The words “commercial fiction” are constantly bandied about, but does anyone know what these words mean?
As I have mentioned before, a writer must have an audience established. Publishers, or anyone in retail for that matter, prefer to have a ready consumer base. Wouldn’t you? However, an audience isn’t all that is needed for a work to fit the commercially viable picture. There’s more...
If and when you receive that publishing contract to read and sign, you will notice that rights are broken down into primary rights (those the publisher will exploit) and secondary rights (those the publisher will try to sell to others to exploit). Most new writers think only in one dimension—getting the their book into print. They don’t realize that there are many other moneymaking facets that publishers have to consider. One of these factors is that secondary rights (sub-rights) are sometimes more valuable than primary rights. This is especially true in the case of a first book, which has very little value because of the lack of an established reader base. So, it goes without saying that sub-rights are valuable.
What does that have to do with your book? That’s very simple and very complex at the same time. To be commercially viable, a book must not only be well written—that’s a given—it also must have commercial value in many of those other sub-right areas. For instance, does it have dramatic (TV/film/stage) potential and does the story have universal appeal? Can your work be translated into a foreign language and still have impact? Are there spin-offs that can be created as a result of your book being published?
I know what you are thinking at this point: How do I know this about my book? After all, I’m just a writer and this is marketing stuff, isn’t it? Of course it’s marketing stuff. Who do you think controls publishing? Marketing, that’s who. The marketing departments tell editors what books will and won’t get published. I know you’ve heard, “We had your book in meetings, but it was shot down by marketing.” A book is a commercial product, an entertainment device, actually. Being international corporations, large publishers are into other entertainment media as well, and that means your book must also have potential appeal in some, if not all, of those areas. A book can't just be a book anymore. As an example, Time Warner Corporation, owned by Hachette, a French corporation, produces Time magazine and owns AOL and Warner Cable, HBO, Turner Broadcasting, New Line Cinema, Warner Brothers Entertainment, Grand Central as well as Little, Brown and Warner Books, which consists of Back Bay Books, Bull Finch Press, Mysterious Press, Time Warner Audio, Impact, Warner Faith and Warner Business.
Commercially viable, then, means a well written literary product with potential to be exploited in many other areas. If you want to write, then please keep in mind that the world is changing rapidly, and publishing must also.