What’s your USP?

So ‘novice crime writer’ Robert Galbraith is revealed in yesterday’s Sunday Times to be the phenomenally successful author, JK Rowling.

One or two publishing houses are nursing their wounds having rejected the manuscript for the now critically acclaimed The Cuckoo’s Calling.  According to yesterday’s Telegraph, Kate Mills, publishing director of Orion bravely admitted she had thought the work ‘perfectly decent, but quiet’ and confessed she could not find a unique selling-point with which to market it.

It must be hard enough to launch a new author, with no public profile and no track record.  Without a compelling USP, it’s easy to understand why a publisher would not be inspired to invest their time, effort and resources, especially in a crowded genre such as crime.

I’m a writer with ambitions to be the next critically acclaimed debut novelist. Assuming I don’t have a gold-etched multi-million dollar alter ego tucked in my back pocket (I haven’t), my first novel needs to stand out in other ways.  More of the same, just like this writer or that book already on the shelves, won’t be enough to get a debut novelist off the ground.  Marketing and selling – whatever the product – is all about the USPs.  Uniques give the publisher something tangible to promote and give the reader a reason to take a risk on an unknown author.

I set out to write the sort of book I enjoy reading, but rarely find.  My (almost finished) work-in-progress is a slow-burning psychological drama with the sun shining on its face, but a dark heart and tension running through its veins.  I’d say it has one or two significant USPs for a publisher to go to work on.  It’s a book I’d take a risk on if I saw it on the 3-for-2 table at Waterstones, particularly if I was going off on holiday. (There – that’s all the clue you’re getting.)

I have 105,000 words to show for two years’ worth of evenings and weekends and I’m editing, editing, editing; tightening the writing, balancing the rhythm of the plot, ensuring my characters are consistent and credible and my landscape sensual and evocative.  If I stay on track, it’ll be out on the wind by October, in search of an agent to help it on its way to the publishing houses.

Then, when a publisher like Orion reads my first novel for the first time I’ll be hoping they feel a rush of blood to the head as they realise they have their hands on something different and exciting – and marketable; something they won’t want slipping through their fingers.

4 thoughts on “What’s your USP?

  1. How interesting, about Robert Galbraith / JK Rowling! I am so looking forward to the publication of your first work. I already know from what little you have shared that it is right up my alley. Keep up that editing!

    1. Thanks, Cynthia! I’m keeping on, keeping on, and I sense that I’m on track for my target finish. I just hope I’m not being naïve about the remainder of the editing process.

  2. I heard somewhere — or maybe I just made it up in my head — that you should write your own dust jacket blurb. Not that it would be used, but if you can’t find a compelling angle (and USP) for your own book, there might be a problem.

    Marketing plays a *huge* part in the decision about whether or not a book is picked up, as the story you just related underlines. ‘Course they missed out on the biggest USP of all — it was written by Rowling…

    I wonder how she felt about the reviews Galbraith got?


    1. I agree. Marketing is marketing; products, services, literary potential… It’s so easy to get caught up in the product (ie, the story – what is it/what is it about?) and forget that what we write has to be marketed and sold, time after time; to an agent, to a publisher, to critics, to the reader. If we can’t figure out the why why they would want to buy – and express this succinctly and compellingly, we’re in trouble. With my marketing hat on, I try to answer these questions…. Why this book, from this author, at this point in time? This should throw up a number of possible USP’s.

      JKR got good reviews as Galbraith, better than many she received for The Casual Vacancy, under her own name. Even though circumstances contrived to reveal her secret prematurely – and one can appreciate how infuriating that must have been – I imagine she must have been heartened by the positive press. I read this morning that it’s top of the bestseller list now, and that first edition copies are changing hands for thousands of pounds. So there are winners from this debacle. And surely somebody, somewhere will write the story of hidden identity, secrets, betrayals and revelations which took the literary world by storm….. 🙂

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