Manuscript Submission: Step One
Decide on Your Market
It sounds simple enough. If you have a children's book then, obviously, your market is children, right?
Well, not quite. Your manuscript might be for children but is it for preschool children? Ages five through seven? Adolescents? Teens? You get the idea. You need to determine what specific market your manuscript is perfect for. Many authors when asked what their market is often stare blankly at the questioner and reply in vague, general terms. If you want your book to make it into an acquisitions editor's hands, then you need to be specific and do a lot of groundwork before you even send your book off.
There are an incredible amount of potential markets. To determine the market for a given book, start with the general, such as age and gender, and work toward the specific, such as education level, social status, interests, or hobbies. For example, for your beach cookbook may be perfect for men or women, between the ages of 30 and 50 who enjoy boating and camping on the weekends.
Once you've decided on the market for your book, you need to re-examine your manuscript. Ask yourself:
What book is most similar to mine?
At my former publishing house, whenever I worked on marketing materials for our distributor they always wanted three to five books that were similar to the one we had just published. This shows the potential buyer at a bookstore that people do indeed buy this type of book. This is because the buyers understand they need to buy for the market, not because they themselves like or dislike a given book or topic. Why do you think there are all those Playboy and Hustler magazines for sale at bookstores? It's not because the manager likes pornography; it's because they sell.
So if you can mention in your cover letter (or separate marketing analysis) another book or two that are similar to your own, you can immediately give the acquisitions editor a picture in their mind to work from. Chances are, they are familiar with the other books in their genre, although not always. There are, after all, thousands of new books published yearly.
The easiest way to find out what books are most similar to yours is to log on to Amazon.com and do a subject search. Another great source is to check Books in Print, available at your local library. While at your library, you should also search the card catalog by subject. Most libraries nowadays have a computerized card catalog to make things even easier.
How does my book compare with the other books in this market?
The most important thing to discover here is whether or not your book is different in anyway. If your book is the same, too similar, or exactly like every other book out there in your given market, why would a publisher want to publish it? Perhaps it's time to start a new manuscript, which is something every writer should not be afraid of. That may sound a bit harsh but don't be upset if you need to abandon a project (but don't use it as an excuse to stop writing, either). Good writers realize that every piece of writing they do helps them with the next project. Besides, the market may be flooded with books like yours now, but in a few years, it may be hungry for new and updated information.
Does my book fill a void in this market?
This is, if you haven't figured it out already, the most important aspect of marketing. As I just mentioned, if your book is too similar to all the other books out there, why would a publisher want to publish it? If it truly fills a void (and be honest with yourself), or approaches a market from a new angle, then a good publisher will see that and want to publish it.
Keep in mind that publishers are not what they were 100 years ago, when many of them began as humanitarian efforts to bring literature to the general populace. In today's world, publishing houses are a business and need to make a profit-or they try to anyway. If your book won't make them money, then they won't publish it. Simple as that.
Perhaps you're asking yourself, "Do I really have to do all this much work before I even submit my manuscript?" Well, no, you don't. You could simply drop your manuscript in the mail and hope the children's book publisher you're sending this to will like your children's book. That is assuming, of course, that they still publish children's books, but you would have found that out if you did some research.
But if you've done your marketing research, you give yourself that much more of a chance. Is it a lot of work? Of course it is. It's a job. If you're not approaching it as one, if you're not serious about your work, then don't expect anyone else to be either.
Some good, thorough marketing will impress your potential publisher with your professionalism and save them some time and money (remember, it's a business). And researching the publisher will help you decide on a publisher.
More on that next time.
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