What is the best way to find out what is successful in the current market?
This is a good question because while as an author, you don’t want to chase the market, you also don’t want to write books that are so far off from the current market that they have no chance of selling. First and foremost, marketing advice from any source assumes that authors submit their best, most polished, highest quality work. Just because vampire novels enjoy popularity now, doesn’t mean publishers will acquire just any novel with a vampire. The novel must sparkle to sell to a publisher and then to readers. I don’t recommend chasing nonfiction trends either, because one or two popular authors can quickly saturate the market on any given topic. Or as Steve Laube says, “If you are asking what’s hot…you are too late.” Although some topics are evergreen, as a rule the market can only absorb so many books on a topic. Writing about a tangent of a popular topic won’t help because then the book is in danger of being too narrow to sell to a large audience. It’s then a niche of a niche.
How to Choose
I recommend choosing a topic, setting, and story that stirs your passion. If you don’t feel passion for your work, readers will know. A friend once told me of an aspiring writer who tried to imitate Anne Rice because he went into a book store and noted the popularity of vampires. He went home and wrote a vampire book and hoped to hit the big time. I’ve yet to see the writer in print. My guess? He wrote only for money so his story was bloodless.
The Time Factor
Unless you’ve been in publishing awhile, you may not realize the amount of time that transpires from an author typing The End on a computer screen to a book appearing in print can be a year or more. (See our previous blog “How Long Does It Take to Be Published”) Multi-book contracts keep authors writing certain types of books several years. Consider that by the time you see a particular genre in the store, it’s possible that the publisher acquired it years ago. That means that as far as acquisitions, the publisher may have moved on to a different interest. Another possibility is that the house now has its author in that genre and is not looking to acquire more.
Striking the Balance
In my view, the best way to strike the balance is to read. A lot. If you are hoping to break into a market with set rules, such as genre romance, learn what those rules are and don’t break them. Yes, a select few authors may be able to bend the rules but a new author must write within the genre confines. Period. Once you have read in your selected genre, you will see joy in the challenge of remaining within the genre’s rules while still being fresh and creative. Trade books might offer a bit more flexibility and certainly length, but you still need to read many of the type of trade books you want to write. When you are buying and reading current books, you are naturally studying the market and seeing firsthand the type of book that is successful in the current market. Then write the type of books you enjoy reading. Don’t imitate a famous author. Stick with your own voice, but polish every word so your book’s awesomeness cannot be denied.
What to Do with Your Awesome Book
Once you feel you’ve struck the right balance of market potential and awesome writing, let your agent be your guide. The best agents talk to editors all the time and keep their level of knowledge high by reading industry news and attending business meetings and events. Your agent is able to direct your work to the editors who will give your work serious consideration. We always appreciate writers who work with us to perfect marketable manuscripts.
What other tips can you offer writers hoping to break into the market? What are you doing to break into the market?
This post is in response to an excellent question posed on last week’s blog.
Not that I have proof that it works, but when it comes to writing non-fiction, I look for gaps in coverage. For example, when I wrote Church Website Design there were already thousands of books and websites available on every subject remotely related to website development. It was pointless for me to try to compete with books written by so many great authors. But what about the poor guy who knows nothing? For him, the information out there must seem overwhelming. Everyone has his own idea of what works best. Some technologies must be used together while others are incompatible with each other. This guy doesn’t want to understand all of that, he just wants to get a church website up and running and he doesn’t want it to keep him from doing more interesting things. There wasn’t a book on the market for that guy. So I wrote it.
Once I accepted the likelihood that I wouldn’t earn a living writing books, I decided to write about the things that I have passion for and what sparks my interest. Some might be marketable and some will not be, but staying true to who I am is far better than trying to write a marketable book merely to get a paycheck.
Hi Tamela. Thank you for answering my question! This was a very informative post.
I’m writing my first novel, so I haven’t yet tried to actually break into the market yet. However, for the last 5-7 years, I have been reading…a lot! I actually started reading fiction in the “Christian” genre before I knew I wanted to write it.
I read a mix of contemporary fiction (e.g., Karen Kingsbury and Karen Ball), historical fiction (e.g., Tamera Alexander and Julie Lessman), and mystery/suspense (e.g., Brandilyn Collins and Terri Blackstock). Like you said, I think it definitely helps to know what is out there. My novel is similar to some published books, but the story is different than any I’ve read. Hopefully I’ll be able to break in with the right mix of “rule-following” and ingenuity.
Excellent post. I love reading in my genre. I’m so impressed with the authors in the contemporary inspirational romance market. Reading their books helps me get a feel for plot development, pacing, and tone, but it also shows me overused names and occupations. I think reading in my genre helps me clarify what readers like and what topics that haven’t been explored but would fit in well.
Great post, Tamela. One suggestion I have is to study sites like Christianbook.com and Amazon.com for them to post new releases coming in the next few months. This can alert a writer to any future trends that may be coming down the pike. If you are unfamiliar with how to do this, the best way is to search under a particular publisher’s name and then to have them organized by publication date. Publishers’ sites will do the same. Also, be sure to read the blurbs about the books on these sites. This will help you know more about what is being written when you can’t possibly read all of the books coming out in any genre (which is a great thing actually).
I love how the guy with the vampire novel wound up with a bloodless story. LOL. That made me giggle!
I’ve been wondering about this topic. I’d heard that at the recent ACFW conference everyone was requesting romantic suspense. But with the speed of trends, is that request already old or is the genre still in demand? How quickly do trends change?
Excellent post, Tamela!
Great information, Tamela. Allen Arnold’s post today gives similar advice–write your passion and don’t chase trends.
I read a great deal in my genre (historicals), not only to know what’s out there, but because I enjoy reading them.
I read a lot, but rarely find a book that seems comparable to my story. At first I thought that was a bad sign, as though nobody would want to read what I was writing. But now I tend to think that that my genre (romantic women’s fiction) might be more narrow than some. OR I’m just lousy at searching for books to read.
V. V. Denman,
Pardon my ignorance, women’s fiction is not my area of interest, but isn’t “romantic women’s fiction” the same thing as Romance?
Timothy, the two differ slightly. In some cases, drastically. With romance, the basic story line is girl meets boy, and the entire book focuses on that plot line. Women’s Fiction, on the other hand, includes some other issue that is important to women. (And often equally-important to men.) Romantic women’s fiction is a sub-category of women’s fiction. It adds a romantic subplot which is not usually essential to the story.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Marji, romantic suspense is always in demand!
Tamela Hancock Murray
Timothy, I’ll answer your question. Romance is a genre with specific rules. Women’s romantic fiction is trade-length fiction written for women and the stories have a strong romantic thread. Some women’s fiction does not have a strong romantic thread.
Just saw this. There you have it.
Great post! Many thoughts to think, there is.
Thanks for an insightful, balanced post. Reading in your genre is a great way to learn its requirements. Another benefit is that, when providing comparables in a proposal, you’ll know what you’re talking about. :o)
I think the best way to understand the market is by reading, so I’m with you there, Tamela. As I’m still working out where my writing interests lie, I read very widely, looking outside my genre as well as into it. I pay attention to reviews. I think about WHY I like or dislike the books I’m reading.
Would I look for a gap in the market? I doubt it. But I do look for similar books because I’d hate to write something and then find it’s very like someone else’s work in topic and setting.
In the end, I think, it comes down to this: try to write a good book. Be aware of the market but not a slave to it. Solicit opinions on your writing from knowledgeable friends, if you can. Listen to what publishing industry people are saying, and take your vitamins. Do you agree?
Tamela Hancock Murray
Jane, I think you have a great strategy for writing with the market in mind, but without sacrificing your passion. And keeping connected with publishing professionals is always a great idea. But as for vitamins, be careful! You can overdo it. 🙂
I’ve written my first Biblical historical novel about Jesus, the God-man. Although it’s an ebook at Amazon, I’m in the process of revising it to tighten it and make shorter chapters. My need is a marketing agent. In this time of great emotional upheaval, instability, and unrest, aren’t we ready for something more solid and inspiring than just different types of romance novels?
Tamela Hancock Murray
Jane, your question is provocative. Indeed, a study of Christian novels available today shows a variety of works. For example, a recent reprint is available from Thomas Nelson of THE OATH by Frank Peretti, and if you will visit Amazon.com, please note that one reviewer says the book is not for all readers, particularly those who like “syrupy romance” so it sounds as though his writing would appeal to you. Also search for authors such as Tim LaHaye, Craig Parshall, and Jerry B. Jenkins. Once you start an internet search for these authors, the site’s recommendations should lead you to even more. I suggest you spend a half hour or so on Amazon, Crossings, or CBD, and if you’re looking to purchase, I think your cart will be full by the time you’re finished. Once you have read the books, consider donating them to your public library.
As for the issue of readers needing something heavier than romance novels, my short answer is that many readers are looking for just this type of novel. Stay tuned, because I may decide to elaborate on this response in a future post.
Jane, I appreciate you for asking such a great question! I hope my answer helped.
Thank you, Tamela, for your time and encouragement; however, I’m not wanting to buy, I’m wanting to sell. That’s why I’m trying to find an agent for marketing and need assistance in that area. Any one with helpful suggestions would greatly help me. Or if you have input, please send it along.
Jane Mohline, maybe I can offer a suggestion. You’re saying you already self-published a book, but that you need “an agent for marketing” to help you sell it. Broadly speaking, literary agents like Tamela take unpublished work and sell it to publishers. They earn a percentage of what the author earns from sales of her book. They don’t directly engage in marketing the book, although they are always wonderful supporters of their clients.
I think that what you’re looking for is a freelance publicist/marketing specialist. That’s a different kind of professional. With self-publishing on the rise, there seem to be more and more around. I would suggest following blogs like The Book Designer to find out more about the kind of services available. You may also think of engaging a freelance editor to help you get your next book in shape BEFORE you publish it, because nothing maximizes sales like having a really good book.
Unlike literary agents, freelancers serving the self-publishing industry will ask for money up front. So check out their credentials very, very carefully before you enter into a relationship with them. Sites like Preditors and Editors will warn you off the less-than-professional.
HI Jane! The ebook publisher who took my novel gave some commitment to marketing which fell through. But, thanks for your clarity and I really appreciate your time and effort to send it along to me.