blogger: Cynthia Ruchti
Why should a writer routinely make a pilgrimage to a bookstore?
I chose the word pilgrimage on purpose for two reasons.
- It’s true that far fewer bookstores exist than even ten years ago. So it may be far more of an involved trip than a simple ten-minute jaunt. It may be a day trip. Or a weekend getaway.
- Pilgrimage insinuates a higher or weightier intent than a simple visit or shopping trip. And in this case, the word fits well.
What can an author or aspiring author learn at a well-stocked bookstore?
What else has been written in your genre?
Several times a month, if not a week, an agent might receive a query about a book on a topic the author believes “no one is addressing.” Like the subject of suffering and a faith-perspective on suffering. But agents do take pilgrimages to bookstores, and they do see things like this:
A whole section devoted to suffering and comfort. And that’s just the nonfiction section. How many titles would be added if we included fiction’s contribution to the reader’s needs on the topic?
An online search might seem quicker and more efficient than a trip to a bookstore. But just as there’s something about the multi-senses involvement of a physical book in a reader’s hands, it’s also a multi-sensory experience to see books side by side, to note the cover similarities and differences, the author names, even the sizes of the books that address an issue.
Does an entire section of a bookstore devoted to your chosen subject matter or genre a sign to stop writing? No. But it is a reminder that “there’s nothing new under the sun” (Solomon), your book HAS to contribute to the conversation rather than duplicate what’s been done, there ARE comparable titles for your proposal, and if your specific angle on the topic or within the genre is already on the shelves it will take an even stronger platform, even more compelling concept, and even greater diligence to writing well for a publisher to take a risk on adding another.
As an aspiring or veteran writer, what are you up against?
Scenes like this:
There’s a flip-side to being overwhelmed by the volume of books on the market. It’s the realization that as a writer, you are part of a much larger scene than the space around your writing desk. It is a writing community into which you’ve stepped. You’re part of the supply line of entertainment, education, inspiration, or hope for readers. You’re not alone. And every writer who’s gone before you has also started with a blank page or screen.
Will your book grace shelves like these? The answer depends in part on your diligence, perseverance, and willingness to learn the craft well.
What’s trending in covers? And which covers invite you as a reader to reach for the book?
Although authors don’t always have complete sway in their books’ cover art, a savvy author will study the industry’s array, particularly in the chosen category, genre, or subject matter. How does a cover choice expand the reader’s enjoyment or engagement with the book? What makes one cover more inviting than the one next to it on the endcap? How does a cover color choice or font set a tone for the content of the book? Libraries can offer a hands-on experience with covers, including new releases. But a well-stocked bookstore that specializes in the kind of books you write affords a look at the books that are currently selling.
What does a pilgrimage to a bookstore tell you about titles that grab a reader’s attention?
Today’s reader is used to scrolling quickly through information, listening to sound bites of thought, and buying books with minimalist titles. The rule of thumb used to imply that generally the best titles are six words or fewer. Now you’ll find many one- or two-word titles among the new releases. Even though an author’s first title choice on his or her proposal is always considered a working title–likely to be adjusted, revamped, or replaced–an author’s knowledge of title trends hints that they understand their potential readers.
A pilgrimage to a bookstore is an investment in your writing future.
A visit to a thriving, well-stocked bookstore could be considered a vital part of research for any book you’re working on. If you can, make time for an investigative–and no doubt inspiring–trip to a bookstore that carries a good supply of the kind of books you write. Explore every corner. Listen to what staff and customers are saying about the books they’re buying. Observe. Absorb.
You’ll return from your pilgrimage a smarter writer.
(Photos courtesy of Books & Such, taken at the Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, MI)