There are a lot of tools you, as a new author trying to pitch your book, can use to help you stand out from the pack. Over the next few blogs I’ll be discussing some of those (and in earlier blogs I talked about good form in query letters).
One really useful tool is variously known as the ‘competitive analysis’, ‘marketplace analysis’, ‘market list’, or ‘submission list’.
This is a list of books that define the genre and identify the audience where your book would be accepted. Remember, pitching a book is a sales process, so you have to help the agents and editors see the profit potential in your product. The book has to fit onto an established shelf at a bookstore –and knowing which shelf can make or break your pitch.
For example, in Barnes & Noble there is no ‘horror’ shelf. Novels that would ordinarily fit there are scattered onto different shelves. Most of them wind up in the general ‘Fiction and Literature’ section, which is not a bad place to be, especially if you’re looking for a broad audience. Some, however wind up in ‘Science Fiction/Fantasy’, because the fan base is more genre-based. Laurell K. Hamilton and Jim Butcher are both in that section, and because the publishers know that the SF/comic book/fantasy crowds are the core demographic they keep those books there and they do well. But new shelves are emerging, such as ‘Paranormal Romance’ (authors like L.A. Banks, Sherrilyn Kenyon, etc.)
I suggest creating a list of 6-12 authors whose works most closely resonate with your own. This identifies those publishers who have known track records for handling your kind of work. Most writers don’t know about these lists, but when they do and can offer them up front to an agent it shows market savvy and a willingness to partner in the sales process that many agents find very appealing. Editors appreciate the lists because it’s something they can take to the marketing department and publisher to get approval to buy your book.
It’s also useful for any novelist as a way of identifying the genre/subgenre where they would ideally like their book placed.
Sublists should be a mix of recent hot sellers (which establishes that the genre is making money), a few enduring classics (showing that the genre has staying power), and a few recent deals (showing that the genre is active right now). These recent deals can be found by searching databases such as www.publishersmarketplace.com
For pitching, say, a supernatural thriller, the entries would likely include:
- SALEM’S LOT by Stephen King; Signet; paperback; 1976; 496 pages
- THEY THIRST by Robert McCammon; Kinnell; 1981; 552 pages
- GHOST STORY by Peter Straub; Coward, McCann & Geoghegan; 1979; 483 pages
- GHOST ROAD BLUES by Jonathan Maberry; Pinnacle Books; 2006; 480 pages
When I query I often offer a competitive analysis. Often this results in the editor/agent taking the next step and asking for it, along with the synopsis and sample chapters. Some might want to have the list emailed to them before deciding whether to ask for the manuscript. In all cases it shows that you are sharper and more business focused than most aspiring authors. Or as Stephen King would say, “It’s one more tool in your writer’s toolbox.”
-Jonathan Maberry www.jonathanmaberry.com
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