Thursday, November 19, 2015

Before You Create a "New" Category of Books

It happens fairly often. An unpublished writer will pitch a new genre or type of a novel. Or it happens in the children's area, another inexperienced writer will create a new type of children's book. What they don't understand is their pitch sets off all sorts of warning bells to the editor or literary agent (at least if they are actively thinking about the market when they read the submission).

For example, I read a novel manuscript that had several recipes in the final pages. These recipes ties to the story line and weren't random that the author included it but these recipes are not the reason the target audience picks up the book. They will purchase the novel for entertainment or escape. The inclusion of the extra material does not fit the expectations of the market. If someone is going to need a recipe, they will purchase a cookbook.

I've also met authors who believe they are creating a new genre of fiction. Yes they have created a catchy name for this new category. The question the literary agent or editor is asking (internally), how will this book fit into the marketplace? If they can't answer this question, then the author will receive a polite “thanks but no thanks” rejection/ pass letter.

I also see this experience in the children's book area—particularly in the picture book market. Writers will read tons of picture books to their own children and decide to write a book. While they may have a terrific concept and story and their manuscript may be well written, they have never stopped to learn the details of how the children's book market works. 

The children's book market is very segmented. Your book will not reach all ages of children but needs to have an expected target. This target age will affect the words you use for your manuscript, the illustrations, the subjects and much more. Also picture books have a specific format and length. The shortest picture book is 24 pages and make sure you layout those 24 pages properly with a trial “dummy” book. Just use google to find some examples, then follow the expectations. If your book is short, then you need to rework your story until it is the right length.

I've seen a number of unpublished picture book authors that just decide to “fill in” the blank pages in the back of their book with other information (not connected to the story or the concept). Or maybe they use CreateSpace to create their book but see extra pages in the smallest format and “fill in.” Here's the insight for you: “fill-ins” are probably landing in the rejection stack. They will not garner serious consideration because they break the expectations of the picture book market.

As a writer who wants to find a publishing home, you need to learn the expectations for a particular type of writing and write with excellence before you try and break those patterns.   Yes you can always self-publish but this action is full of challenges and potential dangers (spending a lot of money with little return for example). Writers who are not in publishing don't understand there are thousands of people (at least 50,000 for most of these self-publishers) and on average sell only a few copies. That is not where as a writer I want to put my limited time and resources.

Publishers have to meet the expectations of their authors but also to produce excellent books which will be prized, discussed and promoted among booksellers and librarians as well as the general public. If you haven't seen a particular type of book, often there is a good reason why you haven't. I encourage you to get into a writer's group, attend a writer's conference, join a critique group and get into the community to learn before you leap. It will help propel your writing life forward.

I have a mixing bowl illustration because many writers believe writing a book is like mixing a cake. You simply gather the ingredients (words) and put them into a document and fire them off to an editor or agent. Just like with a cake, if you put in the wrong ingredient, you can ruin your cake. It's the same with a manuscript. The unexpected additional element could ruin your opportunity to get published.

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