by Robin Johns Grant
Whether you’re a published author or still on the road to publication, you’ve probably been asked to identify books that are similar to yours. Publishers want to know that you can identify your target audience.
But this can be tricky. Have you ever noticed that there’s something a bit mysterious in the way you feel about the books you love? It’s a little bit like falling in love with your mate-after all, you might love your hubby’s curly brown hair and blue eyes, his sense of humor and the way he loves God. Does that mean you’re in danger of falling for every curly-haired, blue-eyed laughing Christian that comes along? Of course not! There’s some complex combination of factors that makes the love of your life unique.
Good books are complex and unique, too, so just naming a genre or subject matter may not be enough to pinpoint your story’s potential readers.
Librarians face this situation all the time. Readers approach them looking for book recommendations, and they often ask for a book that’s “like” the one they just enjoyed. Librarians have learned that handing a reader who loved Twilight another book about vampires won’t necessarily do the trick. Even within genres, there can be huge differences. Maybe someone enjoyed a John Grisham book not so much because it was a legal thriller, but for its folksy setting, its pacing, its moral characters. Giving those same readers a gritty, coarse crime thriller might be a mistake.
A lot of librarians use a handy tool called NoveList to identify “read-alikes.” NoveList says, “While subject headings refer to concrete aspects of a book – the who, what, where, and when – appeal tells about readers’ experiences – how a particular book feels to them.” In other words, readers are not just drawn to books by genre or subject heading, but by “appeal factors.” In NoveList, the big categories of appeal are Storyline, Tone, Pace, and Writing Style, but there are lots of subheadings in each of those.
For example, NoveList users can search for books with a Writing Style that is:
• Richly detailed
• Stylistically complex
So, how would you be able to use NoveList?
• Go to your public library and use it onsite.
• Go to your public library’s website and see if they give online access.
• Use the Ask-a-Librarian feature on your library’s website to ask for help.
If you don’t have access to NoveList, you could still use the appeal terms to search for books like yours on Google, Amazon, Goodreads, etc. Or you could talk to your public librarian-they’re there to help and are experts at helping find read-alikes.
However you go about it, what do you do with this list of books similar to yours, once you’ve identified them? Obviously, the best scenario is that you find popular reads that are a perfect match for the one you’re writing. You could consider submitting to that publisher-or use the information in your book proposal to help the publisher visualize where your book would be shelved and who will buy it.
And if your book isn’t a perfect fit anywhere? You can consider tweaking your book, of course. But if you absolutely adore your manuscript but start to realize that it’s a bit too unique, you might want to consider tweaking your career plan instead-considering alternative publishing or a smaller press.
Even more perplexing, suppose you find your book’s perfect match-and that book was a financial flop! Don’t panic-just do more research and find out why, so you can avoid repeating the mistake.
If you have questions or would like to know more about appeal terms, feel free to contact me through my website: http://robinjohnsgrant.com.
A few years ago, Robin Johns Grant returned to school for a master’s degree in library and information science. She now has her best day job ever as a college librarian, which keeps her young by allowing her to hang out with students. She recently published her first novel, Summer’s Winter.