Rising Above The Grass

This post, from Bob Spear, originally appeared on his Book Trends Blog on 10/6/09 and is reprinted here in its entirety with his permission.

Last year over 275,000 new books were published. Actually, there were more than that because not all were reported to Bowker, the keepers of the assignment and registration of ISBNs and publisher of Books In Print. Then add to that very large number the books written and proffered to publishers which didn’t make it. Now, look at the various Best Seller lists and count the number of books listed (a few hundred at best). Now you have an idea of the odds involved in marketing books, especially your own. How can you rise above the crowd or grass level so that you’re seen?

There are many genres and sub-genres; however, for our purposes, let’s address nonfiction, fiction, and leave children’s books for another blog.

Nonfiction: This is the easiest genre to market. There are major distributors who refuse to carry anything but nonfiction because of this. It’s easier to: write well, define, identify market segments, and has multiple delivery channels. In addition to traditional bookstore channels, other channels can include: selling off the back table at a speech or training, partnering with a corporate entity to publish their own edition, selling direct by snail mail or by internet. Nonfiction lends itself very well to “Long Tail” marketing, which is identifying small but myriad niches that are outside the radar of the major publishers but can be lucrative to small, specialized presses. Working the media is far easier because specific topics and themes break out nicely for talk show themes.

To be seen above the grass in the nonfiction pasture, one needs to understand all these market channels and more. Use any and all the channels in conjunction with publicity, article marketing, blogging, social networking and general word of mouth. Obviously, any one of these areas is deserving of a separate blog.

Fiction: This is much more difficult to write well and to market. Although fan groupings can be broken out and defined, it’s not so easy to do so as it is in nonfiction. Fiction can be far more emotional (except for certain nonfiction “causes”). Reader tastes vary widely and reader needs are more difficult to nail down than they are in nonfiction.
It’s more difficult to align a book’s story with a talk show theme, for instance, yet that is what an author or publicist must do to fit into a media format. Some fiction genres, such as Sci Fi or fantasy are especially difficult to shape into an interview environment.

For fiction to be seen above the grass, social networking and word of mouth are king. Another avenue is getting your book turned into a movie, which usually won’t happen in nonfiction how-to books. The marketer’s focus is at the mercy of people who are opinion drivers. That’s where their focus should go: toward opinion makers such as Oprah and the like.

Endurance: Nonfiction tends to stick around longer due to its education potential. It lends itself to updating and new edition publishing. It can be milked for a long time. Fiction, unless it becomes a classic, is here today and gone tomorrow. Even really popular fiction authors are only as popular as their latest book (how have you entertained me lately?). These are considerations when deciding what to write. Some of my nonfiction has been around since the late 1980’s and still sells steadily. I expect my fiction, which will be coming out this winter, will have its day in the sun, and then I’ll have to write more, if I want to stay above the grass. As an author, you need to consider all these aspects and elect how you want to spend your writing minutes.