Wednesday, 24 March 2010

5 Characteristics: Market Focus

Yes, there are books that cross genres. The chances are you haven't written one. Or rather, books that do cross genres have an initial target readership and then get marketed to other readers. JK Rowling is found on in children's sections, although there is a big adult readership. There are a couple of authors who are probably genuinely cross genre - Kate Atkinson's recent books are literary but also detective novels, and I'm not sure where they get shelved, but she started out as a literary novelist. If she'd started with the detective novels, she'd have been shelved under crime like Louise Welsh, another very literary crime writer.

But I digress. The point is that you need to know very clearly where your main readership will be. If you don't, how can you sell to agents, and then publishers, and the marketing and sales departments, then the bookshops? You may not like the idea of being pigeonholed but if you get published that's what will happen. Publishing is a business, it's not an airy little hobby that a few people in ivory towers are toying with.

I know of one writer whose novel was picked up by an agent and, because the main character in the novel was a teenage girl, the agent announced that they were going to try to place it as a Young Adult. The writer said to me, "Whatever - if it gets published they can call it what they like." But it hadn't been written as a YA novel and it showed - publishers were interested, made suggestions but no one liked it enough to offer. The writer did several rewrites for different publishers and ended up so confused she stopped writing. (The agent disappeared too.)

I think she should have either stuck to her guns and said it was an adult novel or - if she'd decided it was right to go for the YA market - rewritten it before submitting to publishers. As it was, it went out neither one thing nor another, and I think that was why it failed.

I'm not saying you should write for the market - you should always write from the heart, and write what you want to write - but once it's done, you need to know where your novel might sit within the market. If you don't know, the easiest way of sorting out your genre is to think of writers you write similarly to, and see where they're shelved. Then read their blurbs and steal phrases for your synopsis and covering letter and focus your efforts on the best market sector for you.


Minnie said...

Brilliant - succinct and clear, too (that helps!). You're so right about the need for a marketing business case underpinning all decisions. And in a shrinking market the rules tighten, becoming even more restrictive. Have heard a similar horror story to the one you relate.
The publishers seem to be listening to book bloggers more, tho' - which has to be a good thing, broadly.

Sarah Duncan said...

What do you mean by the publishers seem to be listening to book bloggers more? They're certainly courting the blogging review sites, but I'm not sure if that's what you meant...

Minnie said...

Apols for obscurity! If I recall it right, I suspect that is partly what I meant; the other part would logically mean that, if publishers are using review sites for cheap promotion, then it's at least reasonable to assume they'll pay attention to what's said (certainly in the case of a dozen or so really prominent bkbloggers) - otherwise what would be the point?
I know of one novelist who regrets having fallen out (terminal stuff) with one of the most influential book bloggers. The latter, coincidentally, is on board of a small indie publishing house; so 'poacher' = 'gamekeeper' upon occasion.

Sarah Duncan said...

Oooh who is the novelist - gone on, tell! tell!

I think the book bloggers are going to make it...interesting for all of us. If I comment on a book as me, it's about my taste. If I do it as a CW tutor, I'm looking for good/bad points regardless of my personal taste. I think critics should do the same, but a lot of the bloggers aren't actiing as critics, they're just giving their personal taste.

On the radio the other day someone was talking about how the job of literary critic had simply died, it was all about personal response. Which is fine if my taste lines up with yours exactly but if it doesn't....Also, I worry that books that aren't aimed at a more computer literate audience (usually younger) will potentially wither. I've certainly read one blogger review a book as not being for her as the heroine was 'too old' - at 35!