Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


Workshop: What is your Market?

By Lazette Gifford
Lazette Gifford

Stores use genre as a marketing tool.  It allows them to place books in groupings that, in turn, allow customers to easily locate the general type of book that they want to read.

As writers you can now use that marketing tool for your own purposes.   Stores have done the hard work for you by sorting the material out into easily examined sections.  You can now go through their shelves to find the right publisher for your work.

First you need to make up either some note cards or sheets of paper with the following categories:

  1. Publisher/Imprint
  2. Title/Series
  3. Author/Total
  4. Cover Art and Design
  5. Page Count
  6. Font Size
  7. Read?
  8. Rating Likeness

Now, armed with a few dozen cards or paper copies of this list, head to the nearest bookstore and start studying the shelves.   

1 -- Publisher/Imprint or Designation 

The first thing to do when you look at these books is note the publisher and the imprint.  They will be something like 'St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Mystery' or 'Signet Eclipse/Paranormal Romance.'  Some books will list only a publisher:  Roc, Onyx, DAW, etc.  Harlequin has such a vast array of imprint designations that you will want to pay special attention to those if you're interested in that company. 

2 -- Title/Series

Write the title of the book.  You can also note if this is part of an ongoing series.

3 -- Author/Total

Write the author of the book.  Then make a quick check to see how many other books there are by this author and if they are all at the same publisher.  If there is more than one publisher, make a second card for those books.

4 -- Cover Art and Design 

Don't overlook work in the proper genre that appeals to you on nothing more than the cover art or general look of the book.  Writers rarely get any say in cover art (and that usually only at the small press and ebook companies), so finding the publisher with an overall good rating in book covers is a good step for writers.  This is the closest you may get to any sort of control.  Give yourself a rating system for this that you'll understand.

5 -- Page Count

The length of the book is important.  If you tend to write shorter or longer than the average book, it's important to see if your publisher of choice is printing material in that length.

6 -- Font Size  

This should be entered with either a small or large.   A book with small print and 300 pages is obviously going to have a larger word count than a book with large print and the same number of pages.

7 -- Read? 

Have you read this book or anything else by this author?  You will be more easily able to tell how close to your own work it is if you have.  Otherwise, you will have to depend on either blurbs or the first few pages, if it's possible to read them.

8 -- Rating Likeness 

How close to your own work is this novel?  Does it have the same sort of themes, setting, style?  Is there a general similarity in style?  It may be that the work is in the same genre or sub-genre.  Whatever you do, don't be discouraged if you find either books that appear to be very close to your work, or nothing that's close to your work at all.    This is an exploratory mission.

You'll notice that the top thing on this list is the publisher.  After all, you are looking for potential markets.  Yes, a number of them are likely going to be closed to new authors, but you need to find out if that's where you best fit before you make decisions on where to send your material and whether you need to start looking for an agent before you ever send anything out. 

Write down the info on anything that looks even remotely as though your book would fit into that publisher's fold.  Sometimes publishers like to find something on the fringe of their usual work to help expand their reader base, and yet still similar enough to other works to draw their regular buyers.  It won't hurt you to note those publishers that are marginal, but be sure to write that in your Rating Likeness line.  You can make up your own rating system -- numbers, stars, whatever works for you.  Just be consistent. 

Why bother with all of this when you can just go to the newest Writer's Market and find all the publishers for your genre?  Because you are trying to beat the odds by refining your list before you start indiscriminately sending manuscripts to anyone on a list without having a real good idea if you would fit, or even if you like what they publish. 

Armed with as many of these lists as you can make, head home and start codifying the information. 

Doing this work at the library is not as wise as doing it at a bookstore. Libraries are not going to have the same sort of selection as bookstores, and they also sometimes buy 'library editions,' which can be printed by a different imprint. 

You should, of course, check your own bookshelves for material as well, especially anything that you bought recently.   

If you can't get to a bookstore, you can try doing the work via places like Barnes and Noble's online store.  However, there are drawbacks to this method.  You won't be able to check print size, or examine the quality of the book itself.  Seeing a book on a shelf is far more useful than seeing it as a single offering on a page.  You want to look for books that draw your attention when looking at a huge array.  However, doing this via the internet is better than not doing it at all. 

The more pages of these notes that you can make, the better for your search. 

Oh, and if there are other people at the store looking at books in your area, don't be afraid to ask them what it is about a certain book they've chosen that drew them to it. 

Armed with this information, you can prioritize where you want to send your work, and not just pull a name off of a list and hope for the best.  You'll also have a very good idea if there are any markets that appeal to you and are open to new writers, or if) you should head directly to agent submissions. 

Such a list can be updated every time you wander into a bookstore if you keep a few of the 'cards' on hand.  If you use a PDA of some sort, make a master list and copy/paste it into new files each time you use it, so that you have the original with you at all times. 

Market research need not be confined to listings in Writer's Market, which are already out of date before the book is published.  Look to the bookstore shelves where you hope to find your own book one day soon, and make the best choices that will help get it there.