We have spent the last month and a half looking at statistics from 2009 in this StatSeries. The goal was to arm you with information about trends so you could make wise decisions about what you are publishing. But what does that mean? When I read that 40% of books published are adult fiction does that mean adult fiction books are selling well so I should hop on board, or does it mean adult fiction is a glutted and highly competitive market and I should focus somewhere else?
I think of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Poppa Bear’s chair was too hard, his porridge too hot. He was over-the-top. Momma Bear’s chair was too soft, her porridge cold. Her stuff was nothing special and was quickly passed over. But Baby Bear was just right. His chair was interesting enough to get Goldilocks to sit down, but she still knew it was a chair and what she was to do with it.
There is tension between falling within expectations and standing out. It is a fine line to walk and I cannot tell you where that line is. The publishing industry is finicky. Cormac McCarthy got away with incomplete sentences and didn’t use any quotation marks for dialogue in The Road. And he won a Pulitzer Prize for it. Anyone else that might try to send something like that to an editor is likely to get their manuscript with red marks and slashes everywhere.
How come McCarthy can get away with that while most people can’t? This may not be a fair question since The Road stands out with its exceptional writing (at least in this blogger’s opinion, and the opinion of Pulitzer judges). But this sort of thing happens all the time. I’ve heard so many accounts of well-known books that received multiple rejection letters before they were published. They did something different and it eventually worked for them. But for every book that makes it through, there are thousands that don’t. We are expected to stay within the lines.
We could take a bunch of different angles and have lots of diatribes about things like why subject categories are limiting or how pricing structures make it hard for authors and publishers to even recoup publishing costs, let alone make a living. And we can do that in other blog posts (comment on what you would like to see discussed!)
But as we round out this StatSeries, I guess the main thing I want to point out is that there is tension. And as a publisher, you need to recognize and expect that on any given book on any given day, you may fall on one side of the line or the other. Look at what the trends are so you have something to start with, and then see how you can deviate just enough to stand out among so many other books.
We often tell publishers to head to their local bookstore and look at the section where they would like to see their book shelved. Use that to give you an idea of what is expected, and then look for what is not there. How can your book fill that void?
How can you get your readers to say, “ah, this is just right” and sit and stay for a while? At least until the bears come home.
This is the last post in a series based on publishing trends. Look for posts with StatSeries in the headline or check the StatSeries category to see all posts in this series.
Picture from http://www.flickr.com/photos/25559122@N06/4339338951/