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One Problem That New Writers Face, Is Knowing Which Book To Write

May 24, 2008
Many writers will tell you that they are great at research. They can spend up to six months prior to putting pen to paper - yet few actually bother to study the market they're writing for.

Now it's an interesting aspect, as many books on the subject will give you similar advice - but it's not necessarily the guidance a marketing expert would give you.

The consensus advice from writing books is to go where the crowds are. On the face of it, it seems a sensible option. Lots of other books equates to lots of readers - and writing is a business like any other. No publisher would want to waste money printing for a market that doesn't exist.

But think of this from a marketing perspective. If your book has a lot of competition, that means two things.

Firstly there is definitely a market. If similar books are selling, then people want to buy them. This stand to reason. This is a positive message to take to an agent or publisher.

On the flip side, you are up against a lot of other writers for that segment of the market, so why should an agent or publisher choose your 'me-too' book?

This is especially true when it comes to finding an agent. Every book I have read suggests you find an agent that represents someone like you. That means they 'get' your kind of writing and know how to represent you.

I can agree with that logic, but it doesn't go far enough. If my agent represents famous Author 'X' and I'm like that author, I will immediately be seen as a pale imitation.

Secondly, if I'm submitting something at the same time as Author 'X,' which one of us do you think will get the lion's share of the agent's time?

Finally, the agent only has a finite amount of time. Do they want to spend that precious commodity trying to sell two similar books? Or would they rather have two dissimilar novels to pitch? I know what I'd do.

So let's consider the opposite scenario - no competition.

Broadly speaking, this is the reverse of the 'lots of competition' scenario. If there is no competition, how can you be sure there's a market?

On the plus side, an under-represented market means fewer competitors.

From an agent's perspective, it will be harder to pitch to one that doesn't usually represent authors like you. But if you do convince them, you'll be the only one in their stable who writes like you.

So, the marketing men will tell you, you have a dilemma. You can be like Richard Branson and Virgin - a well-known UK executive and his company. They always look to cream a small amount from a huge market. Virgin invariably go for the big, established markets - cola, transatlantic flights, mobile phones etc. Their philosophy is that there is always room for another player in these markets.

Some marketing people will tell you that being first in a unique category is better. If you can establish a market, you'll have people copying you and this will grow your sales for you.

Most writers will say that they can only write the books they can write. They have limited control over which market they go for. I can agree, up to a point, until it comes to the time where they intend to post their manuscript to an agent or publisher.

Do they present it as a me-too product (and risk the agent ignoring it as they think it's already overpopulated)? Or, do they try to create a niche within a larger market and suggest it's under-represented (and risk the publisher ignoring it as a niche sounds like fewer customers and therefore fewer sales)?

The honest response is to go back to the market research that you should have done in the first place. If the publisher represents mainstream, mass-market books, you'd be better off likening your manuscript to the crowd. On the other hand, if the agent has a list of original authors on their books, you are likely to be better off selling your niche market to them.
About the Author
Mark Walton is the author of 22 Quick Win Ways to Improve Your Research, a self-help guide for writers. If you want to improve your chances of getting a story published then visit http://www.betternovelwriting.com/Research.htm and see how quickly and easily your writing can advance.
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