How Do I Know if My Book is Marketable?

Reverse-engineer your way into being a bestselling author by understanding exactly what your book has in common with other books and what makes your book a must-read in comparison.

Julie Trelstad
Julie Trelstad

Writers often ask me if I think their book can get a book deal or become a bestseller. If you're working on a query letter, a book proposal, or planning to be a self-published author, from a publishing perspective the better question to ask is "what is the existing market for my book idea?"

For a Fiction Book: Consider the Book Genre

When you walk into a bookstore, you probably have a favorite shelf. You might gravitate toward mystery, romance, science fiction, literary fiction, or how-to books in gardening, or toward memoir and autobiography. Classifying a book by its genre is the first thing a publisher will consider. Do you know your book's genre? Here's a curated list of 30 common fiction and non-fiction genres. Your book might be both science fiction and romance, but pick one dominant genre.

Once you know the genre, do some research to identify common genre conventions. For instance, a romance book must have a happy ever after ending, it’s usually about 60,000 words long, and is available in paperback and ebook, and has a relatively low retail price. A young adult or a picture book must appeal to a certain age. Now, compare your novel—does it conform or does it break the rules? Is it written in a similar way, with characters and environments that will delight a book buyer who loves the genre? Nothing upsets an ideal reader or generates more bad reviews than one kind of book that is packaged like another. But a book that fulfills audience expectations and then exceeds them is likely to be marketable. Beta readers can help you tune your reader expectations. Check out this list of book publishing industry organizations if you want to learn more genre standards.

For Non-Fiction: Consider the Category

For a nonfiction book, the category is going to be more a factor than the genre. Certain topics are more popular others, and here Amazon’s Kindle sales rankings offer excellent clues! The easiest way to check a topic is to browse topics in the Amazon Kindle Store. If the top ten books in the category have sales rankings of 100,000 or better, then the topic is popular. If not, you might find that the target audience is too small.

If the category is dominated by well-known authors or a long-time bestselling book, that category might be very competitive. If this is the case, you want to look at the elements that make your book unique—what are you offering that is more valuable than the competition? Are your qualifications as a writer better? Is your book easier to use, or more in-depth? Use these differentiating factors as a primary book marketing message for your reader.

Look for Clues of Success

For any book, you can find hints of what's working in the market researching which similar books have stellar book reviews, have won awards, are represented by a top literary agent, topped bestseller lists, and have garnered buzz in the media or within forums frequented by your target market.

Reverse-engineer your way into being a bestselling author by understanding exactly what your book has in common with other books and what makes your book a must-read in comparison.

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Julie Trelstad

Julie Trelstad is a book publishing pro (former acquisitions editor, digital rights director, publisher) who teaches writers the art and science of book publishing to support her serious book habit.