I think that there is so much to learn about the publishing industry, that it’s impossible to learn it all from a class or even a college degree. The industry is competitive, with there being hundreds of thousands of published books through publishing houses each year, not to mention the staggering amount of self published books. If you’re not trying to make writing your day job, feel free to shrug this off and go about to the beat of your own drum. If you’re looking to make a profit and become a national best seller, this is not good news.
The good news? It is SO easy to learn about your target market’s competition. What makes a certain book sell more than others? What do certain books get crazy criticism for? What makes a book cult-classic worthy?
With a bit of time and market research, these answers can be found for free and incorporated into your work and strategy.
So what can you learn from successful books in your same genre?
1. What style of writing tends to be more popular.
If you’re writing historical fiction, chances are that the omnipresent third person narrative will be better received than a modern day first person narrative. Read the other books in your genre that sell the best, and take note of what narration style is most common.
2. How to formulate a good zinger.
Most books on the best seller list have that one line or question that sums up the basic gist of the story. Example: “In a powerful and original debut about a world where the Guild decides everything, one extraordinary girl dares to defy the power of men and the boundaries of love.” Even the beloved “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” had a tagline: “From the surprising way he is greeted by a lovable giant, to the unique curriculum and colorful faculty at his unusual school, Harry finds himself drawn deep inside a mystical world he never knew existed and closer to his own noble destiny.” Looking at these helps you think about the overall message and plot of your story. Try to boil it down to a sentence like this. If you can’t, it’s time to do some serious thinking about how you will try to sell your idea.
3. Popular plot trends
Even though each book is different, each genre will have a similar popular plot pattern. Fantasy books tend to focus around royalty, adventure, and teamwork/alliances (Game of Thrones, Robert Jordan books). Dystopian series tend to focus around a struggling female protagonist, set on righting a wrong, or following gut instincts about the government. Learn what plot patterns sell well. HOWEVER, just because these plots sell well doesn’t mean that you have to make your plot similar. Do what you want with the information you find. Maybe you can incorporate bits and pieces. Maybe you’ll do the dead opposite. Just KNOW what your market wants, and make an informed decision based off of that.
4. What makes a good character.
There are some protagonists or characters that people go absolutely nuts for. Heathcliffe, Katniss, Harry Potter, Mr. Darcy. And then there are the characters/protagonists that get under your skin. I, for one, CANNOT stand any of the main characters in the Matched series by Ally Condie. I think the books are great, and I’ll read them. But I cannot sympathize with Ky. I know this is my personal opinion, and that many love these characters, but I just don’t want to write characters similar to these ones. The book series has sold extremely well, but I just do not do not do NOT want to have characters similar to these in any regard. So, I learned something from studying a series in the same genre as mine.
5. How to craft a personal favorite
One of the many benefits of going out and writing your own story is that you can feel free to mash things up. Maybe you absolutely love the story line/premise of a book, but you do not like the ending. Maybe you have a character you love, but you hate the situations they are stuck in. Maybe there is a love triangle you find particularly intriguing, but you grow frustrated at the progression of affairs. Now, I’m not saying that you should just flat out copy parts and throw them together (although you definitely could). My recommendation is to take the core of your favorite parts, and incorporate them into your brilliant story. Make it a book that would be your favorite, that you could read over and over again.
A lot can be learned about the writing craft by simply reading other books in your genre. The more you write, the more you’ll recognize certain patterns and techniques used by writers successful in your target audience.
The real beauty of being an author is that there is rarely cut-throat competition. Yes, there are books and authors we’d like to get ahead of, but there generally are no personal vendettas. We all write because we love to write or because we have something to say. And we all can teach each other through our success and our mistakes.