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Agony Editor: Do writers need to consider marketability?

Dear Agony Editor,

I was recently in a conversation with some other writers who were discussing the “marketability” of their work. I smiled and nodded, but I had no idea what they were talking about. What is marketability and is it something I should be thinking about?

Signed,

Perplexed

Dear Perplexed,

You’re not alone in your confusion. Most writers are not marketing experts, although some writers do a great job of creating their personal brands, whether intentionally or intuitively.

Book marketing, generally speaking, falls on the shoulders of your publishing team. So while marketing shouldn’t be your primary focus, you do need to be mindful of it. In terms of your work’s “marketability,” I’ll explain it this way. An editor I knew would often speak of her desire to acquire books that hit a “sweet spot.” She meant that she was looking for books that checked off a number of desired categories. This could include hot trends and genres (think Fifty Shades of Grey and Gone Girl), as well as books that dealt with timely issues.

While that may be how she evaluated the books that crossed her desk, many writers don’t write thinking about sweet spots. That’s because the creative process is often messy and doesn’t always fit neatly into categories. Nor should it, IMHO.

If you’re writing a book solely for financial gain, readers will sniff that a mile away. That said, it’s a good idea to cast a marketing lens to your writing. After all, you’re writing a book that you want to sell. And it’s hard to sell something if you can’t market it. Before descending too deeply into your work, think about who your audience might be. Try describing your book in a few short and punchy sentences. Would it motivate a reader to buy it?

All that aside, marketing is never an exact science. Books that are poised to be blockbusters can tank, and the most unassuming titles can become massive bestsellers. Stick to writing that’s true to you, stopping now and then to consider what might make your work interesting to readers and editors, and you’ll find your own sweet spot.