Today we end our month long series on writing a proposal (or do we — we have a special guest on Friday, January 30th) by talking about Comparable Titles and Marketing Plans. Even if you don’t have to write a proposal it’s important to know where your book would sit on the shelf of a bookstore and who will read it.
Sherry: The thought of finding comparable titles and writing a marketing plan probably intimidated me as much as writing the synopsis. I knew there wasn’t another cozy series with a garage sale theme on the market so I had to look at books that were similar. I googled books about estate sales and thrift shops. It was actually easier than I thought. The marketing plan might also be called your platform. Who is going to read your book? I pointed out that not only would cozy mystery readers enjoy the series but also people affiliated with the military as my protagonist, Sarah, is a former military spouse. Part of the action in each book takes place on a fictional military base. I also cited fans of yard sales and mentioned the popularity of shows on HGTV about yard sales and flea markets.
Jessie: I think this part of the proposal is really interesting to work on. It actually helps me to clarify for myself the sort of story I am trying to tell. I look at other work with similarities and by asking myself how mine is different I feel more sure of what it is I am really trying to write. Besides, searching the world for comparable also gives me a long list of great books to add to my reading list!
Edith: I agree about the list of great books to read, Jessie! For my proposals (three now under my belt), looking for comparable series didn’t intimidate me. I was just glad that there were no others in my exact niche: organic farmer in New England. Country store/restaurant owner smack dab in the middle of the country. Quaker midwife in 1888. But for each I found several well-performing series tangentially related which showed that the general theme is popular, and I could riff part of the marketing plan off of those. Here’s what I wrote for the country store series:
Small towns in southern Indiana represent a middle ground between the north and the south, and between the east and west coasts. Many readers long for the scenic and traditional life of rural America. Cozy mystery fans will enjoy a new culinary mystery series, fans of cookware will eat up descriptions of tools from the past, and puzzle aficionados will appreciate Robbie’s skills with everything from cryptic crosswords to Sudoku.
Liz: I enjoyed this piece as well. It was interesting to take a look at the other animal cozies out there and see what each author was doing with their four-legged characters. I knew right away I didn’t want my animals to solve mysteries, but I did want to take this opportunity to emphasize good animal care and work in the rescue theme as much as possible. So that’s what I focused on in the proposal for Pawsitively Organic while using the series comparisons to show how popular animals are as a theme overall.
Barb: Weirdly, no one ever asked me for comparable titles or a marketing plan–so I got nothin’.
Julie: If you are writing a cozy series, you are writing a marketable book. It can be/should be well written, of course. The marketing portion of the proposal helps you understand a few things. First of all, what other books are like your series. This isn’t just so you don’t duplicate your hook. It is also so your potential publisher understands the niche, and can look up how similiar series are doing. Second, you are going to have to market your own series. Why should people want to read it? Going through this exercise helps that as well.
I am so glad we did this series. Proposals are something I wish I’d understood earlier. I thought I needed to sell my books as stand alones, but I was thinking about a series. At some point, I am going to dust off my unsold book from years ago and write a proposal for it. Stay tuned.
Readers: What do you think? Questions? Other comments on proposals in general, or market plans and comparable series in particular? Have you had to do this exercise for a proposal? What about in a different realm of life? Tune in on Friday when agent John Talbot will talk about what makes a good proposal.
This has been a great series–good backstory on what came before the book lands on the shelf.
Thanks, Ramona! I think all authors should know all of this about their books whether then end up having to write a proposal or not.
I always thought it was funny when publishers asked a new writer to come up with a marketing plan, since most beginners don’t have a clue about the book industry, and it will probably have changed by the time you do your research on marketing and your book finally comes out. In some ways I had it easy: everybody loves apples and Ireland. “Selling” Philadelphia was more of a challenge (especially since cozies are seldom set in large cities), but I worked there for years, so I knew that the museum and cultural community there is really its own small town–everybody knows everybody else, and their family’s history, and how much money they have.
The other issue no publisher mentions is that you could devote endless hours to all the forms of marketing–and have no time left over to write the books you’re trying to sell. The problem is finding what works for you and what you enjoy doing. At least now we all have wonderful networks of writers in the same position, and they share information!
Excellent point, Sheila! Marketing your books takes a huge amount of time. Does it get any easier as you go along?
Yes and no. With writer friends and colleagues on loops and blog-buddies, you can collect a lot of feed-back on what has worked for them, so you can choose where to put your time and energy. But there’s always a New Big Thing coming along, so you have to explore that. And even the standbys like Facebook keep changing the rules, and you have to figure out how you can use them effectively. Bottom line is, nobody really knows what works, or for how long. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to do everything, and budget your time (you know you’ll have a big push around your pub dates, so plan ahead). And don’t lose sight of the writing!
Thanks, Sheila! I’ve had a hard time writing and promoting — it’s been an unequal balance.
Great points about marketing and integrating that with writing. It ain’t for the faint of heart!
Interesting as always. As someone outside the industry but very interested in it, I’ve learned a lot from this series.
Glad to hear it, Mark!
I found this the most challenging part of writing my proposals, largely because the point of the proposal is to show that your series is unique and different from what’s out there. Yet you need to compare it to other series that are, well, similar to yours. It’s a delicate balance, for sure, and I kept it to just a few sentences. In my first proposal I did not include any kind of marketing plan. For the second, I did add a couple of sentences about a platform I plan to implement (I’ll be rolling that out in the next few months, as it happens). Whether that had any bearing on the series being bought by the publisher I have no idea.
I wondered the same thing about my marketing plan. Was it important? Maybe so, maybe not. But I think a publisher likes the idea you are at least thinking about your audience.
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