This is part 2 of a 4 part series about career advice my graduate adviser gave to his graduate students and postdocs. His advice is for people pursuing an academic science career, but I'm sharing the ones that also apply to writers.
Part 1: Choose your projects carefully
Part 2: Know the Literature
When designing a new experiment, you need to be caught up on the field. There's no point in conducting an experiment to show something we already know, and there's no point in testing a hypothesis that can't possibly be true.
While it may be easier to write a novel than do neuroscience in a vacuum, you'd have a much better chance of publishing it if you research the market and know what is currently selling. This doesn't mean that we should all be writing teen-vampire-wizard-catholic-church-conspiracy stories, but it does mean that we need to have a good sense of general market trends.
Don't take my word for it though. Here are some interesting blog entries from people who actually know what they're talking about.
1. Agent Jessica Faust on representing books that are different.
2. Agent Rachelle Gardner on whether you should write what's hot.
3. Eric at Pimp My Novel had an excellent series on genre specific book sales.
Stay tuned for Part 3...