Day #27 – Know Your Book’s Category

By Dawn Frederick

Here’s a good way to cause brain freeze for some agents (at least mine). Coming to the query process without any idea of which books are direct competition, and even worse no idea about the book’s category. I already hear some of you asking, “Really, this happens?”  Yes it does and more than I’d prefer.

Here are some ways to avoid falling into that trap:

1.  Write a book proposal. This easier said than done, but it’s worth noting that the book proposal is a tentative business plan for any book. Both agents and publishers need to see the commercial potential for the books considered. This includes a clear knowledge of one’s audience, how readers will learn about the book upon publication, and a good competitive analysis.  A book proposal will accomplish this task. Take my word, writing a good thorough business plan for your book = a better idea of where it should be shelved in a store.

2. Do a walk-through of a bookstore. Brainstorm as to where your book would be shelved. Then visit the nearest brick and mortar bookstore, and study at the books within that category. IF none of these books share even a basic similarity to your book idea (unlike them being similar to one another), it’s time to figure out which section is better suited.

ex: I receive many queries around the theme of stories of raising one’s children, with a statement the books belong in the humor section. So let’s break it down. The main plot revolves around parenting. The next layer is that the author(s) personal experience(s) regarding parenting. And there are some funny elements too.  

What is the main theme? Parenting. What’s telling that story? Personal experiences and humor. Now go to the humor section of any bookstore, the humor books aren’t necessarily all personal essays about one’s life (or being a parent). However, a quick trip to the parenting section should reveal books of a similar nature. Or possibly memoir, due to the highly personal nature of the storytelling.

3. Read books within the your book’s category. This should go without saying, but sadly it bears repeating. I’ve actually heard some writers state (proudly), they don’t read books within the category for their books.

Hear that sound? It’s my brain exploding. If any author is going to be able to navigate the industry, it’s a good idea to be  an avid reader with books of similar matter.  For one thing, it helps one know what’s already published. Most importantly, this is a great reflection to understanding what agents and publishers are looking for.  Not only are we looking for good writing, but fresh ideas too.  i.e. do we need another Edward/Bella repeat on the bookshelves right now? I believe not. 

What are some other ways you’ve narrowed down your book’s category? And have you fallen into the trap and how did you get back on track?