Research your market
J.V. Jones
May 27th : 2008

Know your market. Doesnít sound much like writing advice, does it? As writers weíre supposed to be above marketing. Thatís what other people do, business people, MBAs, directors of marketing. Writing is different. Itís Art. And if we write really, really well people will appreciate it, word will get around, and our books will sell. Right?

Trouble is, even before our manuscript leaves our hot little hands we have to start marketing. The cover letter, where we plead our case to an editor or agent, attempting to rouse their interest enough to read our work, is an exercise in marketing. We have to set ourselves apart. Be noticed. Tempt. "My work is uniquely wonderful and here is why..."

Even thatís not the starting point of marketing your manuscript. When you have an idea for a book and as youíre writing, you need to research your market. What sort of book is it? Fiction? Nonfiction? Letís say itís fiction. It is literary or genre? Letís say itís genre. Is it a specialist sub-genre? Say military SF, steampunk, historically-accurate whodunit? Once youíve identified your market your next question should be, "Who sells it?" If youíre writing military SF chances are you read military SF. Start by looking at those books. Finding the names of the publishers is easy--they're usually printed on the spine. Then open the books and read the acknowledgments. You can often discover who edited the book and who sold it (the agent). Start making a list. Go to the bookstore and pull out every military SF book you can find and take down the names of all publishers, editors and agents. Patterns will start to emerge. Youíll be surprised by how many of the same names keep popping up. These are the people youíll target with your cover letter. Why? Because they have had success selling military SF, know how to market and edit it, and are on the look out for the next big thing.

Thatís where you come in. Write them cover letters, firmly placing your work in the military SF sub-genre, detailing how your work is similar to other known and successful military SF writers, "Heinleinís Starship Troopers was my starting point," and then detailing how your work is unique: "Iím interested in how a non-earth, non-human based military would evolve. What kind of problems would a recruit from a planet where (fill in the blank) is no longer necessary encounter?" Editors and agents reading this letter will think, "OK. A military procedural, but with a whole new set of rules." Theyíll have a sense where your book falls in the market place and on their lists. And that means they can make an informed decision about whether or not to spend their valuable time reading your submission.