"The greatest part of a writer's time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over a half a library to make one book."
Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
Sometimes I learn by what doesn't work. I experienced this in an area of researching the market. Over the years I've faithfully read children's books and recorded what I've read, who published it, genre, and my opinion of the book. What I hadn't consistently recorded was the author or even a brief summary of the story. In addition, my recorded opinion had often been too succinct. And it had never occurred to me that it would be helpful to know when a book was published.
I look back on comments such as "couldn't finish reading it" and "same old supernatural story" and wonder what I meant. In the former case, did that mean, the writing style was difficult to read? Or did I find it boring? Was the main character uninteresting, or was the subject matter offensive? Who knows! Maybe in the latter case my notes referred to a repeated or overdone theme. Or was it the story itself that I felt had been told and retold too many times? I can't remember the story and I didn't make enough notes to remind myself of plot line or character or anything helpful to resurrect the story from my faulty memory banks.
But I learned from my mistakes. I changed my recordkeeping system to make sure I noted the author's name and a description of the book. Plus, I took a few extra moments to make clearer comments. The results are best shown by a sample comment: "odd - should we encourage kids to be friendly with real bears - not!" I know why I didn't like that story!
Being more detailed has helped me with my original intent in keeping these records--accurate marketing. When my notes are good, I can look at a publisher and see their books are "hard-hitting; not what is typical for ordinary people's lives." And since publishers do change, adding publication date helps me see easily which books are recent ventures and which happened long ago. (I keep the books in date order.)
What about the books on my list that didn't have enough information? I worked to rectify what I could. Many books I found online: my library, the publisher's website, or Amazon.com. There I could see the publication date, author, a description of the story. Often that jogged my mind and I could do an "oh, yeah" and write more notes. If that didn't help, I looked to see if the website had an option such as "see inside" this book. Rereading the beginning was the best way to bring the story back for me. However, books I read three to five years ago were often hard to find online. Some had gone out of print, but even that knowledge is useful.
In case this idea will be helpful for you, here's a recap of what I'm keep track of in the children's books I read: Publisher name, book title, author, illustrator (when appropriate), genre (including subgenre), brief description of book or storyline, publication date, and my opinion. I have books grouped under their publisher for that overall view of the house and, when possible, I note who edited the book. I keep this information in the computer in a table in a Word document, however, a spreadsheet program or a notebook would work as well.
Is this enough information to keep? It is for me. It makes a difference to my knowledge of what a house publishes. It has also shown me where I need to do more reading.