Monday, October 20, 2008

What sells? Or How Much Information is Too Much Information?

At the Ottawa conference, I sat in the back of the room while writers asked Editors Brenda Chin and Rose Hilliard questions. One of the questions was about print runs and I sat back there thinking - Wow? Really?

As an unpublished author I wrote in a bubble and my only concern was my book, my writing and making it sell able. Print runs and talk like that was like another language and not one that pertained to me.

And to tell you the truth, I'm still not sure if it pertains to me. I belong to a group of writers and every royalty period we pool our sales numbers. The numbers are anonymous, so we don't know which numbers belong to which book other than our own and two times a year, I poor over this information. But to what end? I can't tell if cowboy books sell better than secret baby books, or if hero alone covers (another thing I have no control over) sell better than couple covers. The only thing I can tell is where I fall in the month and if numbers as a whole are up and down - which is valuable information, but it doesn't tell me what the readers are loving and how to suit my writing more to the superromance reading public.

I recently subscribed to Bookscan - which tells me the top one hundred romances sold in a group of books stores - Borders, Barnes and Noble etc...(to tell the truth I'm not totally sure which bookstores are included - I think WalMart is not, but someone can correct me on that.) And I poor over this information too. And it's interesting - but what it really tells me is that Debbie Macomber and Nora Roberts are selling a lot of books. I knew that - we all knew that.

But then what I realized is that what it's really telling me is that what sells - is whatever the publisher gets behind. Publishers get behind authors by giving them decent print runs and helping the author with publicity and helping to create a buzz. There are newer authors on that list -which tells me the publisher got behind them. So, why does a publisher get behind an author?

My answer to this question is this -- the author writes good books - plain and simple. Sherry Thomas, Elizabeth Hoyt, Susan Mallery. Newer Single title authors writing good books and getting lots of publisher support.

The author writes fast and can create a demand for their work by keeping themselves in front of the romance readers face. The paranormal authors on that list seem to have this down to a science.

The author works well with their editor. Publishers get behind authors because the editor fights for them in meetings and editors fight for the books and writers they like. I really believe this. Maybe that's pollyanna, but it makes sense doesn't it?

The truth is, I could be talking out my ass about all this stuff, but I do know that I feel better about my career when I feel better about my books. The rest just seems like distraction, sometimes. And don't get me wrong, Drunk Writer Talk is filled with discussions about the industry and the market and how to figure it all out. Which we haven't. And won't.

But the writing is getting better and that is what's really important.


Amy Ruttan said...

Yeah I have to join Bookscan.

Sinead M said...

I waver back and forth, as you well know. I think for unpublished authors, and new authors, focusing on the book, and the writing just makes sense, but for long term careers, I think we need to always be aware of the marketplace and our role in it.
But as an unpubb'd writer, I'm just focusing the current book..

Maureen McGowan said...

I think one side effect of RWA, particularly since online loops became so common, is that unpublished writers are so much more aware of the industry and what it takes after you get a book contract.

I do think more information is better than less... But I was at a panel of editors at a retreat for current and past Golden Heart finalists last year, and one of the editors got really incensed by all the questions about the market and publicity. She nearly yelled at the group, "Why aren't you asking about how to write better books that I we might want to give you a contract for!!!"

She had a point, but it made me want to yell back, "Because every time a writer DOES ask that question in a panel like this, all we ever hear is "write a great book".

And that's what it boils down to. Great books.

Still, so hard to ignore what's going on, and trends, and guessing about how it might all affect you.

Kimber Chin said...

I question the great books theory.
To sell to a NY Publisher,
you need an agent.
Agents want to get paid (quickly preferably).
They're going to team up with books that they believe they can sell and sell easily.
So if the publishers are asking for historicals, the agents are going to pull historicals out of their slush piles.

There are always exceptions
but, I don't know,
I'm a business gal.
If I was looking to make a career out of writing,
I'd play the odds and write what people are asking for.

Maureen McGowan said...

Sure, demand comes into it, Kimber, but within that, the cream rises to the top.

Look at how many first time authors of chick lit were bought when that was hot, only to never sell a book again because the books weren't that great.

Demand pushes editors to buy things they might not, but the great books always rise.

Kimber Chin said...

Oh, I don't doubt you need a great book, just that I don't think it's enough for a newbie writer.

I think you need both the market AND the great book.

For example:

If all the agents are requesting series, then it makes sense to at least have some secondary characters you can write the next book around.

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