Please…for the love of all that’s holy…do the research

Since we publish books that have socially relevant themes, I get a lot of queries that insist their book is unique. For a soulless, black-hearted editor like me, this is bantha fodder because I can usually prove that statement wrong.

The query usually starts out something like this:

When I was going through cancer/addiction/mental instability/divorce/mid-life crisis/bereavement/any affliction of your choice, I searched for a book to help me, and couldn’t find anything (commence with breathless frustration here), so I decided to write about my experiences.

This never fails to flatten my pancake because it shows that the author knows zip about her competition. The one I received this morning dealt with Early Onset Alzheimer’s. She insisted that there was nothing on the marketplace. Eh? Whazzat? I’m still pondering whether to let her in on a secret – that we have a bestselling book about Early Onset Alzheimer’s.

I understand why the author wrote this – she’s trying to tell me that her book is unique, but she didn’t do the research to be able to back up that claim of uniqueness. To make matters worse, there isn’t an editor alive who doesn’t research the marketplace for competing titles to prove that very point. Our very careers depend on signing unique stories and being able to recognize a unique story at ten paces.

So what would be a more effective way to sell a book in a crowded category, such as Alzheimer’s?

Read Your Competition

As crummy as it may feel, it’s possible you don’t have a story because it’s already been done, and there isn’t anything in your book that says “new.” Only way to know that is to read the competition.

Analyze the unique qualities of your book compared to your competition

This is the tactic that Kate McLaughlin took in her book proposal for Mommy I’m Still In Here. She outlined the differences of her book to those of her competitors because she knew Bipolar Disorder has been extensively written about.

I went into research mode and discovered she was right – no one had the same kind of book. It was completely unique, and that’s why I bought it and still love the bejabbers out of it. She tackles new ground and perspectives that parents and loved ones of Biopolar sufferers should know about. Kate didn’t cop out by saying, “I couldn’t find anything,” because she knew darn well there were a ton of Bipolar books.

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, never forget that you’re selling yourself to someone who has seen it all and knows a lot about the marketplace. In order for you to meet that challenge you need to be an expert in your book and your competition. Saying, “I couldn’t find it,” is dangerous territory, and I posit that it’s a straw man approach best left to errant beagles who don’t care about credibility – only where their next margarita is coming from.

5 Responses to Please…for the love of all that’s holy…do the research

  1. Voidwalker says:

    I’m assuming it was likely a case of “I didn’t find any books on topicX at my local bookstore, so that must mean there aren’t any.”

  2. It doesn’t matter. It’s like my trying to tell Mom that I’d cleaned my room, when all she had to do is open my door and see that, clearly, I hadn’t. You just don’t make bold statements like that and not expect to have it verified.

    Ultimately, it shows her lack of knowledge of the industry. With the tough competition out there, one can’t afford to keep their head buried in the sand.

  3. What about the ” I know there are tons of memoirs like mine, but mine is so different and special because, blah, blah, blah…” guery? Should a newbie point out the fact that her manuscript’s not a cliche in her query? Or ‘show and not tell’. When is too much self promotion too much ? Its rough out there, thanks

  4. The author can easily mention the unique elements to her book in her query letter without sounding at all cliche. This is helpful information so we understand this isn’t the run-of-the-mill same same thing.

    This can be easily accomplished by saying something like, “My story brings a fresh perspective to the crowded cancer market by discussing the success rate of inverting one’s navel to cure bile duct cancer.”

    Easy peasy. We know it’s rough out there because it’s rough in here, as well. But don’t worry about clanging your bell too much. We want to know who you are and whether you have a platform.

  5. Great post, Lynn. This illustrates one of the primary failings of writers when they decide to try and publish their work.

    One’s writing may be artful self-expression, but when you decide to publish it, your book becomes a product and as such, is subject to the immutable laws of marketing. Just because it consists of printed words upon pages does not give it special dispensation. I believe all writers and published authors should take a refresher marketing course, to refresh their knowledge of how the marketplace deals severely to those who don’t heed its lessons.

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