Chip MacGregor is President of MacGregor Literary Inc., a literary agency that works in both the CBA and general markets.
1. Read frequently.
2. Read outside your genre (for example, if you’re a romance reader, pick up a suspense novel; if you’re a CBA person, read books outside your safety zone).
3. Study the bestseller lists (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, your local newspaper — all have them). Spend time on Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com to see what’s selling.
4. Note who publishes the books you read and the books on the bestseller lists. (In case you haven’t figured it out, not all publishing houses were created equal.)
5. Take a look at trade journals to find what’s hot, what’s not, and what’s happening. These journals would include Publishers Weekly, the email version of Publishers Daily, Publishers Marketplace, Library Journal, Writers Digest, possibly Bookstore Journal. You may also glean some good information in some entertainment journals.
6. Keeps tabs on the economic climate of publishing and bookselling. Right now everybody is talking about Borders going bankrupt, and bemoaning what bad shape the industry is in… but this year there will probably be more book pages published and sold than ever before in history.
7. It’s important that you study a publisher before sending anything to them. Harvest House may be the right place for your Amish book, but it’s the wrong place for your techno-thriller. So go to web sites and read catalogues to figure out who publishes what. If you research the house and its list, you’ll be better able to target the right publisher.
8. Check out market resources like the Writer’s Guild, Writer’s Digest, Sally Stuart’s CBA Market Guide, etc. Go online and check out the best writing blogs. (I happen to be a fan of Rachelle Gardner’s excellent CBA Ramblings, as well as Mike Hyatt’s blog on the industry. There are plenty of others.) Anybody with internet access can do some basic research — anybody who can get to Barnes & Noble can do some more. Walk around with a pen and a notepad for an hour or two at a store and see what you can glean.
9. Ask around. If you’re part of a critique group or writers organization, you ought to have some connections with fellow writers, editors, publishers, and agents to bounce your ideas around. If you’re attending a writer’s conference, by all means ask in the sessions or the panel discussions — or even in a face-to-face meeting.
10. Many publishers will print a style guide. Ask for one, and if they share it with you, follow it. Nothing makes an acquisitions editor unhappy faster than having to wade through a pile of manuscripts that only tangentially relate to the house’s publishing focus.