Monday, September 16, 2013

Understanding Your Book's Marketablity

We have talked a lot about the things we look for when a submission comes across our desk. We look at characters, plot, setting and certainly the writer’s ability to tell a story. But, along with all of this, one of the biggest elements we look at is the marketability of the product. Because this is a business that revolves around sales, we have to seriously look at how well we can market that product to the reader.

Now this is not simply a matter of the approaches we are going to take with telling the public. This also involves how many doors we can open up for the author. Obviously, the more publishers we can send the product out to, the more chances we have to sell the product. For some stories, this is really a difficult project and may be one of the key factors for agents passing on a story. And yes, the editors may do the same thing if they see a limit to the type of buyers for a project.

I do believe a lot of writers miss this point, and it is certainly one that I am constantly trying to educate writers about. For many writers, the approach they take for deciding where to send submissions to is similar. They scan through books such as the Writers Guide to Literary Agents, or many of the similar lists we can find on websites such as Query Tracker. Any agent or editor that says they represent their genre, they throw it on their list of potential submissions. The problem, however, is that many of those editors and agents on their lists are going to reject them simply because their story is really not what they are looking for.

For example, although I take historical fiction and yes, it shows up on many sites as such, I only represent historical romance. In this case, you have to know exactly what we mean by historical romance. The true biography of a great love affair in history, although romantic and certainly historical is not historical romance.

We can extend this ideas as well to the voice of the story. This is where the discussion of category and single title comes in. Not only is there a word count requirement to these stories, there is also a distinct voice that makes these two very unique genres.

Now, let’s return back to the issue of agents looking at a project. Again, we are looking for a way to maximize potential locations to send a project to. If a project has already been marketed by the author to editors, and received rejections (for whatever reason) these doors are now closed. In most cases, we cannot call the editor up and say, “Hey, I know you passed on this project, but I want you to look again.” Sure, we might be able to do this if we go through a ton of revisions with the author, but essentially, this is an opportunity that is lost.

In the case of the category romances, or stories that are very specialized, the author needs to know from the beginning that the opportunities are really limited. Here is an example. An author contacted me with a category romance. The story was good and it was certainly right on the money for this single line at Harlequin. But, that is where it stops. It didn’t fit any other category line out there with Harlequin or other publishers. Sure we could self-publish or find one of those “we take everything” digital lines, but this is not what the author wanted. As I contemplate a project like this, we have to stop and think if the author has anything else that might be packaged with this to make it more marketable. Are there ways that we can use this story as a template to turn it into a brand new story that might be more flexible? Tough decisions and everyone has to be on board with it.

For writers, whether or not you want to go through an agent or not, you have to take the time to really examine how many people will be interested in your project. How many places will take a story of this type? This is called market research!


  1. Scott, will you please expand a bit on the difference in the voice between category and single title work?

  2. Kat, Will try to answer it later today. Otherwise, I will take some time tomorrow to answer it exclusively here on the blog.