f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Niche Publishing

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Monday, September 26, 2005

Niche Publishing

I gave a talk in Philadelphia about genre—which are hot, which are dwindling. The take-home message of the talk was that, at this point, CBA is as broad and active as its ever been. Writers are publishing in nearly every genre and most are finding at least some category success.

Sure there’s down soft spots (Fantasy and hard-core sci-fi haven't broken out. Westerns aren’t booming.) But otherwise you can probably name an author who’s doing fairly well in almost anything else.

Which makes approaching the market tricky. On the one hand, it’s good because there’s strong-selling precedent set for romance and suspense and historical and everything else. On the other hand, how many more entries can those genres handle? And what about your book is going to displace someone at the top?

I was thinking about these questions over the past few weeks while reading some general market mysteries by an author named CJ Box. I’m not immersed in the ABA mystery world, but I read enough to know that most successful authors seem to have been able to carve out a specific space that they claim as their own. Whether it’s a locale or a character-trait of the detective, there’s something that sets the books apart.

CJ Box is writing fairly standard mysteries. But they have a western kick. Set in Wyoming, his Joe Pickett novels star Game Warden Joe Pickett. What really makes the novels work is that the issues at the heart of the mysteries are “location specific.” Ecoterrorism, protection of endangered species, anti-governmental communities, mineral rights…these things all have a specific and important place in the western community. They’re issues Box employs to solid effect, often showing both sides of the argument—and showing how extremism can lead to bad ends.

I’m sure there are other western mystery novelists (Nevada Barr’s detective is a Park Ranger) so its definitely not virgin territory, but Box is a solid enough writer with a distinct enough niche that he’s able to gain a good following and has recently published his fifth novel.

The question that’s going to be asked of your book is: where does it fit? You can say you’re writing to Dekker’s audience or Karen Kingsbury’s audience… but remember those authors are still very much alive and still writing. The likelihood of you denting their sales is slim. But if your book manages to fill a slot, seem both familiar and distinct at the same time—that has a chance to offer not only a strong launch but a fruitful career.