Monday, October 1, 2018

Fish or Fowl?

Q: Overheard at Bouchercon in Florida last month: "I don't write series *or* standalone; I write books." Do you love/ hate/ mind/ notice/use/ignore the publishers' and booksellers' classifications of your work?

- from Susan

To answer that question on a personal level, I risk annoying my publishers, offending my agents past and present, hurting the feelings of some authors I like personally and admire professionally, and turning off readers. 

I think the marketing professionals at publishing houses vote to buy our books because they feel strongly that they can slot them into a particular spot in their ‘basket’ of offerings. They send salespeople out to bookstores with catalogs and pitches that they have determined will induce booksellers to order books. Until and unless an author has established her brand so indelibly that the brand – not a specific book – is the selling point, it’s the marketing department, not the author, that makes the call. 

And, because the literary agent is working to sell the book to the publisher, the agent is looking for and listening to clues about what that publisher believes they can sell. So, the agent, too, pitches the book according to what the publisher is confident will be saleable.

What bothers me is that the agent, genuinely working for the author’s benefit, may reach back and try to reshape the manuscript in order to make the sale, and the author, who wants to sell the manuscript, compromises and moves a step or many steps from what she originally wanted to write.

I also heard conversations about this at the recent Bouchercon. One point of view taken by some authors was that we’re really in business, and so we should write to please “our customers,” the readers. For me, that’s not quite the right argument. Writers wind up writing or modifying to please their agents or their publishers, who profess to know what the bookstores will buy. The bookstores say they know what their customers will buy. But who really knows if the customers might love the book the writers wanted to write?!

That’s one reason the results of self-publishing and direct marketing via Amazon are interesting to watch. The author has the opportunity to publish what she really wants to write, and the readers have the opportunity to like it or not. 

I have not self-published. I have sold two series, both of which are modestly but not wildly popular. My brand isn’t strong enough yet that I can define myself and my work the way I’d like. Do I like the ways my five books have been marketed? I have some doubts and regrets, but I am the first to admit I don’t have a guaranteed better strategy.

The only thing I could wish for is that more readers came to my books without expecting them to fit neatly into a well-grooved niche, that they’d read them with only one expectation: that they will meet characters they can love, places they’d like to be transported to, and stories that intrigue and surprise them.

3 comments:

Brenda Chapman said...

Well said, Susan! Balancing the business side with creativity is not always easy.

Dietrich Kalteis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dietrich Kalteis said...

I think you're right, Susan. We can't guess what will sell. All we can do is give the reader interesting characters and places to be transported to, stories that intrigue and surprise.