jeudi 14 décembre 2006

The market

the publishing decision is based
on what is happening in the book market and in
the economy as a whole. Publishers consider the
success of competing books and authors. They
examine shopping and literary trends, and they
pay attention to events in the outside world.
Finally, they consider whether your book fits an
identifiable niche.
1. Competition
When a publisher looks at your proposal they will
do a little research to find out how many
competing books are currently in print. Editors
will usually be familiar with the competition if
your proposal is in a subject area that they publish
all the time, but sometimes they will have a steep
learning curve to climb.
It doesn’t hurt to do your own market research
into competing books and to present that to an
editor with your proposal. Giving the dates of
publication of rival books will help: generally
speaking the older the title, the less significant
will be its market share.
Explain in your analysis of the market any
shortcomings of rival books and tell the editor
specifically why you are better qualified to write
on the subject than the other authors, and why
your book will tackle the subject in a more
authoritative and interesting way.
2. Trends
Fashions, crazes and trends all manage to twist
the buying patterns of the book-buying public.
Remember those ‘magic eye’ books that
swamped the market, sold millions then
disappeared? That’s a classic craze. Anyone able
to push a new magic eye book in front of a
publisher in those heady days would have walked
home that evening with a fat contract in their
OK, so that’s not really about writing, but I’ve
published many successful books about people
buying houses in hot countries and their
experiences living there. In doing so I was
reacting to the market trend which indicated that
people had an insatiable appetite for this kind of
book and as long as they continue to sell I’ll be
following that trend and looking to publish more
of them.
3. Related events
If you propose a book about a historical event
and its publication date could coincide with a
significant anniversary of that event, then the
publisher has an extra angle upon which to get
publicity and more sales.
I recently published a book called Arthur: King
of the Britons. It was a fascinating exploration of
the King Arthur character and attempted to find
out what historical truth existed behind the
legend. But the quality of the writing was not
the only factor in deciding to publish this book:
the author wisely pointed out in his initial
proposal that a major Hollywood film about
Arthur was currently in production. The film
would be getting publicity for itself and raising
the profile of Arthur in the media, and we knew
we could benefit from that ‘free ride’ of publicity
to sell more books.
The paperback
edition of The Age
of Scurvy was
brought out to
coincide with the
double centenary
of the battle of
Trafalgar. The
media hype gave the book a free publicity ride
and increased sales because people saw
documentaries about the battle on television or
read about the anniversary in the press and then
went into bookshops looking for books on the
Whenever I mention that I published a book
for this kind of reason, don’t think that the book
was accepted just for those external reasons.
Every book was also well written and researched.
They fitted our publishing programme, they had
fresh ideas with an original angle. But they also
had that extra magic ingredient of being tied to
events that were about to happen. Hundreds of
other books that were also well written and
researched would have been under consideration
by my editors at the same time, but it was those
external factors that in some cases made the
difference and helped us to choose one book over
another when combined with the other factors
listed in this chapter.
Publishers who jump onto passing
bandwagons in this way can achieve impressive
book sales very quickly, but they can also lose
money if they jump on too late and find
themselves left with thousands of books that
won’t sell. Print runs to satisfy the demands of
market hype have to be huge. When the fourth
and long-awaited Star Wars film was released the
publisher of the official tie-in books
overestimated the demand and was nearly
crippled by hundreds of thousands of books that
were returned unsold from the shops.
Despite occasional bad experiences publishers
in general will be keen to sign up a book that
they think can hitch a ride on a bandwagon
because they want to be in with a chance of a hit
publication. If you’re aware of any forthcoming
dates, films, television series, sporting events or
anything else that is relevant to your book
proposal, let the publisher know about it,
preferably a year or two in advance.
4. Niche
My publishing career started in 1990 with a self
published book called The Busker’s Guide to Europe
which revealed the best spots throughout the
continent for earning money from street
I knew at the time that the market for such a
book would be limited, but I was reassured by a
book I’d read about self publishing which stated
that a book would succeed provided it fitted a
niche, no matter how small. I would now qualify
that advice by pointing out that the smaller the
niche the more important it is to be able to
contact potential readers within that niche easily.
Buskers are not the easiest group to contact by
mailshot: I found myself visiting town centres
and dropping order forms for my book into
buskers’ guitar cases and hats (I still remember
the hundreds of disappointed faces when they
realised it wasn’t cash I was giving them). The
thousand copies I printed took about six years to
sell, which is not a rate of sale that could be
considered a success in the publishing business.
Be aware of the best way to contact your
potential readers and
list those ways in
your cover letter to
Examples of ways
to contact niche
readers could be through:
1. Specialist magazines
2. Clubs
3. Unions
4. Societies
5. Charities
6. Colleges
7. Websites
8. Extended families
9. Local communities
How many guaranteed or highly likely
potential sales to niche customers would
persuade a publisher to keep your
manuscript out of the rejection pile?
of sales
Effect on the editor
10 copies
won’t make a difference.
100 copies
would be nice but won’t swing
things your way.
500 copies
will make an editor think twice.
1,000 copies
would put a smile on their
bespectacled faces.
When you present a book submission with clear
evidence of a quantifiable market you know that
the niche aspect of the decision making process
will go in your favour.

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