The Book Shelf Test or How to Research Your Market Part I
Posted by Charlotte Frost

ere we go, this is what I’m calling the Book Shelf Test (which it comes in two parts) and it’s going to save you a lot of time and answer a lot of questions so far as finding the right publisher is concerned.

In the last 2 part blog on Publishing Markets, I talked about publishing houses and their imprints. And I used the example that Indiana University Press has form in gender issues, and proved this for myself by looking at my own books. Well, rather than surfing for hours trying to connect some of these specialisms with publishing houses and imprints, you can do it just by looking at your own books.

So the first part of the Book Shelf Test is to test your own shelves for how they reflect the specific interests of different houses or imprints. And really, this is child’s play, because as most of them have logos, all you need to do is grab all the books from your shelves that have the same logo and then group them together into subject areas.

This part of the Book Shelf Test should probably be called the Book Shelf Journey of Self Discovery because you are more than likely going to find:

A)     Some publishing houses or imprints that you’d never noticed before

B)     Connections between books from publishing houses or imprints that you hadn’t recognised in the past

C)    That there are clear themes running through what you read/write about that you hadn’t considered.

Do it now, get those books piled up by their logos and subject areas and start making notes on what your discovering. First off, you should be getting a strong idea of who is publishing what and how. Secondly, the piles of books may well have helped you see some of the gaps in these publishing strands – i.e. what’s not in the pile in front of you? For example, although you are unlikely to have every book on gender issues by Indiana University Press for example, you might still have developed an awareness of the types of books they are publishing on gender issues and you can probably see some of the omissions.

Now, this is where the Book Shelf Test starts to become a bit magical (OK, that’s an over-exaggeration, but you get the gist). This is because, just by surveying the books you’ve bought very much as part of the publisher’s target audience, you can start to think about both what is missing, but what you might have bought if it was available. And then, you can begin to consider whether there’s a book you’d like to write that would fit this gap.

Believe it or not, when publishers ask you to write about your book’s intended market in your proposal document, this is the sort of thinking they want you to have done. They want you to be able to make a clear case for why your book has a ready-made readership, and just by looking at your own shelves, you can get your market research off to a great start – don’t forget that you and your own book collection represents your target readership!

And it’s as simple as that! You can do some market research by testing your shelves for what is and isn’t published and for which publishing houses are publishing what!

In the next part of the Book Shelf Test, we’ll look at what else your book shelves can tell you about who you should be pitching to.

Charlotte Frost. Posted by Charlotte Frost

Art & technology broadcaster/academic & glamour puss. Founder of Arts Future Book & PhD2Published.com. Provost International Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Center for 21st Century Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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