Q&A: Market research

From Sarah Forgrave:

- Do you have any market research tips (i.e., What are some of the ways you check to see if your story has been done before or what books might be similar to your idea)?

Camy here: Great question! Before I do every proposal, I check to make sure my story hasn't been done before. Often, I check this even before I write the story.

First I make a list about my story:
(1) Genre
(2) Character careers
(3) Villain career/type
(4) Overall theme/plot premise
(5) Setting
(6) Targeted publisher/line

Then I go online to Amazon or Christianbook.com (since I write Christian fiction, Christianbook.com is a smaller, easier database to search) and search for books similar to mine.

I will usually start with the publisher or line I'm targeting and search within that parameter for all the other things. For example, for my Steeple Hill novel, I searched within all the Love Inspired Suspense books on Amazon for any novels recently published in my chosen setting, Sonoma, California.

Since none of us has a money tree growing in the backyard, be thoughtful and pick several books to read from that publisher or line. I won't usually read all the books from that publisher. I just can't afford it. But I will choose books that sound like they might be similar to mine and I'll read them.

An exception is for the Steeple Hill books. They're very inexpensive and I got a bunch of them on ebay for a dollar a book. I also wanted to read all the books most recently published because I needed to get a feel for the line and the style of writing.

When you do market research for a proposal, you're not only looking at the obvious factors like not publishing characters too similar or a plot premise too close to what's already been released.

You're also looking to see if your writing style AND your plot premise/genre fits within that publisher's lineup.

You want to make sure your writing style fits with books already published. For example, if you write angsty contemporary romances that dabble in women's fiction, you don't want to submit to Steeple Hill because their romances are all light and positive. They do it that way on purpose to appeal to their reader demographic, which numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

You also don't want to propose a plot premise or genre that is too far out from what the publisher normally publishes. For example, you don't want to propose a chick lit to Steeple Hill because if you read the line, you'll see that they haven't published any chick lit in over a year.

So what if you discover your targeted publisher isn't a good fit? Then you research OTHER publishers to find a good fit for your story! Another option is to tweak your story to fit within your targeted publisher's lineup.

Either way, your time spent researching is just as valuable as writing that manuscript!

If you have any other questions for my Q&A series, just leave a comment and I'll be sure to get to it.


  1. Thanks, Camy! This was very helpful!

  2. When you mean targeting...it's a little confusing. I was under the impression that you hand over your manuscript to your agent and then whoever's interested gets it. Do you have a say in what house you'd like to try and send it to? Does it depend on the genre? (I write historical fiction/romance)

  3. Hi Alexandra,
    If you don't yet have an agent and you go to conferences, you get a chance to pitch your story to editors, and in that instance, you want to do your homework in advance and know which houses you're targeting so you know which editors to talk to.

    This can also help you later because if you have met a particular editor at a conference, when you or your agent later sends your manuscript, the editor will have a favorable impression of you.

    It's also just a good idea to know and understand the publishing industry, to know which houses are publishing which genres, etc.



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