Photo by Mike Johnson (TheBusyBrain.com)

Last week we discussed the importance of knowing who you are as an author. Just as important is understanding the competitive landscape, which means reading. A lot.

I know I’m risking hate mail here, because this is the topic that generates the most pushback from authors. “I don’t like to absorb someone else’s style while I’m writing my drafts.” That’s a perfectly valid point. Read in between drafts, before and after a project is complete, whatever works for your writing process.

But in order to effectively market your work, you must read in your genre.

Why? There are plenty of good reasons that involve mastering your craft and learning the conventions of a particular genre. Each genre has them, and chances are, you chose it because you enjoy reading those types of books. If you’ve been at it for a while, you’ve most likely internalized some of those rules.

That’s a completely different concern from why you must read for research and marketing purposes. Our discussion last week was about determining what makes you and your story unique. By definition, unique means “the only one like it.” If you don’t read, you don’t know whether you’re unique or not.

So let’s go through what you should thinking about as you read through the books in your genre that have been published in the last eighteen months (understanding of course, that it reflects what has been happening in the industry two years prior to the publication date.)

1.) How does is my voice different from other authors writing in the genre? What makes me unique? (Or as we like to say in sales and marketing, what is my Unique Selling Proposition? Why should someone choose my books over another author’s books? What makes me special?)

2.) How is my voice similar to other authors writing in the genre? Do I write concise, snappy contemporary sentences, full of funny internal monologue? Do I write elegant, complex prose full of lavish descriptions? Who else writing in my genre has a similar style? This can give you a good feel for the marketability of your work and possible editors to target prior to publication. More importantly, the readers of those authors to whom your style is similar is your target audience. More about that next week.

3.) What kind of stories are told most often? It’s a fine line between popular and over-saturated. If you’re writing a romance set on a ranch in Texas, you need to be able to identify what makes your book both similar and different from those other books. What do those stories all have in common that drew the editors and readers? What new take are you offering on that setting, situation, or story?

4.) How do authors handle sensitive topics like politics, religion, sexuality, violence, social issues? This is especially important if you’re pushing the boundaries on what’s typically published in the CBA. How far have authors been allowed to go on these topics by their respective editors? How have they handled sensitive situations? Again, this is valuable information when you’re still writing your novel, but even when you’re marketing a book under contract, it can give you an idea of whether you should be identifying yourself as traditional, edgy, or crossover.

This week’s action items: Make a list of books in your genre that have been published in the last 18 months that seem most similar to your story. Buy them, borrow them, or request them from your local library. (Colorado has a particularly good inter-library loan system through Prospector, so make use of it!) If you already have favorite books in the genre, analyze them according to the four points above.

Next week: Analyzing the competition’s marketing presence.

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