
I regularly produce material for StarBurst so I knew where I could place the article. It is always hardest to get an outlet to take your first article. You have to look at what you know, work out how might publish it and get to know them. Yes they might take your first pitch (and it does happen) but it is better to establish a relationship.
Luck; that difficult to quantify aspect of so much of life. I personally don’t believe in luck but still recognise its importance! I think you can make your own luck at least as far as this piece is concerned by a combination of the previous drivers.