You know what you want to write. You’ve defined your target audience. But how do you know if your concept is saleable? The short answer is: you don’t. But your keen senses can help you find out.
1. Listen to your readers.
You’ve spent the time to define your audience, so ask them if they would read your book. Facebook, Twitter, and a sea of online communities make it easier than ever to form virtual relationships that you can leverage to test your audience’s interest. You can pose the question informally to a group and see how the conversation unfolds. Or, for a more formal approach, you can create a survey with a free online tool, like SurveyMonkey, and post it your blog or website or distribute it in an e-mail. Most readers won’t hesitate to tell you what they think of your book concept. Just make sure you are willing to listen.
2. Look at the best-sellers.
Just like painters study the masters, writers can learn a lot from best-sellers. Examine the New York Times Best-Sellers List. Pay attention to who is on it and what they are writing about. While you don’t want to create a me-too book, this observation can reveal a lot about readers’ interests and help you determine if your concept is timely and relevant.
3. Sniff out the competition.
Visit a handful of bookstores both in person and online. Locate the shelf where your book would sit and scope out the neighborhood. Will your book get lost in an already-saturated market? Or does it offer a fresh perspective, new idea or something tangibly different that will motivate people to open their wallets? If you can’t pinpoint why readers would want to buy your book over the others, they won’t.
4. Be in touch.
Keep your finger on society’s pulse by monitoring content related to your book’s subject matter. Is your topic in the news often? Is it a matter of national debate? Is anyone talking about it? What are they saying? Google Alerts makes it possible for you track relevant news headlines, blog posts and other content by allowing you to set alerts for keywords related to your book. Keeping tabs on the collective conversation can help you determine if people will be receptive to your book.
5. Taste test.
Readers’ tastes are ever-changing. How can you determine if your topic will suit their palate? A quick visit to Google Trends can give you insight into the hottest topics and search queries of the moment. Don’t see yours? Don’t worry. You can run a search, which will show you historic trends that indicate if the public’s interest in your topic is increasing or declining.
As writers, it’s easy to lose ourselves in the art of writing and forget about the business of selling books. Take it from me; I spent several years writing in the pre-dawn hours before work, devoting entire weekends to my manuscript and spending hundreds of dollars mailing query letters and sample chapters to agents. The result? Sleep-deprivation, blurred vision, debt and a pile of rejection letters that echoed the same sentiment: “can’t find a market for this.”
If your goal is to build a writing career, then salability is a question worth considering upfront, before you devote years of your life to a project that nobody wants to read.
Erika Liodice is an aspiring novelist and founder of the inspirational blog, Beyond the Gray, where she shares her journey to publication while encouraging readers to reach for their own dreams. She is a contributor to Writer Unboxed, The Savvy Explorer and Lehigh Valley InSite. You can follow her on Twitter: @erikaliodice.