f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Two Paths to Sales: Books Readers Want

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

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Two Paths to Sales: Books Readers Want

Most of what I try and write about here (and most of the conversation at many other writing sites) is about perspective. What are the various ways/angles we can look at this world of publishing and writing so we can, hopefully, understand it better? As I progress through a number of these conversations I’m finding out that some perspectives seem more helpful than others.

For instance, we’ve kicked around the old literary vs. commercial fiction horse here. And that very often gets us nowhere. We’ve talked about plot-driven vs. character-driven fiction. Books with high internal stakes vs. books with high external stakes. I’ve probably set up about half-dozen more dichotomies for us to sort through and one of the main problems we’ve always come up against is that the “versus” in these comparisons becomes too much of a temptation—and we set up our camps on behalf of one book or the other.

What I hope will be slightly different about this approach is that—for the most part—the book is neutral in this perspective. Instead, this becomes less a matter of writing and more a matter of marketing, promotion, and reader expectation. It’s a crucial perspective for publishers, too, because it puts the emphasis on the positive idea of a book finding a reader.

So, moving forward…

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Here are some random books that readers know they want:

Lemony Snicket’s Book 13 in his Series of Unfortunate Events. (Due Friday, Oct 13, natch.)

Whatever letter Sue Grafton is up to.

The new book excoriating Ann Coulter.

The new book excoriating Hillary Clinton.

And the grand-daddy of them all….

Harry Potter 7. (Which, frankly, may be one of the most anticipated books of all time.)

These are no-brainers. Two are on my own list. But, so are a number of books, that may not be quite so obvious.

For instance, I just saw that Richard Powers has written a new novel. It’s due October 17 from FSG. It’s called The Echo Maker, (which means nothing to me) and it has a boring cover (which wouldn’t otherwise catch my eye at a store). Despite those “problems,” (which might affect finding readers who didn’t know they wanted the book—foreshadowing to a later post) I’m his audience. I’m on board. Currently it’s #1307 at Amazon, so obviously some other folks are onboard, too.)

Simply put, these readers are the engines that drive publishing. Without them everything would be guesswork and dart throwing.

This is all Publishing 101 stuff, I realize. Future posts, hopefully won't be quite so obvious. What I want to point out about here is that while we're all readers with our own lists, our most common reaction to each other is usually to stare at each other in blank horror aghast at the books the other is allowing to get published. I mean do we really need more Nora Roberts? Or another over-intellectualized tome from Dave Eggers? Hasn't John Grisham essentially been writing the same story over and over? And Richard Russo, too?

Those are arguments you're welcome to fight out somewhere else because in this context this simple answer is a definitive: "Yes." We need the authors. We need the books. We don't have the luxury (for the most part) of denying readers what they want.