6. What's Selling, and What's Not: I'd like to know what novels publishers are wanting now and the best way to keep up with the markets. How can someone check their idea with what is coming out on PW or the other publishing trades? What is the science behind it?
Forecasting publishing is actually a business in its own. Publishers Weekly, Simba and other trade entities offer various types of publications which cover the book biz, what's selling, what will be, and what's not. Many writers spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on these publications every year to get an inside track on the publishing world, in the same way stock brokers religiously subscribe to the Wall Street Journal.
I don't subscribe to any of them; I think they're overpriced, hype-controlled and often too vague to help me personally. I'm more into gathering my own info, and I get it all for free. I talk to my contacts in the industry and note which authors are selling and which aren't. I watch the bestseller lists to see what genres are moving and which are stagnating. I talk to book buyers I've gotten to know to see what they're buying and what they'd most like to buy.
I watch the industry itself. I hit the stores at least twice a month and look at what the chains are pushing and what's not getting shelf space. I do the same at the big outlet stores, grocery stores and drug stores. I monitor the rise and fall of genres, trends, imprints, etc. in the news, and keep an eye on what's happening business-wise with the major houses. I search the internet for articles, leads, discussions, editor interviews, and look for anything else that helps to indicate upcoming publishing trends, trend-makers and trend-breakers.
It's not an exact science, and I don't think it ever will be, but the more facts you gather about the momentum of our industry, the better you can forecast what publishers want.
Let's say you have a proposal for a paranormal romance (safe bet that a lot of you do.) Paranormal romance is a very hot trend at the moment, and based on the sales other authors are making you're reasonably sure that it's not fizzling out, so you think it's a possibility for you.
You've researched which publishers are actively publishing paranormal romance and have looked through their guidelines, and you decide Tor looks promising. Tor has their guidelines on the web here and they're fairly specific about what they want, and they accept unagented submissions, but you'd still like more info before you submit something.
At the bottom of the guidelines you notice the editor's name, Anna Genoese. Anna also blogs over on Live Journal, so if you want to get an inside line on what she likes, dislikes and often what she's buying and editing, you go over and read through the entries.
Run Tor through your favorite search engine and you can pull up articles and press releases about their paranormal line. See which authors they've bought and what those authors are writing.
You'll find information everywhere. Hell, I was just talking about Tor the other day in response to Doug Hoffman's question about splitting a 300K novel into a trilogy. Gather up all your Tor tidbits of data, analyze them, and make your decision based on what they tell you.
WriteNews.com's Industry Links
Publishing News from Topix.net
Look up specific Technorati Tags, such as publishing industry
For our European writer friends, the EU Publishing Market Watch Project overview and book trends report.