Trendspotting for the Entrepreneurial Writer

A few weeks ago, we talked about whether it makes sense for you to write to current trends. Even if your heart is set on a career penning experimental novels written in iambic pentameter (I hate to be the one to break it to you, but those don’t seem to be selling so well these days) it can still be handy to have an idea of what’s happening in the market. And if you’ve decided that hopping on a hot ticket makes sense for you right now, you’ll want to pay even closer attention. Today, we’ll talk about how to know what’s selling, whether it’s self-published or traditionally published.

Bookstores

Don’t overlook the obvious! Your local bookstore is a great place to start. Chain bookstores like Barnes and Noble sell display space to publishers in a process known as co-op (for a fantastic breakdown of what this means, check out this series of posts from the blog Pimp My Novel and this post from author/blogger Nathan Bransford. By checking out what’s prominently displayed in the store, you can get an idea of what types of titles publishers are putting their money behind. Independent bookstores’ displays are more likely to reflect the individual tastes of their staff, but you can still get an idea of prevailing trends. Of course, you may not have a local bookstore, especially if your community bookstore used to be a Borders (RIP). In this case, you can still peruse Barnes and Noble’s website for an idea of what’s being heavily promoted.

Publishers Marketplace

A subscription to Publishers Marketplace just might be the smartest twenty dollars a month you can spend! It’s an invaluable resource for writers. Their deals page is updated daily, and is a running list of what’s selling, to whom, and for how much. Pay special attention to the bigger deals, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what kinds of titles publishers are interested in. Even if you have no intention at all of going with a traditional publisher, it’s useful to be aware of what’s happening in the market. Trends in self-publishing often mirror trends in traditional publishing (or vice versa—especially as more traditional publishers are avidly courting successful self-published authors).

Bestseller Lists

Bestseller lists are a bit of a mystery—no one knows exactly how the New York Times bestseller list is put together, and Amazon is notoriously reticent with details of its sales figures—but they can help you put together a larger picture of what’s hot. Amazon sales rankings can be especially useful if you’re self-publishing, since Amazon is most likely the major outlet through which you’ll be distributing your work.

Industry Blogs

It can be useful to follow several industry blogs. Galleycat is a great industry resource. If you’d rather not shell out the cash for a Publishers Marketplace subscription, Galleycat also has a deals page, although it tends to focus on high-profile deals and celebrity projects (the celebrity deals can be a bit depressing; don’t say I didn’t warn you). Professional blogging sites can be another useful source of information, especially for nonfiction writers. Check out sites like Copyblogger and Problogger. While these sites don’t necessarily focus on publishing specifically, they can give you useful tips on tailoring your work to potential markets. Individual agents and editors will often write about trends they’re seeing, or types of books they’re looking for; even if you’re not looking for an agent, you might find it helpful to follow several such blogs. Again, there’s no single resource that will give you the secret to the market, but you can put together a larger picture based on diverse sources of information.

If all this sounds like a bit of work—well, it is. But once you get a feel for the fine art of divining trends, you won’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you get online. Figuring out what information is most useful to you won’t happen overnight, but there’s a wealth of news out there that can help you focus your writing and identify where you’d like to take your career. Happy hunting!

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