One thing I find when reviewing manuscript submissions is that new authors have not researched other books published in their genre. They are not able to answer the question: What other books in the market is your book similar to? This may seem like an insulting or limiting question to a creative person. But there is a large industry out there, and hardly anything is new. Trends--which are set by measured, preferences of consumer behavior over time--are what help inform what will sell and what won't.
Most creative people are rebels and nonconformists (don't you love us!) and want their work to be entirely original. Which is great. Being a trendsetter or a trailblazer still requires an excellent knowledge of what has been done before. Otherwise, how will you know it's new? And then how will you know if you can get people to follow your trail or buy your book? You kind of need to know what advice, story idea, or strategies they may have been exposed to already. What do people read who would buy your book? How do they live? What motivates them? And how do they like their information packaged? After all that, is your idea really all that groundbreaking? Investigate! Find your niche.
As a new author approaching an editor or a publishing company who doesn't know their competition, the conventions of their genre, or the preferences of their target audience (the basics of market research) are signs that you are not quite ready to publish, that you have not thought strategically about your audience and how they will receive your book in comparison to other books they've read.
This is the most important step after you've thought of your initial book idea. See what other people have written on your topic, who they've written to, and how they wrote it.
There have been many times that an author will tell me their book is not like any other book in the market. When I read their manuscript, I can immediately start naming books that have similar strains. Or, I think they are pretty far off the mark of what people are reading now. What else I get from the author's answer is they have not done research, first, for their book's content, which is scary in itself, and next, that they are not looking at their book like the business it should be.
Each book is like its own business unit. The book proposal is like a business plan. Publishers are your investors. Readers are your customers and end users.
How do you think an investor would look at a business if it hadn't thought about its competition and the market it is seeking to enter?
Would you invest in this business?
I've written about this at greater length in the past. One time was after I had spent a week reviewing about 40 manuscripts and another time just thinking about the 7 questions I ask as I start to review a manuscript to determine it's readiness for publication. Read them and see what you think.
Our success is in our hands. It doesn't usually come by chance. It usually comes by crazy hard and strategic work. For my Christian authors, you know the verse: "But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:18). The responsibility is on us to research and get the knowledge we need to achieve the goals set before us.
Know that you are dealing with professionals who have come across hundreds and thousands of manuscripts and are regularly on top of what's hot in the industry. They will know if you've done your homework. They want you to be successful, because your success links to theirs. So even their critique or rejection is on your side, if you can see that deeply. Take it as an opportunity to fine-tune your book publishing plan, and hit it again like the savvy business owner you are.