If you are a writer who hopes to be published, there is something you must do if you haven’t already. Go to the bookstore—often—and take a look around.
Think of it like this: if you hope to compete in any business, you look at the market and examine what people are buying. You put time and effort into researching trends and what makes people forge a commitment with a particular product. As an author who wants to sell a product, you have to do the same type of work.
And don’t just go to the library. Libraries are wonderful places to find a wide variety of resources, but they are not a current snapshot of what’s selling. People don’t commit at libraries—they taste. Bookstores are where they get their fix of what’s new and trendy.
Once you’re there, here are some ways you can get familiar with the market and learn how to “play the game.”
- Find the genre that most suits your writing style. Yes, we all want to have a unique voice, which is important, but genres make it much easier for book buyers to find your work and to know what they can expect in general (and fitting in a genre is no crime).
- Once you’ve found the closest genre, take a look at the tone that the books portray at a glance. Pay particular attention to the books with the covers facing out. Chances are, those are the books people are most looking at in that genre. What do the covers show? What are the publishers using to hook readers?
- Read the back cover. See what plot elements and struggles are highlighted. Often you’ll notice some patterns. Even though your book is original, could you emphasize some of those common elements to capture the reader?
- Flip through the books and look for patterns in the structure. This isn’t something you necessarily have to adhere to, but it does help you understand the trends.
- Read as many introductions as you can. Pay close attention to what elements writers in your genre use to draw readers in.
- Finally, measure yourself against these books. Be honest and see if your writing would stand out enough to sell in such a crowded market (and it will be crowded). Can you give the reader something that these books don’t offer? Have you refined your voice enough to present a new take on an established genre?
This doesn’t mean that you should give up your individual voice. You don’t want to write a book that simply rehashes what has come before. But you also have a market to please—and the people buying in that market expect some common things.