Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Importance Of Researching The Market - Lynne Garner

My latest funny story with a twist at the end 
Over the years I’ve attended writing courses and read a multitude of books all in the hopes of improving my writing and my chances of landing new publishing deals. Time and again I’ve read that if you’re serious about getting published (in any genre) you should research the market. I must admit I also suggest this to my students.

Researching means looking in shops to see what has recently been published, visiting the local library (if you’re lucky enough to still have one) and rummaging in the book box at your dentists or doctors. However this only gives you an idea of what an editor was looking for around two years ago. This is because it can take up to two years for a picture book to reach the shelves. I've heard of some books that have taken far longer than that.

So what is all the point of this research? Well it tells you what not to write.

At the moment it would appear wizards are so yesterday, vampires have been done to death and pirates are washed-up. So there is little point (if you want to see your work in print) in writing a book for an already saturated market. Thankfully when I was in the process of writing Bad Manners, Benji! (released February 2014) an editor had advised me that she was looking for a story that:
  • Had an element of humour
  • Was aimed at boys
  • Had a twist at the end
  • Was driven by strong characters 

Sadly I haven't received such helpful advice recently, so I've had to research what not to write and look for possible gaps in the market. One gap I think I've found is based on the changes happening in our education system. In the recent set of changes part of the curriculum states that children in year one and two should be “becoming very familiar with key stories, fairy stories and traditional tales …” Thankfully I have a couple of stories ready to go which might just fill this gap. 

However this doesn't tell me what the market will want once I've sent these off and I'm planning my next set of stories. So I'm going to take a chance and write a few stories just for me. If I like them and they pass the Picture Book Den Team critique red pen (one of the perks of being a member of such a fab group, we support one another by swapping manuscripts every so often) I may just take the plunge and send them to a publisher. With fingers crossed I may just be ahead of the game and write a story that fits the requirements of an ever changing market. 

Lynne Garner

My writing eCourses which starting January 2015:


Jonathan Emmett said...

One of the pieces of advice my first agent, the formidable Gina Pollinger (now retired), gave to me at our very first meeting was to go into libraries and bookshops and study picture books by other writers and illustrators. I followed it and it definitely helped me to get a foot in the door.

Having said which, one of the most frustrating reasons that publishers often give me for rejecting a story is "we don't really publish anything else like this" or "there's no established market for this type of book". I think that picture books would appeal to a far wider, more diverse readership if both publishers and authors were prepared to take more risks.

Lynne Garner said...

Good point about publishers and writers taking risks. I think writers are willing to when they first start out but sadly after several rejections realise that if they want to become published taking those risks lessens their chances.

Another issue is that you can check the catalogue of a publisher, write something that appears fits, send it in only to be told they've decided not to continue with that type of book. This has happened to me several times.

Lastly the book shops. I've been into many that have entire shelves dedicated to just a few 'classic' titles. It would be great if they also had a shelf dedicated to books that, if given the chance could also become classics.

Jonathan Emmett said...

Amen to that last point! Although it's less of a problem in the indies than in the big chains.

People often tell me they have tried to do the right thing by going into a large "well stocked" bookshop like Waterstones to buy a book, but haven't been able to find it among shelves crammed with multiple copies of books by a handful of big brand authors. So they've gone home and ordered it online.

Moira Butterfield said...

Interesting point, Lynne, that researching in bookshops only gets you 'yesterday's news', as it were. And you can pretty much bet that a lot of publishers will be wanting something similar to a hit that's already out there. So I think that your instinct to 'write for you' is a good one. Trouble is it doesn't pay the bills straight off - it's the catch 22 of picture book writing for most of us. But it has to be the best way of producing something special.

JHamilton said...

Good read! and interesting points made. I find it frustrating when you see so many books in a similar style to Oliver Jeffers instead of original work! Some are almost direct copies!

Lynne Garner said...

When I sent in my first picture book the editor said she was a little worried because my story featured a hedgehog and the theme of winter and perhaps it was too close to 'A Little Bit of Winter' by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. Thankfully I'd read it so could explain the differences - I must have made a good argument as they then published my story 'A Book For Bramble.'

Paeony Lewis said...

I think you're right to write the stories you want to write - the fact it resonates with you should mean the text has more heart and you're experienced enough to know what works. Sadly, we all know that with picture books even the most successful writers don't get everything published, so whatever we write, nothing is a 'sure thing'.

Anne Booth said...

I think it is great you managed to have a hedgehog in it at all. I was told by a publisher that I had to remove the hedgehog from my story as it would not sell overseas - apparently it is too particularly British an animal. I'm still craving to write a hedgehog book! I must look out for both 'A Little Bit of Winter' and 'A Book for Bramble'. Hooray for hedgehogs!

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