Understanding the Market

My cousin has a new job selling irrigation systems. He understands this product and even bought one from the company himself.

I know what an irrigation system is but that’s about it. Could I sell an irrigation system based on this knowledge? Well, I could try; but I’d have to do a lot of research and then only sell it based on abstract knowledge, not experience. My cousin understands the product and, based on that alone, is a much better prospect for irrigation-system sales than I am.

So what does this have to do with book publishing? Nothing and a lot. The point is, when presenting a book proposal, part of the job is to identify your book so marketing people understand how to sell it and before that, the editor knows how to pitch it to the Publication Committee.

For instance, when you say, “romantic suspense,” then Marketing knows exactly what approach to take. If you say, “memoir” then they know what to do.

What if your book doesn’t fit into a niche? Then I recommend using some identifier anyway. You know whether your book is fiction or nonfiction. Then where does it go? Is it a mystery? Women’s fiction? Adventure? Self-help? Try to narrow it down and choose something close, so those reviewing your work have an idea where they’re going before they begin reviewing.

You may say, “But if I identify my book and the editor isn’t looking for that, then doesn’t it make the proposal DOA?”

As an agent, I know what categories where I’m fully stocked and what holes I have on my list. However, I’ll still look at proposals where I’m fully stocked; and if I’m blown away by what I see, I may miraculously find a place for you. This can happen at some publishing houses, too. So it’s better to identify your book clearly than try to lure in your reader with a nebulous title.

When approaching agents, do your best to identify your work even if you’re unsure. Then, once you begin working with an agent, they’ll give you sage counsel.

Your turn:

What category of book are you writing?

Are you having trouble categorizing your book? Why?


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