Know Your Market
First off, if you've written a book for which there is no market (read: there are no books that cater to this audience), you may have a problem. Unless you are already a brand, meaning that you're a published author with a significant following, it's unlikely that you will be able to create much momentum for a yet unserved market that a publisher will consider you. If it hasn't been written there is likely a reason why. Now there are always exceptions of course, my other book: Red Hot Internet Publicity is not a title that I would have published in 1976, mostly because there was no Internet back then.
You should fit into an existing genre and find the best one for your market. Since books can sometimes straddle different markets, a change in title can take your book for women wanting to succeed in business and move it from the business category into self-help and/or spirituality. Be clear on where your book belongs. Remember, a confused mind won't make a choice so if you confuse your reader, you're likely to lose a sale.
Who Else is Sharing Your Shelf Space?
Getting bookstore shelf space isn't easy. Generally bookstores won't keep books on their shelves that aren't selling, so getting to know books that are doing well in stores can really benefit your title as well. This is all part of your market research: know your competition and know who shares your space. This is not important just to know other competing titles, but for marketing and media positioning this is critical. Also, you should take note of all other recent titles in your category and visit their Web sites. If you're really eager to watch your competition, you could also get Google Alerts on their name or book title to see how much traction they are getting. I will usually do this for any major author in my market as well as all their book titles. Not only can you keep an eye on their hit rate, but these sites and media targets could be good for you as well.
Books that make it into and onto a shelf in a bookstore need to "look" the part. Yes, your book may be the best out there but if it doesn't meet the needs of the genre, it simply won't get put on a shelf. In order to play in the publishing sandbox you must play by the rules. While it's nice to be a maverick and to hear stories about authors who "bent the rules" and claimed success, if you read the backstory to any success, you'll find that following the rules and playing to the market is vital to success. There are 1,500 books published each day. Yes, you want to stand out, but you also want to look the part.
Here's a checklist to get you started in your bookstore research. You'll want to expand on this as you find more titles or more ideas to research. I suggest for example adding in URL's from the book jacket so you can research the author's website, etc.
- What genre does your book fall into?
- Is there a sub-genre and if so, what is it? (for example, my books fall into reference/writing, writing being the sub-genre)
- List the top five titles and authors in that market:
- Key points each book has in common? (for example, all cookbooks you noted had nutritional analysis on each page)