Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Market Research for a Novel

Hello once again from Coeur d’Alene. Sunday morning I left California to do the annual drive to Idaho (so we can have a second car here for the rest of the summer). Yesterday’s post was from Bend, Oregon, where I stopped overnight on the trip. Now I’m back in paradise, looking out at the lake as I write this.

Yesterday I received this letter from a BG:

After sending out a book proposal, I've had an agent request the entire manuscript. He also wants me to include the proposal again, and gave me a few ideas to make it even stronger. I should include the names of similar novels and what makes mine distinct. My question is, similar in what way? Genre alone? Or similar plot, or setting?

Now, as a beginner, I did things backwards. I didn't research the market before I wrote my book.

Genre is easiest to search for. My book is historical suspense. I did a search for Christian historical suspense and only one title came up. I read the excerpt and had a hard time getting through the first chapter. Do I go out and buy a book and take valuable time to read it just because it's in my genre?

Hm. This is a bit different. Usually it’s the nonfiction book proposals that require market research to see what similar works are out there. I don’t think many novelists research the market before writing their stories.

At any rate, to comply with this request, a search under “historical suspense” won’t be very beneficial. Most novels won’t be tagged this way, which is why the search only brought up one title. I suggest that this BG go to the fiction page of
www.christianbook.com, where you can search novels by genre. Historical suspense would more likely be under suspense. In the suspense category (as with all categories) you can choose the search to be by publication date in descending order. This will bring up the latest releases, and some releases not even out yet. It will take a bit of scrolling and research, but from this list you can see which stories are set historically. You’ll find numerous suspense novels set in biblical times. I don’t think the search need go back past 2004.

After looking at the suspense novels, I suggest looking also under the historical category to see if any there stand out as suspense. This way you’ll be hitting it from both sides.

Mainly I think what the agent wants is a quick description of other books that have the same time/location. Once you find those, how is your book different? Reading the back cover copy should be enough. You don’t need to be buying and reading all these books.

Okay, the rest of you BGs. You know I make no bones about not being the best proposal writer around. What do you think of my advice? Do you have anything to change/add for this BG? Anyone else out there had to market research your novel?


Katie Hart said...

Very few historical novels are tagged as suspense. In christianbook.com's current list, I spot only two - Obsessed by Ted Dekker (though the primary setting of the 70's isn't very historical) and Glimpses of Paradise by James Scott Bell. River Rising won the suspense Christy. That's about it.

For authors who turn old events into thrillers - the first person I think of is Jack Cavanaugh. I've not found a historical fiction author who can match him in suspense.

Dineen A. Miller said...

You covered it pretty well, Brandilyn. Market research is helpful to know how your book might sit in the market. And it helps the agent or editor get a feel for what your story is similar to, but also, as you said, how it's different. Going to the publisher websites is helpful, too.

Carol Cox wrote Ticket to Tomorrow. It's a lighter historical suspense. Nice story. I think there are different levels of suspense, and some border on mysteries, too. Checking both areas seems wise.

Cindy Thomson said...

Yes, market research for a novel proposal is the norm now. I think you're right that the agent probably meant genre and time period. Show why books like yours sell well and why the world needs your book--why it won't be just like all the rest. It's very competitive and you have to sell yourself. Look for unique twists. Are you writing about an ethnic group that hasn't been well covered? Are you including a time period that people don't know much about (as opposed to the Civil War, for example.)

Put your thinking cap on and be unique. That will get you noticed.

Erin Marshall said...

I found it very helpful to check out the fiction sections of various publishers' Web sites. Most houses show their more recent and upcoming releases, which is particularly nice in comparing what is currently out there. Sometimes the cover pictures alone were enough to clue me in that the book might be in my genre, and clicking on it brought up a description of the story. Doing it this way made the search a little less like looking for a needle in a haystack. Plus, I learned a lot about what the publishers are currently putting out there.

Kristy Dykes said...


Market research?

You said, "I don’t think many novelists research the market before writing their stories."

Ah, the luxury of that. And I'm sure that's the case, because I rely on your knowledge and expertise in the biz.

I'm with Cindy, though: market research is the norm; in fact, the beginning. This is what we're told to do at conferences. We're told to know the market like we know the back of our hand.

I've taught this myself. It's kind of like this if you don't: sitting down and writing an article about your child getting head lice at school and then sending it to Guideposts. You wouldn't want to do that.

B, you gave great advice about researching on christianbook.com. Before the Internet, I spent many hours in bookstores studying titles, genres, etc.

Most proposal templates tell you the market comparisons are very important.

Thanks for a great blog post.

Jennifer Jones said...

You can also check out Randy Ingermanson's site under "How to Write a Proposal." http://www.rsingermanson.com/html/on_writing.html

In his proposal it shows the format he used for marketing research, the compare/contrast of what's out there to what he's written.

Tina said...

Thanks for answering this question for me, Brandilyn. It's nice to know that just browsing and reading descriptions is enough and I don't have to spend a bunch of money buying lots of books. I live in a small town and our library doesn't have a great selection of Christian ficiton.

And thanks everyone else for your imput. I love being part of a community like this where we can help each other. Katie, your tip about Jack Cavanaugh paid off. He wrote a novel in my timeline and location.

Thank you all!

Ron Estrada said...

Tell this editor that there is no comparison! Doesn't he know true greatness when he sees it?

Wayne Scott said...

I echo Jennifer's suggestion - Randy has a wonderful example of a fiction proposal that includes significant market research.

And in case you didn't notice - Ron's advice was from the fictional book How to Avoid Being Published :)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I echo Jennifer and Wayne, Randy Ingermanson's "How to Write a Proposal" is a wealth of info!

michael snyder said...

I think comparing your proposed (finished) novel to recent published titles has indeed become the norm. "Readers of this author or that author will resonate with my book like a tuning fork to the jaw..."

Then, after citing similarities, the hopeful author is charged with pointing out what makes him/her unique. "My book is like authors X, Y, and Z except for the fact that my protagonist is a turtle...and anyway, I can write circles around X and Y...and besides, Z is a chump!"

HOWEVER, I can't imagine writing a novel only AFTER scoping out the competition and trying to predict what may or may not be selling 2 or 3 years hence.

If you asked me (and no one did!), I would counsel follks to write the book that captures their imagination and won't let go. You're going to live with these people and places for a year or more (the rest of your life if you make it into print!), so you want to make sure they're your kind of people and places.

Trends come and go. Tastes change. But if you write about characters (themes, places, etc.) you love, your writing will reflect it. And I'm still in the camp that thinks great writing will get you published faster than adapting to a market.

Now, like the aforementioned turtle, I'm retracting my extremeties for a much needed nap.

Sabrina L. Fox said...

Tina, I use to live in a small town and had a similar problem with my library. Have them get you books on loan. You can tell them a book you want and they find it at another library and all you have to do is pay postage to have them mail it to your library. I borrowed a lot of books on craft that way. Good luck on the proposal!