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6. Researching the Markets

(Sixth in a series)

In the preceding five installments of this series, I’ve been answering the question of how one goes about getting a book published. So far, we’ve covered getting the idea, doing the research, outlining the manuscript, writing the first draft, and editing and revising that draft. Today, we deal with researching the possible markets for the book.

Even before I have completed my research and writing of my draft manuscript, I have been thinking about which publishers might be good prospects to publish the type of book I am writing. The closer I come to finishing the manuscript, the more intense and focused my search becomes.

My search begins with a perusal of the publishers’ names on the spines of books already published that are similar to mine and on either my own personal bookshelves or the shelves of my local library to determine any that focus especially on my topic. For my first book, Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries (McFarland, 2016), I asked myself which publishers were producing nonfiction history, specifically American military and political history. Even more focused, I wanted to know which ones were publishing books about the South during the War Between the States.

Next, I study market listings. My primary source is the current edition of Writer’s Market, an annual market list published by Writer’s Digest Books. For my second book, Combat!, which deals with not only military history but also Christian living, I added a source that lists specifically Christian publishers, The Christian Writer’s Market Guide, edited by Jerry Jenkins (he of Left Behind fame). Both resources tell not only the subjects various publishers cover but also their contact information, how and what to include in a query or proposal, response times, age of the business, and other data that will help writers decide which publishers will be a best fit for the types of books they are writing.

As I peruse those resources, I note not only publishers I tend to like but also those I will eliminate from consideration, including those that deal only with agents and those that publish material that I find objectionable and that go contrary to my personal standards and values. I write down possible publishers’ names and create a table on which I enter the specific information about each publisher that I will need to consider in determining to which publishers I will submit a query. I give each publisher points for such factors as

  1. response time on queries, proposals, and completed manuscripts (sooner is better than later);

  2. advance paid, if any (any advance is better than no advance, but the higher the better);

  3. royalty rates and payment schedules for both the print book and the e-book (the higher the better);

  4. publication date after acceptance (sooner is better than later);

  5. print run (the higher that number the more confidence the publisher has that it will sell well);

  6. desired length of manuscript (the closer to the length of my manuscript the better);

  7. geographic location (the closer to my hometown the better); and

  8. openness to unagented authors (since I do not yet have an agent, the more open they are the better).

Based on the scores (and the resulting rankings) I give the publishers on that table, I narrow the field to the top five or six and prepare and mail identical query letters to each of them, submitting according to their stated preference, via either e-mail or snail mail.

Then I wait while continuing to polish my manuscript in preparation for submitting it to whichever publisher sends me a request for a proposal package or a completed manuscript. If all of the first-round publishers respond negatively to my initial query, I refuse to despair; I merely go to the second-round publishers on my table and submit query letters to them. Patience and perseverance are the key qualities to be cultivated at this point.

For my first book, I submitted query letters to two publishers on the same day. I received requests for a full proposal package from both of them, one within an hour of my hitting the “Send” button and the other before the close of business the same day. For my second book, however, a few publishers never responded at all, several rejected it outright, two requested the complete manuscript but ultimately rejected it, and one asked to see the completed manuscript and ultimately sent a contract. That publisher was from the third round of publishers on my table rankings.

Your assignment: Begin researching markets and identifying possible publishers for the kind of material you’re writing.

Next time, we’ll discuss pitching your book, or what your query letters and proposal packages should include.

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