Friday, November 26, 2010

Market Research: A Reader's Approach

Last week, I talked about the importance of going beyond market guides when researching potential publishers for your work. Since most authors are also devoted readers within the genre they write, your reading time can be part of your research.

Molly Blaisdell, author of Rembrandt and the Boy Who Drew Dogs (Barron’s Educational Series, 2008), starts market research with “a reader’s approach. I have a book journal [with notes]. I learn about books all over—networking at conferences, going to bookstores, chatting with folks online. I don’t look at trends. I don’t care how much the advance was. I only look at what I like. Did I care enough to read this book? If I did, I might want to do business with these people.”

After gathering this information, Blaisdell keeps it organized with a submission spreadsheet. “I start a new line every time I learn the name of a new house or editor that I am interested in. After some research I will add the title of my book that I think best connects with that house. I gather hard concrete evidence about what these editors and agents like: books, genres, etc. That stuff goes in the comments. If I glance down my spreadsheet, my last 20 submissions all led to personal responses [such as] requested manuscripts or at the least a wish to see more work.”

Blaisdell gives an example of how market research worked for her. “I wanted to write an art book. I looked into what houses sell those kinds of books. Then I heard a tip at a conference, from a writer, that one house was considering publishing more art books. I wrote a one paragraph query letter on the basis of my research and that conference tip. I was able to convey in very few lines that I knew the exactly what kind of books this house published and I was aware of the publishing house’s goal.” The query led to the sale of Rembrandt and the Boy Who Drew Dogs.

Online or at the Library

All this research can sound overwhelming, but, Blaisdell says, “You have to be pretty lazy these days to not target houses. Just Google the editor’s name! Don’t know the editor? Google the name with ‘editor’ and the book title and the author’s name. Nine times out of ten you are done. Research has become very simple. I have several bookmarked websites that I check on a regular basis. If the editor or agent that you are interested in has a blog, you need to become a faithful reader and post on it sometimes.”

Don't neglect old-fashioned research either—at the library. Shutta Crum, a retired librarian and author of A Family for Old Mill Farm (Clarion, 2007), says, “I am always amazed about how little some writers use their public libraries for research. Not only are the important titles, like the Literary Market Place, in most reference collections, but many libraries subscribe to databases that are worthwhile for authors. Often these databases are available to home users by simply inputting their library card number and a pin number.”

Is market research starting to sound exhausting? It is a lot of work. With all the information available, beware of getting carried away by market research. “The tricky thing is not wasting your time,” Blaisdell says. “You should be working toward creating a list of targeted editors. Do not collect any information about anyone that is not a real connection. Do not put a name in your spreadsheet without a reason!”

EXERCISE: Take the list of publishers you developed last week and start doing further research, either online or at the library. Make a short list of books from each publisherones in the same genre and age group as yours, which you've read or plan to get and read.

Next week
: We'll discuss how the value of personal connectionshow to use them and not abuse them.

Research Help

World Catalog lists books in collections around the world (non-fiction and some fiction). Do a subject search to see what has already been written on your topic.

Books in Print and Books Out Of Print, by Gale Research Company, available through many libraries, are also good places to check on titles and subjects.

NoveList is a fiction database with reviews, annotations, and more, searchable by author, title, plot and series. It’s available at many libraries.

CYNSATIONS has fabulous editor and author interviews.

Robin Friedman has more editor interviews.

Verla Kay’s message board is a popular site for networking and information.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Making the Most of Market Research

New market guides are coming out soon. Maybe you've put one on your holiday wish list, or maybe you'll visit the library to browse one there. That's a good starting place for market research, but it isn't enough. The next few posts will discuss how you can help your submission rise out of the slush pile. These posts are excerpted and adapted from an article first published in Children's Writer's Guide to 2009.

Eleni Beja, who was then Associate Editor at Scholastic, said she saw few submissions that are perfectly targeted. “For every ten,” she said, “I’ll see about two that are right for Scholastic. Of the two, I’ll see nil-to-one that are right for Scholastic and me.”

Dial Editor Alisha Niehaus said, “I’ve only seen something truly inappropriate a couple of times. More commonly, someone will send a project that’s too commercial for Dial, or on a topic in which we have a strong backlist—things which, no matter what their merit, won’t fit on our list.”

The same “close but not quite” holds true for magazines, according to Marileta Robinson, Senior Editor at Highlights for Children. “The majority of submissions we see are in the ballpark of meeting our guidelines. That’s not to say that the majority are right for Highlights. Tone, length, writing quality, age appropriateness, and subject matter have a great deal to do with a manuscript’s chances of success.”

Digging Deeper

A market guide is a great place to start. They list hundreds of publishers, with details about what the editors want. Most include a category index. According to Marni McNiff, editor of Book Markets for Children's Writers and Magazine Markets for Children's Writers, “Using the extensive category index in the back of the book can help you to narrow your market selections based on age range and topic.  Writers should read through several listings that they feel would be a good fit for their piece [and] follow their writers' guidelines carefully.”

After identifying a few publishers, authors should do more targeted research, Robinson suggests. “Reading the guidelines and current needs posted on our web site and studying several issues of the magazine can help a writer learn what we are and are not looking for.”

Edward Necarsulmer IV, Director of the Children’s Department at literary agency McIntosh and Otis, does some research “the old-fashioned way”—drinks or lunch with editors. Authors don’t have that option, but they can use his other techniques. “Publisher’s catalogs are enormous resources for us. I can really see an imprint’s style.” Catalogs also let him know about the publisher’s other policies, such as what rights they’re buying. Authors can find publisher’s catalogs online, request them from the publisher, or ask bookstores and libraries to pass along the ones they’ve used.

Janet Fox describes the research she did to sell Get Organized Without Losing It (Free Spirit Publishing, 2006). “My book idea was non-fiction, for middle grades, and for kids who have trouble getting and staying organized. I looked at existing books on organizational skills for older kids and adults, talked with teachers and librarians, and analyzed the demand for the type of book I proposed.” She checked Books in Print and found nothing current for her target audience.

“Then I researched publishing houses. I was looking for a publisher that specialized in books for kids and adults, whose focus was on self-help. That is Free Spirit’s mission statement. Of course, I looked at their online and paper catalog, and had already seen a number of their books, and felt that the manuscript I was drafting fit hand in glove with their other offerings, which included a book for older teens on study skills.”

EXERCISE: Use the category index in your market guide to make a short list of publishers appropriate for one of your manuscripts. Then prepare to do more research over the following weeks.

Next week: book journals, submission spreadsheet and Google.

Market Guides

Book Markets for Children's Writers and Magazine Markets for Children's Writers list hundreds of publishers, with information about submission policies and needs.

Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market offers similar information. 

Writer's Market also has an online subscription option with a searchable database.

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators has many market guides, updated yearly, available online to members. “Edited By” lists books edited by particular editors. The Bulletin newsletter has frequent updates.