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.

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