academic writing and editing / audience / literary agents / marketing / non-fiction writing and editing / publishing / querying agents and publishers / self-publishing / traditional publishing

An Editor’s Tips on Marketability

Marketability–a topic of concern to almost all writers! Here are tips I provided to a new non-fiction writer who was wondering if his manuscript would even be marketable, and if so, how he should go about preparing to market it. I wrote….


1. Basic questions on audience, purpose and market: Write down, in one to two sentences each, your answers to the following questions:

a. Who is your target audience? (age, gender, professional level, location, etc.) Be specific. In fact, think of one or two actual people you know who fit this description. Would they be interested in the book as it is currently written? If not, how could you make it more interesting to them?

b. What is the purpose of your book? Why did you write it and what audience reaction are you looking for? If you haven’t thought of this, figure it out now. Do you need to change anything to make it fit your purpose?

c. Market: Where and to whom do you plan to sell it? (to university students and/or teachers through a college bookstore? To professionals who are looking for “professional development” materials? To laypersons, like non-counselling teachers or parents who want to understand more to help the children they work with? To school or public libraries? To bookstores—and if so, what kind? Indie stores, general bookstores, online bookstores, etc.?

2. Format and price: What price do you hope to sell it for? Are you planning to sell it as a traditional (paper) book or as an e-book or both? What format would be most attractive and useful to your target audience and for your purposes? Will you want to write it as a “normal” book or are you hoping to make it more of a workbook style?

3.Traditional publishing or self-publishing:  Are you hoping to sell it through a traditional publishing company OR are you planning to self-publish? (self-publishing does not need to mean a “vanity publisher” – there are many different self-pub options now available). Or are you interested in one of the new hybrid publishing formats? Have you studied up on this topic? If not, you’ll want to do that. For a good introductory overview, check out Jane Friedman’s chart, and then dig deeper into her site for details.

4. How are you planning to market? Even traditional publishers expect authors to do the majority of marketing nowadays. If you self-publish, you really need to prepare to plan and do pretty much all your marketing. Do you already have a website, blog, and social media in place, or will you need to get that going (the better personal platform and brand you already have—and therefore the more potential customers—the more likely a traditional publisher will pick you up; but even with self-publishing, these are very important considerations). Are you willing, once the book is published, to go out and “sell” the book through book launches, readings, signings, guest speaking engagements, consulting and coaching, and so on?

5. Traditional publishers and agents: If you are interested in the traditional publishing route, the first thing you’re going to want to do is to get a copy of the current year’s edition of Writer’s Market (and/or related specialty market books; you can find these at your local public or college library, or you can buy a hardcopy and/or subscribe online) and find out what publishers and/or agents are looking for the type of book you are writing. Note that many publishers now only accept manuscripts through agents.

You will need to write a good query letter, of course. Each agent and/or publisher will indicate in Writer’s Market not only what topics and genres they are looking for, but also what they want you to send, ranging from just a query letter to start with, to a detailed proposal or even a  full manuscript. With non-fiction, you will usually be asked for a proposal, and 2 or 3 sample chapters. You usually don’t have to have the whole manuscript ready; in fact, publishers like to have input into how the manuscript will be developed. At any rate, follow their instructions to the letter. Get good instruction books such as the current Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents (check out their blog, too) and the Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters. Note also that publishers often require several rewrites before the book is the exact angle they are looking for.

The nice thing about traditional publishing is that you don’t have to pay up front for the printing and other related costs; of course, you also won’t start getting paid until the publisher’s costs and any advance have been covered. Considering the topic of your particular book, you’ll most likely want to be looking at niche publishers who focus on your topic, or perhaps college/university presses. You’ll also have to decide if you want to go with a Canadian or American publisher; if you go with American, you’ll likely have a larger market, but you’ll also need to look into taxes, the value of the Canadian dollar against the American dollar, and other related items. Of course you could self-publish through Amazon and/or other online booksellers, with both e-books and POD (print on demand) paper books, but in that case you’ll need to consider distribution. Lots of decisions to make! Research and find what works best for you.

6. If you are thinking about self-publishing, you will likely need to hire an editor (though to get your manuscript accepted by an agent or publisher, you’ll almost certainly need the manuscript to be well-edited, also), a designer for the covers and for the inside design, a proofreader (though your editor may also do this), and a printer if you plan to order a number of copies and sell them yourself (As mentioned, POD is another option to consider). You’ll also have to take care of ISBN, CiP, and other requirements.

Some “self-publishing companies” will do some or all of these jobs for you but of course there is a cost, which can range very widely, so you’d really want to research, and also speak to other experienced self-publishers. If there is a writing group in your area, you should consider attending some of their meetings and ask lots of questions. Writer’s conferences can also be great sources of information. Also, if you’re planning to self-publish, you may want help with distribution, unless you want to do it all yourself. There are some self-publishing distributors; for example, David Korinetz of Red Tuque Books in Penticton is a good distributor for self-published books by Canadian writers.

One thing about self-publishing to remember is that you generally have to pay up-front for the majority of your costs (unless you are multi-talented and can do many of these things well yourself, and/or you join a “collective” of other writers who help each other with various tasks in a barter format).Then, of course, it is up to you to re-coup those costs (and hopefully make a profit) by selling as many books as possible.

7. Finding beta-readers and other helpers: You might contact counsellors at schools, colleges, or in personal practice since counselling is your book’s focus. Tell them about your book, and ask if their institution or peers or students might be interested in the book—and what changes they might like to see before you actually finish it and publish it. You might even find some who’d be willing to “beta-read” the manuscript (before publishing) and give you suggestions about how to make it really successful. You could offer them a free copy of the book after it’s published. If the book is suitable, you might even find college professors who’d make it recommended reading for their students (consider not only departments of psychology, etc., but also schools of education etc.).

8. Compare your book to what is already available: Another good idea is to go to college and school libraries, and also public libraries (and bookstores), and look for books that are similar to yours. You’ll quickly discover whether you’re doing something “special,” or whether someone else has already done it—and if they have, think about what makes your book stand out from theirs, so that there is a market for it. Also look on (or if you’re aiming for the Canadian market), and read the reviews of books similar to yours, and also see how well those books are selling.

9. What are your publishing companies of choice already selling? As you are using the Writer’s Market to find potential publishing companies, check out their similar topic books at bookstores, libraries, and on online sellers to get a better idea of exactly the kind of books they are looking for.

10. Ways to get recognised as an authority and writer in your field: You can write articles for magazines and academic journals in the field, and present a “mini-version” of what you’re doing with your book—and in the “bio” section mention that you’re writing a full book. You can offer to go to school Pro-D days and do presentations to school counsellors (and other interested teachers). You can write related blog posts on your website (and short informational pieces on your Facebook author page or other social media). Just use your imagination to think of ways of building up your potential audience/purchasers.

I really do think you are wise to consider carefully whether you want to go forward with publishing. Your book might indeed to turn out to be very successful, but if you do some of the “background work” suggested above, you’ll be a lot more likely to be able to make a good decision on whether or not to publish, how to publish, and how to make the book the most successful it can be.

I encourage you to check out these ideas, and if you decide to go with the process, you know I’m available to help you with the editing process and offer whatever suggestions I can.

Responses and Questions: Do you have questions about some of the tips in this post? Check out the other posts on this site for posts that go into greater detail on specific topics. Or post your questions in the comments and I will do my best to answer them. If you have other tips, we’d love to hear from you, too. Please feel free to post in the comments. If you wish to contact me directly, please email me at the contact page.


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