Boy, this is a tricky question! Unfortunately, publishers are not very open with details of exactly what they are looking for. Often, they do not seem to really know what they want except more bestsellers by already well-known and successful authors.
Publishers are obviously looking for books that are ready to sell. Creating a fresh original take on a storyline done many times will get attention. Your book should be clearly in a genre to make it easy to categorize. Romance, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Crime fiction are all perennial high selling.
Start With a Genre
Although publishers are reluctant to give exact details of what they are looking to buy, there are a few safe bets that you can make to increase your chances. One of those is to select a popular genre that you know consistently sells plenty of books.
A few examples as we gave above such as romance, sci-fi, fantasy and crime fiction. These genres, and of course many others, sell millions of copies every year, so we know that publishers are always on the lookout for the next big seller.
That means they need lots of new books coming in so they can purchase enough to keep up their publishing requirements each year.
Although you may not be able to increase your challenge greatly just by choosing a particular niche, you can make sure you are not excluded and thrown on the rejection pile by making a wrong choice.
Also, writing is already a difficult task, so don’t make it harder for yourself as a new author by picking a genre you’re not interested in just to try to make money.
Picking something you are interested in will keep up the energy and enthusiasm levels that you will need to produce a sellable book.
Make a list of popular genres.
Review Amazon bestseller lists for previous years. Pay attention to genres that occur frequently. 2021 and previous years are also available on the left of the Amazon page.
Take a look at the excellent Publishers Weekly article by Jim Milliot. It has lots of sales information and statistics for 2020
Another thing to keep in mind as you go through and a select genre is the possibility to target an underserved market.
If you spend enough time looking a little deeper into sub-genres, it is pretty likely you will be able to find a market that is underserved with current releases. So this is an opportunity, if it is something you’re interested in, for you to write a book that answers that need.
Keep in mind, however, that this can be very risky. Therefore, ensure that it is not underserved for a good reason, such as consistently low sales.
The Bad News
The sad truth is that publishing is obviously a for-profit pursuit. Therefore, it is not unusual to find a market that doesn’t have many releases due to a history of low sales and low revenue.
So be very careful if you try to find an opening like this to writing.
The Good News
There is some good news if you pay attention and research carefully.
According to the publisher’s weekly article linked above, sales of travel books in 2020 were down over 40% compared to 2019.
If we think about that for a moment, it seems evident that it is related to the lack of travel during the COVID restrictions. Intuitively, we can predict that sales will rise just as dramatically once people are allowed to travel again.
The good news is that if you pay attention to things like this and write a book ready for publishing with the right timing, you have a fantastic opportunity to get into a fast-rising market.
Obviously, this will take careful research, lots of planning, good timing and plenty of luck.
So, although it is no guarantee, it is a great idea to keep this in mind as you go through your decision process.
If you want to be a writer, I’m assuming that you are already a reader. If you are only a casual reader, it may be an excellent time to increase your reading volume.
A fantastic way to find out what is doing well is to read lots. This can help you identify any general trends that writers, readers and therefore publishers may be following.
What lots of reading will do for you is to help you identify shifts in writing within your chosen genre.
For example, although crime fiction as a general genre label is the same genre as it was decades ago, the writing style, characters, storylines, and lots more in the writing and plotting styles have changed dramatically.
Reading will allow you to identify these changes and make sure you are at a minimum in line with what is currently being done and is in demand and hopefully push these forwards.
Careful Of Following Trends
As you go through this process, particularly if you are trying to find an underserved market like our travel example, be very careful to not fall into the trap of following the latest hot trend.
It can seem tempting to see a hot new trend and put it in a book, but typically most of these are very short-lived hence the label “trend.”
The problem with most attempts to write the trend, is that the publishing cycle is long enough for it to not be unusual for the trend to already be on a downslope before the book hits the shelves.
Make sure to do sufficient in-depth research to make sure you are highly confident that any trend you were interested in is still going to be popular in at least a year and preferably closer to two years.
Don’t Forget About the Author
Lastly, don’t forget about you as the author. If you are a new writer, you need to be particularly careful to show any potential new publisher interested in your novel that you are a writer they will be able to rely on in the future.
Publishers are looking for writers who can consistently deliver new books, preferably in the same genre as previous books. It is much harder to sell a book in a new genre by an existing author, even if they were reasonably successful with a previous release.
Also, make sure to deliver on only other aspects that will be required. This includes rewrites, edits, marketing materials, contractual documents and feedback if you are lucky enough to be offered a deal.
After all, if you are not someone who responds promptly and is generally easy to deal with, why would they believe you will be any better delivering your books.
Don’t put them off!
Self-Publish Is Always an Option
Very briefly, let’s just mention self-publishing.
If you have a steadfast vision in mind and after doing your research it simply does not seem to fit in with a popular genre that publishers may be looking for, you may be better looking into self-publishing as an option.
As you are the publisher, you can release whatever you think readers will be interested in.
Resource: Look out for our upcoming articles and guides on self-publishing.
So, although it is difficult to get any firm information out of publishers to tell you accurately what you should write, there are a few things you can do, as we discussed above, to make your novel more likely to sell.
The important thing is to make sure you spend some time doing appropriate research before choosing a particular genre.
Good luck with your writing and let us know when your book is coming out.
We would love to review it!