I recently welcomed Cherise Fisher, who most recently served as the Editor in Chief of Plume (an imprint of Penguin USA, now Penguin Random House) to the monthly Book Lunch live webchat (if you missed it, you can catch the recorded interview on our new YouTube channel soon). It’s my goal to get to as many questions as possible, but of course sometimes we just run out of time. There were three questions for Cherise that we weren’t able to address, so as a follow-up, here are those questions and our answers!
“How do you find the target audience for general/ mainstream/ literary/ contemporary (or whatever you call it) fiction? Everything seems to be so genre specific.”—Mark
Things are “genre specific” because books are sold in bookstores that way. Generally speaking, a book buyer walks into a bookstore (or trolls Amazon) seeking a particular reading experience –their favorite author’s next book or a type of book (a memoir, a procedural mystery, a historical romance). Bookstores are organized accordingly. When you want to have dinner, do you go to a restaurant with Mexican, Thai, Italian, Sushi (or whatever you call it) Edible Food? No, it’s more than likely that you know what you’re interested in eating. Readers similarly tend to have an idea of what they want to read, and head for those sections or keywords when browsing.
So let’s talk about “target audience” – which is different (though related) to the question of genre. Your target audience is the group of people drawn to your book for a variety of reasons – its setting/backdrop (a physical place like Cape Cod, or a career choice like the babysitting on the Upper East Side), time period (Elizabethan England, New York City in the seventies) a particular cast of characters (e.g. sisters, best friends, mother/daughter), or a nonfiction dilemma (Jodi Picoult, for example, is masterful at taking real life conundrums and wrapping them around a story). Write your book, then look at the hooks that will capture your target audience.
“I am a black female writer. I can write both fiction and nonfiction. Being that I have not been published yet, where should I start with fiction or nonfiction?”—Annette
What you want to write should have nothing to do with your racial background or your gender. It should have everything to do with what your spirit dictates. Is there a story you are burning to tell? Characters battling in dialogue during your sleep? A setting or a series of circumstances that won’t leave you alone? Or is there a nonfiction subject matter that you need to write about? A subject matter to which you bring a unique perspective, some expertise, a killer platform? What do you NEED to start with? I’m talking about a real need like water or oxygen, not an optional need. Whether you start with fiction or nonfiction is a question only you and your noisy yearnings can answer.
“Would love to know if there’s a concise, up to date, regularly maintained online index or resource that lists what publications or publishers are looking for? Doing foot work has gotten much harder now that I have a baby.”—Lynn
Why would you need such a thing? Know what you’re going to write, write it, and then find out who is buying/selling that. Concise? Up-to-Date? Regularly maintained online index? I don’t know of such a list. Probably couldn’t exist because publishers don’t know what they are looking for — except bestsellers. There is the Literary Marketplace (we call it the LMP—you can find it in your local library in the Reference section), which is in no way concise. And given that I don’t know who inside a publishing house is responsible for sending the publishers of the LMP their info, I can’t vouch for it’s up-to-dateness. But if you want to be plugged in, subscribe to Publishers Weekly (which you can read in libraries also) and or Publishers Lunch (which is online). And by the way, moms are capable of amazing thing (like having babies). Push forward.
ALLY’S NOTE: Publishers Lunch is a great resource to see what publishers are buying in an almost up-to-the-minute way, so you can get an idea of trends and of which publishers may be acquiring books like yours (Publishers Weekly also has a decent free, online version, but it won’t give you as much detail or info as the print magazine). But if you’re just looking for a list of places to which you might submit, consider subscribing to the online version of the Writer’s Market. It is updated more frequently than the print version, which comes out once per year, and though it isn’t concise it is easier to search than flipping through the print edition. New Pages is a good resource for University and indie presses, but it isn’t particularly user-friendly because it doesn’t have a great search function. I’ve heard great things about Duotrope, but mainly from short story writers, so you may want to do a trial first (they have a free trial) and make sure there are a sufficient number of listings reflecting book publishers who produce in your category.
Thanks again to our special guest on May 28, 2014: Cherise Fisher, former Editor in Chief of Plume/Penguin USA and Principal of The Scribe’s Window, a book development company committed to helping both fiction and nonfiction writers express themselves more clearly, more honestly, and more powerfully. Sign up to receive notices about Cherise’s special programs, including her upcoming exclusive online writers’ group.
Hope you’ll join us on June 25th for our next live Book Lunch, where we’ll focus on your questions about self-publishing.
And don’t miss our joint Master Class “Pitch Perfect: Mastering Your Book’s Sales Pitch,” a two-part online webinar on July 2nd and 3rd. Get the details and register here.