Chip MacGregor

May 23, 2012

What’s the purpose of a market analysis in your book proposal?


Staying on the topic of proposals, Dania wants to know, “What is the purpose of a market analysis in a proposal? What kind of information are you looking for? And how much info do you want? It seems like the agent is the one who knows the market, so I’m not sure why an author is asked to do this.”

A market analysis serves as an advance organizer to a publisher. It helps reveal that there is a market is for the new book, helps describe the potential audience, and helps the publisher think through how they could market and sell the new title. A market analysis is a way of saying, “You once published this title, and my proposed book is similar.”

The author does the legwork to put this together because it’s the author’s job to create the best proposal possible. A good agent will work with you to tweak this section, perhaps recommending other titles or revising the descriptions to best fit each publishing house.

Often writers will come to me with a pitch that says, “Nobody has ever done anything like this before!” That fails to recognize the real world of publishing. Companies discover how to produce and sell certain types of books — for example, Love Inspired knows how to sell historical romance, and the folks at Broadway know how to sell books to professional types and business leaders. Imagine walking up to a nonfiction publisher and saying, “You’ve never done western novels before, so the market is wide open!” It’s stupid — that’s not how publishers think. If you bring them a new project, you need to explain the market for the book, and help them to see how they are going to succeed with it.

Generally a market analysis lists three to eight published books that have had some success, explains each book briefly, and may subtly define how the new, proposed book is unique. But it doesn’t bash any current books on the market, and it should not include any over-the-top comparisons (if I see one more spiritual memoir that says, “This book is exactly like Blue Like Jazz,”I’m going to scream).

What else do you want to know about proposals?

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  • I agree with Barbara’s question–how do we know what books to include? For example, I am working on a romantic comedy and my muses are Jane Austen and a couple of my favorite Regency authors. However, my story is strictly contemporary–many of the same emotions and much of the same pyschology, but totally different circumstances. So, where do I begin looking for books for market analysis–with my muses or wil I have to wade through all the romantic fiction out there?

    • Chip says:

      You do some research into similar books, Patricia. They don’t have to be exact — what you’re hoping to find are books that will appeal to the same readership. 

  • Great ideas for a market analysis, especially about making it publisher-specific. This approach breaks it down and makes it easier than what I’ve done before.
    How do regular folks know what books have sold well? Because they’re on the bookshelves, top-ranked on sites like Amazon, or the publisher has pubbed multiple titles by that author?
    It seems like there’s some magic formula out there that I would have no way of knowing. Probably just unpubbed delusions. 🙂

    • Chip says:

      Regular folks don’t know actual numbers, so they (1) check the rankings on Amazon, (2) check the bestseller lists, (3) ask friends in the industry, and (4) use common sense. 

    • Thanks Chip! That’s probably as close to a magic formula as I’m gonna get, but probably worth the extra effort. 🙂

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