Thursday, April 17, 2008

Research your publishers

Camy here, up to my eyeballs in Love Inspired Suspense novels.

Yeah, I know—such a hardship. But someone’s got to do it, and I’m more than willing to sacrifice. {grin}

I’ve actually been a Love Inspired Suspense book club subscriber for a while (I only recently stopped because of finances) so I’ve been an avid reader of the line for a few years. But in the past year or so, I’ve slacked off on reading romantic suspense novels because I’ve been reading every Christian chick lit I can get my hands on, since I was writing my Asian Christian chick lit novels.

Now, I’m putting together a proposal for a romantic suspense, so I’m doing research.

I’m not talking about historical research or police procedural research or occupation research for my characters. I’m talking about researching the line I’m targeting.

For example, I know Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense has recently published a chef heroine, a philanthropist/heiress heroine, and a large-animal veterinarian heroine. Guess what occupations my heroine is NOT going to be?

LI Suspense has also recently published stories about a college reunion, a cold case skeleton found during a renovation, a woman running from her ex-husband who wants to murder her, and a man seeking to clear the name of his father, who was imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit. Those are plot elements I WON’T be using in my proposal.

However, I’m also looking for trends about things they DON’T publish. I’ve noticed that Love Inspired doesn’t often publish books set in foreign countries or Hawaii (there have only been handful of them). So, I probably will keep my story in the continental US.

Love Inspired also tends not to publish big-city settings like New York or Los Angeles. So I’ll be setting my story either in a small town or some place not quite so metropolitan.

And it’s not just category romance lines you can research. Do you have a dream publisher? Well look at what authors they have and what each author’s brand is. How would YOUR novel fit in that line?

Here’s the tricky part. You want to be different yet the same as what they already publish.

For example, my publisher, Zondervan, has suspense authors like Brandilyn Collins, Terri Blackstock, and James Scott Bell. If you write legal thrillers and want to be published by Zondervan, you’ve got to show an editor how you’re markedly different from what James Scott Bell writes.

Zondervan also has chick lit/romance authors Laura Jensen Walker and me. Laura’s next book to come out is Daring Chloe, the first book in a series about a book club who moves out of their comfort zones to do exciting things, including a fabulous trip to Paris. If you have a humorous women’s fiction about a group that travels together, you’ve got to show an editor how that’ll be markedly different from Laura’s series.

Zondervan also has women’s fiction authors like Karen Kingsbury and Mary DeMuth. If your women’s fiction is anything like the two of them, you have to show the editor how yours is different, too.

So spend some time doing the research. Borrow books from the library and read up on your targeted publisher (most libraries have an inter-library loan system if your town’s library doesn’t have the books you want). You’ll be glad you did—you’ll be able to craft a killer proposal and a terrific story premise that an editor will jump up and down over.



    And so timely as the RWA and ACFW conferences approach.

  2. Thanks for the post, Camy.

    I'm curious,do you write your stories specifically for an open market?
    What if you get an idea for a story that's not really marketable, that you really have a desire to write, do you just shelve it? Or write it and hope that market opens again?
    What if you wrote your story and someone put one in that was similar, would you rewrite it?

    Or do you just reword your pitch to highlight the differences.

  3. Tina, I do a combination of both. If I get a story idea, I will try to tailor it so that it fits with my publisher's guidelines or a house I'm targeting. It's still the same idea, but altered to be more marketable.

    Before I was contracted, I wrote a few manuscripts that were not marketable and they're still uncontracted, probably never will be.

    If someone else publishes something similar to mine, I will definitely rewrite mine--so that I can sell it! I'm not so tied to my stories and characters that I'm not willing to change anything major.

    I think a writer HAS to be this way in the writing business. There are just too many stories too similar to what's already out there, and you have to tweak things so that you stand out and are different.


  4. I have a few that are uncontracted as well. But I wrote them for the market of the day, and then I was told the market was really slow. But now it's picking up again.

  5. Hey, sleepyhead!!!

    West Coast time always kills me. I forget that 3 hour differential.

    Great post, Camy, you're so right. It pays to do your homework, and then some.

    And Tina P., I'm a firm believer in writing both.

    The Briton, the first historical published by SH historicals, was actually written over a decade ago (my time frame might be skewed, but I remember it was a huge length of time and Catherine hung onto the manuscript and went on to do a bazillion other things before SH grabbed this work)...

    So what doesn't get published now, might be your saving grace later. Mary's a great example of that. She had a wide-ranging backlog of good books that sat, benumbed, bemused and rejected in her hard drive...

    Until she made that first contact, showed her stuff, wowed some very smart people, and low and behold we have Contract Mary, not to be confused with Typhoid Mary, but possibly a distant relation.


    Write your heart, and write for the market. Maybe the two will even meet!


  6. Camy, you never cease to amaze me! Internet savvy, business savvy, and you can write too!

    Great advice I'd wish I'd known before my first conference pitch!! :)

    LOL, Ruthy, over your comment: "Behold we have Contract Mary, not to be confused with Typhoid Mary, but possibly a distant relation."


  7. Backlog? I prefer to call it "inventory." Hmmm, maybe I could sell them on E-Bay.

    Seriously, Camy is so right. Once we decide our manuscripts are sacred and unchangeable, we've signed their death warrants.

  8. Camy, thanks for the smart post. What a great profession! We can read all in the name of studying the market.

    Truthfully, I hadn't thought about things like checking character's names and such.

    You said you usually have a target publishin house in mind. Do you (or would you suggest) also having a back up in mind?

  9. Lorna, I think it depends on if you're writing category romance or single title.

    With category, you pretty much have to tailor the book to the line. Category romance editors are very picky and they can tell if you haven't read the books in the line, or if your story is too similar to one that has come out.

    For single title, you have a little more flexibility, but you still have to think about the publisher you're targeting. However, if you have a killer story idea that several publishers haven't used yet, your single title proposal can fit several different publishers.

    The important thing is to do your homework. If you know Zondervan hasn't done your story idea but Tyndale has, then that helps you be more targeted in your query process--you won't be wasting that time drafting a query letter to Tyndale.

    If one publisher rejects the manuscript, then start researching other publishers. Maybe Barbour or Bethany House hasn't published your story idea, and if you tweak it a little bit, it'll fit into their lineup and yet stand out.


  10. Good post. and it makes sense (although i would love to see more books set in Australia but i do also realize the bigger market is America)
    I can understand the making a book different cos if they are all the same then we readers wont buy them.
    I noticed on of my early favourite christian fiction writers started getting very predictable in her stories and it was like just reading the same book but in a different setting.
    thanks for the insite again (now i need to go to work again)
    oh and Mum is doing really great now its like the mum before she went to hospital has been replaced.
    yesterday i said to one visitor who is this women posing as my mum.
    shes so agreeable but thats ok i can handle this much better.

  11. Hi, Camy, great post! You're right about Steeple Hill readers, they usually like a small town setting in the good old USA! That doesn't mean a foreign setting won't sell, but chances are better for small town Americana.

    That being said, MIA: MISSING IN ATLANTA, my latest Love Inspired Suspense, is set in Atlanta's inner city, although I placed the action in a certain part of the city so it had a "small town" feel to me.

  12. Ausjenny, can you get Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense in Australia? In bookstores, or are they in your other markets as well?

  13. Debby, in the bigger stores like Koorong and Word they have some love inspired books. I haven't seen many suspense ones and the couple i got this year are 2006 books. but I know a few newer ones are there this year. Being from the country we dont get many at all. our fiction section in the local bookshop is hopeless there are a few newer ones but not alot.When they do get some its one only and a couple of us tend to fight over them! I know word and koorong have some Heartsong presents books. I did a loud OH YES when I found Mary's golden days at Koorong!
    the couple of love inspire suspense I got from a friend when in Canada but I do want to buy a few more. I am hoping to do an order to Christian book and will get some then (I think i won one last week also).
    I did subscribe to the heartsong mystries. (i need to find out about subscribing to the others)

  14. Oh Debby, most christian fiction in in christian bookshops a very very limited amount is in other bookstores in australia.
    (I just got excited cos i found out Koorong is in Hobart where i will be going for a holiday in July and its right in the cbd)

  15. Great advice, Camy! I never really thought to look at all the recent books by a publisher to try to make sure my story is different. I guess it's kind of a "duh" thing, but still, it never occurred to me!



  16. Jenny, I'm so glad your mom is doing better!

  17. Camy, I understand what you're saying about checking the market, what confuses me, is when you are putting together your market research don't the editors what to know what's similar to decide if yours will sale as well, or are they looking for something different. I've heard it both ways.

  18. Tina,
    The editors want something different from what they're publishing, so your story shouldn't be too similar to another author in their stable.

    At the same time, if you write fantasy and your publisher hasn't published fantasy, your genre might be TOO different for them to want to publish.

    In other words, you want something similar to what they already have, because they won't contract something completely outside of what they already publish, but you have to stand out from the other authors they already have. You cannot be too similar to what they already have.