Why writing a book is like baking a cake

 

Let’s say you make cake, but you don’t want to conform to a type of cake. You create an epic masterpiece, but it’s not quite chocolate, or carrot, or red velvet… it’s a mashup of everything, with layers and structure and everything is new and different. It’s ART.

But now that it’s done, how do you market it – advertise to people who like cake? But it doesn’t really look like cake, and cake lovers might be skeptical. They might ask “what kind of cake is it?” and you’d say “it’s the quintessence of cakeness without being limited by a rigid definition of taste or flavor.”

And they might politely take a bite, and it would be a unique culinary experience, and they might applaud your bravery and artistic courage, but they probably won’t buy a slice and sit down to eat it, or more importantly, they wouldn’t eat it EVERY SINGLE DAY because of it’s an unusual flavor.

That’s what happens when you avoid genre conventions or basic, universal principles of story architecture and narrative. So let’s say you start over, and think, “know that I know how to make cake, what else could I make?” You do some research and find out chocolate cake is the universal favorite and gets more searches than anything else. There is a bigger audience of chocolate cake lovers than any other type of cake.

Great. You determine to create the world’s best chocolate cake.

First, you study the competition. You sample the 10 highest rated chocolate cakes and get a feel for their flavor and texture. You define the “chocolate cakeness” that they share, and notice the interesting features that makes each unique. You also notice any problems that fans aren’t loving, by reading the negative reviews (too dry, too sweet, not enough chocolate sprinkles, dried fruit and nuts are disgusting, etc).

Then you set out to combine all the winning features by avoiding all the negatives. You aren’t trying to “game the market”. You’re just trying to provide chocolate cake lovers with the perfect chocolate cake eating experience. You want people to moan and gush and react like your cake is the one they’ve been dreaming of their whole life.

This isn’t necessarily about craft, though you want to polish and design and notice the aesthetics (which are part of enjoyment! Just like cake, part of the reading experience is flavored by expectations).

If you REALLY wanted to do this, instead of making 10 different flavored cakes for multiple audience, you’d stick with one. You’d also test and fail quickly, by setting up a “free cake day” for chocolate cake fans. You’d try a new recipe every week for a year getting feedback until you’d perfected the recipe (without wasting time on stuff that’s not important).

Then when you had the flavor and texture just right, you’d hire the best cake designer (assuming that baking and cakedecorating are separate skills, and while you could master both, you really want to focus on your own sphere of genius, and do what you do best, while partnering with someone who is already a master).

After all of that – you’d be ready to market. But all you’d really have to do, is give out free samples to a few cake enthusiasts, and your cake would be so damn good they wouldn’t be able to stop talking about it.

You can absolutely do this with books.

Start with keyword research. Construct a cover first, then a plot that ticks all the boxes and is exactly what readers want, THEN start writing it. It doesn’t change the quality or style of writing – it’s still YOUR book. The only difference is, when you’re finished, there are more people who already want it and are already looking for it.

So you don’t need to market it, you just need it to show up first on Amazon.

Build something that satisfies readers deliberately and book marketing becomes so much easier.

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book editor turned book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors write and publish bestselling books. FREE GUIDE: Sell your work without selling out.
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