Sunday, December 14, 2008

Random thoughts on surviving the book business

This week a quote went around one of my writer's loops that got me thinking. I'll paraphrase because who said it and how they said it is not as important as the thought. Here is the thought: each book written is a new product and in a business model something like 90 percent of all new products fail. Thus every book put on the self has a huge potential for failure.

Why? People like their old brands. They like what they know. This is why the most successful people "seem" to write the same book over and over. It's called a brand. People are afraid to take a chance on something that is too new- too out there, no matter how good. Think about it. When was the last time one of your favorite authors wrote something that surprised you? Did you wonder if they were headed in a direction you didn't like? Did you think twice about buying their next book?

People like sameness. I've known several very good authors who tried to branch out to different styles of books and failed. Some quit. Others went back to the type of story that worked for them.

In essence-the industry prefers to typecast writers. I hear this all the time, "Oh, you write sweet westerns." Well, no- I write all kinds of books. A sweet western was simply the first book I sold to a publisher-they loved it so much I sold six more. But that is not all I am. This year I wrote a sexy single title contemporary romance and a straight up thriller. But I sold two romantic suspense stories.

But hoping from genre to genre and line to line can be a problem. The problem becoming what to label you- all writers need a label or it would be chaos in terms of marketing. Think of it like this- you have a friend who brings home a new guy/gal every night. You don't have time to get to know them or even care. It's all too dizzying to matter. Now you have another friend who has been with the same guy/gal all her life. You know what to expect. You become invested in his/her friendship and their life together. You are comfortable and should they ever break up you will be horrified. This is how people like to think of their writers.

Unfortunately- book types go in and out of fashion-stranding those writers dedicated to only one type of book. So, even knowing the brand expectations, you have to be versatile enough to survive these trends. So, I've learned to nurture two or three different types of books in the hopes that one will keep my career afloat if another goes out of fashion. Think of it as serial monogamy. Instead of a new type of book every time, write consistently in two genres. The idea is to keep your product from being too new and yet maintaining a place in more than one market. It keeps your odds favorable and boredom at bay.


Morgan Mandel said...

I've decided to write what I want. If my heart's not in it, there's no sense in writing. That's why I wrote a mystery, then a romantic comedy, another mystery, and am currently working on a children's book about my dog, Rascal.

It may not always be the best for my brand or business, but it's the best for me.

Morgan Mandel

Nancy J. Parra said...

I feel that way, too- it's so easy to get bored. Seems like you like mysteries-so perhaps that is your over arching brand... with fun stuff in between.

Pamala Knight said...

LOL, Nancy you always entertain as well as inform me and for that I thank you. I too seem to be heading down the path of serial monogamy. Not that I've found a first husband/book publisher yet, so we'll see what kind of floozy I turn out to be, but it's nice to hear that there's company on that path.

Marilyn Brant said...

What a great post, Nancy. There are aspects to this industry that I never would've realized before being plunked down in the middle of it. I was always really resistant to the idea of being "categorized," but that's precisely what needs to happen when you try to brand your writing. And, as a reader, I find myself reaching for novelists whose work I can count on to create the emotional experience I'm looking for that I understand the need for it even as I rail against it :).

Nancy J. Parra said...

Thanks Marilyn,

Branding is tricky business that's for sure.

Happy holidays everyone!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Wait- I meant to write thanks Pamala and Marilyn-sheesh-

Not enough coffee this morning...