Saturday, June 12, 2010

Knowing your Market: Part II

The last time I posted on the topic of knowing your market, I focused my post on what this means for me as an actor. This time around, I want to focus on what this means for me as a writer.

The first part of knowing your market is knowing what books are out there, what books are selling, and what a book in your genre typically looks like. Do I mean that you should find out what the biggest-selling genre is and research the biggest-selling books in that genre and then go and try to duplicate them? No, of course not. You have to write your own story, in your own way. Manufactured writing is never as good, in my opinion, as writing that comes from within you. But you need to know enough about what is out there to be able to identify the genre in which you are writing, and you should probably have a sense of how much of a market there will be for your story. I believe that this type of research will help me when it comes to querying time.

You also need to know what people out there are buying. Again, don't try to identify the latest trend and come up with something to fit. But if you have a story kicking around about vampires, and it seems like vampires are big, then polish up that baby and send it on its way. Equally for romance, and cookbooks, and everything else.

AND, you should know the general shape of the type of story you're trying to tell, too, but that's more of a craft issue and so I'll save it for a later post.

Also, it's important (and really, REALLY takes the pressure off, at least for me) to know, if you're writing YA urban fantasy, roughly how long books in that category typically are, or if you're writing picture books how long those manuscripts typically are, and where things like page turns and chapter breaks fall, and whether ending on an ambiguous this-might-turn-into-a-series-but-for-now-I'm-not-really-sure note is a good idea or a done thing. If you write suspense, learn how to weave the suspense in without leaving the reader feeling like you've dropped the ball.

In other words, READ. Read widely, in many genres, across many age groups, a lot. Consider it part of your job as a writer, and make time for it every day. I read most things for pleasure, but I consider a lot of my reading to be "market research". Read.

The other part of your market is the potential publisher or agent, and thinking about this part of the market is still a mystery to me, primarily because I have not yet sold a book manuscript. I look at the books I have enjoyed reading, and I think, "There's a 'rule' about not overusing adverbs, but this book does it all over the place, and it's by a debut author," or, "They say to avoid info dumps, but there's this huge three-page one right here." And I wonder: what did this manuscript look like when it first arrived on the editor's desk? Did it have even more unnecessary adverbs and info dumps than it does now? Or did it have less, and did the author have to add them for clarity?

I realize that I really have no idea of what this part of the "market" really wants, because while I see the same books that the general public buys (and can therefore study them and learn about what people like about books and why they buy these books and not those books), I don't see the manuscripts that agents and editors snap up. I don't have the first idea of what catches their eye, because the "rules" as handed down from them don't always line up with what leaves their houses and ends up on bookstore shelves.

So I'm left with this: read a lot; write a lot; improve a lot; and tell the best story that you can.

Thanks for stopping by.

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