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by Hedgebrook Guest

Well, duh, right? Writers are readers and haunt bookstores the way Nearly Headless Nick haunts Hogwarts. But savvy aspiring authors know that the bookstore or library is also the best place to gather key intel when creating a book proposal or query letter. Here are just a few invaluable things you’ll unearth when visiting your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore.

1. Consider how your book should be positioned.
It’s fine to use the interwebs when researching your book, but nothing beats actually beelining to your local bookstore or a Barnes & Noble. Look at the various sections where you think your book might fit in. Is it a travel memoir that could fit into both Travel and Memoir/Autobiography? Are you writing a novel with a teenage protagonist that might fit better into Young Adult rather than Fiction? Scanning the shelves can offer insight on how your book should be pitched.

2. Discover competing titles and comparable authors.
When pitching your book, it’s important that you know what competition exists in the market, as well as authors whose writing style or themes are similar to yours. There’s no better way to create a competing titles list for your book proposal than to read extensively on your subject and in your genre. In addtion to reading, head to your bookstore or library and look for books that might have a similar plot or theme, and authors who have a voice or writing style that resembles yours. Including this information in your book proposal or pitch is critical for securing a book deal.

3. Round up a list of prospective publishers.
There are thousands of publishers, with more imprints cropping up every day. It can be a daunting task to figure out which publisher will be the right fit for you and your book. A strategic approach to developing a targeted submission list is to look at the spines or copyright pages of the books in the section where your book would most likely be shelved (Fiction, Humor, History, etc.). Are there a few publishers who seem to dominate the section (such as Fodors and Frommers in Travel)? Write them down. Also jot down the publishers of the competing titles and comparable authors you’ve found. And while you’re at it, sneak a peek at the acknowledgement pages of your competing titles and create a list of editors and agents to further hone your first round of submissions.

4. Tap a bookseller for intel.
Booksellers are not in it for the money; rather, they are in the book business because they are head over heels in love with books. Talking to booksellers or librarians can be the secret sauce that sets your book apart from other submissions. They know the advance buzz on books about to be published, they can help you pinpoint books and authors to include as competition, and they can help refine your project. Good booksellers are usually happy to lend a hand, as they like nothing better than talking about books and authors—and that includes you! A few starter questions to ask:

  • What books in this genre do you always recommend?
  • Are there any books that sound similar to my project?
  • What book do you wish existed in this category?
  • What books are coming out in the next season that you’re excited about, or that I should check out?
  • Which genres are perpetually popular?
  • What publishers do you recommend I put on my submission list?


A Small Sampling of Bookstores in the Pacific Northwest


Ballard: Secret Garden Books, 2214 NW Market St., Seattle WA 98107, 206-789-5006, secretgardenbooks.com

Capitol Hill: The Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave., Seattle WA 98122, 206-624-6600, elliottbaybook.com

Fremont (cooking/food): Book Larder, 4252 Fremont Ave. N, Seattle WA 98103, 206-397-4271, booklarder.com

Queen Anne: Queen Anne Books, 1811 Queen Anne Ave. N, Seattle WA 98109, 206-284-2427, qabookco.com

Phinney Ridge/Greenwood: Phinney Books, 7405 Greenwood Ave. N, Seattle WA 98103, 206-297-2665, phinneybooks.com

Ravenna (new age): East West Bookshop, 6407 12th Ave. NE, Seattle WA 98115, 206-523-3726, eastwestbookshop.com

Ravenna: Third Place Books, 17171 NE Bothell Way, Seattle WA 98155, 206-366-3333, thirdplacebooks.com

U District: University Book Store, 4326 University Way NE, Seattle WA 98105, 206-634-3400, ubookstore.com


Bainbridge Island

Eagle Harbor Book Company, 157 Winslow Way E, Bainbridge Island WA 98110, 206-842-5332, eagleharborbooks.com



Village Books, 1200 11th St., Bellingham WA 98225, 360-671-2626, villagebooks.com



Parkplace Books, 348 Parkplace Center, Kirkland WA 98033, 425-828-6546, parkplacebookskirkland.com


Olympic Peninsula

Imprint Books, 820 Water St., Port Townsend WA 98368, 360-379-2617, writersworkshoppe.com



Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside ST., OR 97209, 800-878-7323, powells.com


Whidbey Island

Moonraker Bookstore, 209 1st St., Langley WA 98260, 360-221-6962



About the Authors:

Jen and Kerry BlogProlific authors and publishing experts Jen Worick and Kerry Colburn are the dynamic duo behind The Business of Books (www.bizofbooks.com), a publishing consulting company based in Seattle. They are hosting Get Published!: A Writers Retreat at Willows Lodge on January 23–24, 2016.






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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.


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