Wednesday 23 October 2013

You're not my market... (probably)

I wonder if I'm doing this book thing all wrong. I'm at least not doing it the same way as everyone else. This thought was prompted by two things. One was Nicola Morgan's blog post on why she is no longer going to buy postcards to promote books. The other was a little dispute on a Facebook page for a writers' group. Oh, and a question in Book Witch's income survey (which you must look at if you haven't seen it yet) about how many review copies authors send out themselves.

The dispute followed a spate of self-published writers posting buy-my-book spam to the page. I remarked that I don't buy books because the author recommends them, and I don't buy self-published (e or otherwise) children's books at all. The predictable response followed - I'm a snob, I'm behind the times, I'm missing out on lots of good books, we can't believe there are still people like you.... Interesting, isn't it? The assumption is that I don't buy them because I don't expect them to be good, or I'm some kind of Luddite.

But that's not it at all. One reason that I buy and read children's books is because I write them and I need to know the state of the market. I enjoy them too, of course, but my market research reading is well, to research the market. Other reading time I often read books that aren't for children - for variety.

There is no room in my market-research book budget for self-published children's books because I need to know what mainstream publishers are publishing - what has already been done, who is publishing which type of books, and so on. I don't need to know what self-publishers are doing. If anything, their only value in terms of market research is to show me what mainstream publishers are not publishing. (I know not all self-published books have been rejected by mainstream publishers.) If a self-published book is very successful, that shows me what readers are buying. But I'm not selling to readers. I will say that again because you probably don't believe it.

I'm not selling to readers. I'm selling to publishers.

I'm not selling books. I'm selling manuscripts that are the raw material of books that still need input from editors, designers and layout artists. And sometimes illustrators. Publishers and bookshops sell books to readers. I sell manuscripts to publishers. You don't see Rio Tinto selling lumps of metal to the public, do you? No, they sell to - eg - cutlery-makers and those cutlery-makers sell spoons to the public. Selling the books is the publisher's job, not mine. I know a lot of people will disagree with that. So no, I don't send out review copies at my own expense; I don't print cards and bookmarks with my own money; I don't even promote my books on this blog - which was originally anonymous, and so would have been useless as a promotional tool. That's not to say I won't do any promotion at all for my favourite books. But I won't spend money on promotion because - as Nicola Morgan points out - it just doesn't pay.

(I'm not suggesting other writers aren't selling to the public or are doing the wrong thing. This is just my position, and it works for the type of books I write and the type of relationship I have with publishers.)


  1. I understand what you're saying Stroppy, but this doesn't really make sense to me. Assuming publishers are publishing books they hope to sell, then surely your market and their market should be exactly the same? (i.e. readers!)

    Even if publishers are selling to booksellers rather than readers, then again the same argument applies - booksellers presumably want books that sell to readers, so it's the same market.

    The only possible reason for a difference is if publishers see their market as libraries or schools (or supermarkets?), rather than booksellers/readers. Then maybe you are doing a different kind of writing... but even so, in an ideal world, I think it should still be readers!

  2. Katherine, I agree that the *ultimate* consumer is the same - the reader. But the reader buys the final product, the finished book. I am not selling books to individual readers. I am selling potential books (manuscripts) to publishers. If I can't sell my book to a publisher, there is no book to sell to a reader. (Because I don't self-publish.)

    If readers are buying books about gerbils but no publisher wants to publish books about gerbils, the market for gerbil books will go to self-publishers. I won't be writing any gerbil books if publishers don't want them; I'll write a different kind of book that publishers are buying (and selling).

  3. Very useful and pertinent post. Thanks for reminding me.