With 200,000 new titles being published in English every year, getting attention for your books is one of the hardest and most important tasks a publisher has. What strategies could you use to succeed?
One option is to throw lots of money at it. Large publishers (there are about 8) do that all the time. What can smaller publishers (there are about 80,000) do?
In my ongoing review of Tom Woll’s Publishing for Profit, he says the place to begin is to define your niche. And the place to begin doing that is with research. This veteran publishing consultant says that one way to do this is to hire a consultant. But remarkably he says, “I recommend that you spend your own time researching this important assignment” (p. 23). The information publishers learn will be of inestimable value as they carry on their work. After defining what niche you want to reach, then research that niche.
Publishers face many temptations. One temptation is not to be specific enough. To say you want to publish academic books is fine, but in what disciplines? The sciences? Too broad. Life sciences? That’s better but that may be too broad as well.
Religious publishers can be sorely tempted to publish too broadly because often their worldview or theology encompasses (or should encompass) all of life. A book that talks about everything talks about nothing. A publisher that publishes about everything will end up publishing nothing. Why?
Woll says, “If you’re trying to sell a varied array of disparate books to a broad audience, you must spend your advertising and promotional dollars in a scattered effort that has little focus and continuity. On the other hand, if you have a very defined, focused editorial list of books, then you can spend your money in a narrowly targeted promotional effort in which the impact of promoting one book accrues to the benefit of others in the list” (p. 31). That’s how you create brand identity with wholesalers and retailers, which can be of immense help as you build your business list after list.
Want to do parenting books, travel books, cookbooks, business books and fiction? I have a word for you. Don’t.
One thought on “Define Your Niche”
Your post is about publishers, but it applies to authors as well. Authors likewise carve out a particular niche and write a certain kind of book, for which they become known and “branded.” Sometimes these niches get run into the ground; we can all think of certain authors who have written the same book five or six times. And that can be counterproductive, if buyers think, “Oh, no, not another _____ book by Author X.” At the same time, it’s also counterproductive for an author to be attempting to write self-help books while also writing systematic theology or cookbooks.
Somewhere between the extremes is a middle ground where authors can build a distinct brand identity and following but also have flexibility to write on various topics and pursue new creative territory. Thus I think it might be more helpful to think in terms of “calling” rather than “niche.” “Niche” seems a bit predetermined and inflexible – if you are an author in a particular niche, you’re stuck writing legal thrillers or stay-at-home-mom books or whatever. But if you have a creative calling, then you follow that calling wherever God may lead. One’s calling may change and develop over the years. It may well include a cluster of books in a certain area (building a brand identity and niche) but could also transcend those categories.
One of my industry friends is a novelist who told me that she thinks that nonfiction authors have more opportunity to write in multiple categories and genres than fiction authors do. (Unless you’re a big name – Grisham is no longer stuck writing legal thrillers and can write a holiday novella like Skipping Christmas or sports novels like Bleachers or Playing for Pizza because he’s Grisham.) She said that novelists often tire of their niche/genre long before their readers do.
And I realize that part of this depends on personality. Some authors like building on their work and doing the tried and true. Others like new things and tackling different topics. I personally get easily bored with authors who want to write the same book over and over again. Somehow we need to find ways to encourage authors to write books that have continuity with their past work but also carve out new ground.
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