Thursday, April 04, 2013

Market Research (and other excuses for reading)

First, a happy birthday to my aunt (she'll know who she is if she sees this).

I think today will be a mostly reading day because I have a raging case of the sniffles (very annoying) and it's cool and gray and I went on a library binge last night. As I get ready to submit the book I've been working on, I've been doing some market research. My agent and I have discussed whether this book best fits as women's fiction with fantasy elements or as contemporary fantasy. On the women's fiction side of things, that's where my earlier books were shelved (even if that was a problem for allowing the people most likely to like that sort of thing to find them), there's a strong theme of sisterhood and family responsibilities woven into the fantasy elements, and the fantasy elements may not be as "heavy" as what the fantasy houses are currently looking for. On the fantasy side of things, that's where I feel I fit best, I don't think my writing really fits what's currently considered women's fiction, and I think there's way too much fantasy to really fit in there.

So, I spent some time yesterday looking up the books in fantasy I feel are most similar to mine and tracking the "people who bought this also bought this" rabbit trail on Amazon. Then I looked up a few authors I know are doing fantasy elements in women's fiction and tracked that rabbit trail, and then I got some representative books out of the library.

This is made more challenging by the fact that it's sometimes hard to tell where a book fits at a publishing house. Sometimes I can tell by imprint, but sometimes hardcovers come out of the "hardcover" part of the house, which includes all genres. The B&N web site includes a mix of categories, while the Amazon site doesn't seem to include that information unless the book is on a category bestseller list, and there they can also include it in multiple categories. All the bookstores near me have closed, so I can't run to the neighborhood B&N and see where a book is shelved. My library slaps a unicorn "fantasy" sticker on the spine of every book with a word associated with any fantasy element in the title (and sometimes they're wrong to a hilarious extent). About the closest I can come to figuring out the target audience is the authors giving endorsement blurbs on the cover -- if it's a bunch of women's fiction or literary authors, it's probably shelved in mainstream fiction, but if it's fantasy authors, it's probably shelved in fantasy.

Then again, this probably erases that distinction of which category to go in because it will only matter in physical bookstores and it can be both online. The main difference is the editors I'd deal with, the store placement, the kind of promotion they'd do, and me having to persuade people who sell books at conventions or the genre specialty bookstores that the book really is fantasy, even if it's classified as "mainstream."

One of my fears was that my writing really wasn't up to the same standard as the more literary stuff or the bookclub fodder. I'm very plot driven and focus less on the wordsmithing and theme and metaphor and stuff like that. But selling a young adult book to a more literary imprint has made me think twice about that. I think this book is more "crafted" even though I still don't think I have a literary voice. The magic and fairies in my book are really, literally magic and fairies and not a metaphor for sex, love, power, family or anything like that. You could probably get some book club discussion going about a lot of the issues in this book, and those are the kinds of books that get shelved at places like Target and in airport bookstores. And so, I grabbed up a bunch of what I think may be fantasy or paranormal books published as mainstream book club fodder to see if I can assess how my book might really fit in.

Of course, my agent does her own research and knows the editors and their preferences, but it's my career and I'd like to be able to offer my informed input. Plus, it's a good excuse to spend the day reading and still consider it "work." And I'm still recovering from last night, when we had to combine the preschool and kindergarten choirs because one of the preschool leaders had a family emergency, so we had around 20 little kids in one room, all going slightly wild and crazy because things were different.

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