If you have already written a book, or even if you are just considering writing one, you may have asked yourself what it is that publishers are looking for. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula a writer can follow for guaranteed publication. What works and doesn’t work varies by genre, publisher, and other factors outside of the writer’s control. Still, there are some basic elements every publisher considers when evaluating a potential project. Those elements are: content, market, competitive titles, and author platform. We will cover each element in basic terms for the purpose of this post, but we do provide greater details on each of categories in our free white paper “What Publishers Want.”
Though certain elements vary between fiction and nonfiction, any book, no matter what the genre, must be compelling, marketable, and memorable.
Compelling: It must be a topic that people are interested in.
Marketable: There must be a significant number of people interested in the topic.
Memorable: The writing should be good and should stick with the reader.
Publishing is a business. In order for publishers (and authors) to make money, they need to sell books. So, when publishers look at a project they ask themselves: What is the market for this book? Who would be interested in this topic? How many people constitute that segment of the population? How often do they buy books and for what reasons? You need to be able to answer those questions before you even start writing.
The next thing publishers consider is your competition. This is key for many reasons. First of all, it shows them who your market is and the size of your market’s demand. If books on your topic are doing well, they are more likely to consider your work. Second, publishers look at how your book differs from the competition. If you provide enhanced content, an innovative approach, new research, or a more user-friendly voice, then they will be more likely to consider looking at and possibly acquiring your book. However, if your book is too similar to an existing one (especially one that has done well), or if your content is weak or poorly executed in comparison, then a publisher will be less willing to consider your project.
We discussed this in great detail before (link), and we can’t stress enough how important it is when evaluating your potential success as an author. Publishers need to know that you have identified your audience, that you are speaking to the needs and wants of your audience, and that you are continually and actively engaged with them even before you have a book.
Understanding how your book measures up in terms of content, market, competitive titles, and platform is essential to your publishing efforts. Weakness in any area can be improved upon, but too many issues in one or more categories can seriously hinder your chances of being published.
Shennandoah Diaz is a freelance writer, editor, and consultant specializing in strategic communications and publishing. She currently serves as the Business Development Assistant for Greenleaf Book Group, a publisher and distributor supporting independent authors and small presses, and as the Nonfiction Editor for Reflection’s Edge Magazine.