What is your Book's Genre?
by: Bruce L. Cook
When an author first writes a story or essay, it’s enough to say “This is fiction” or “This is nonfiction.” However, when working with an agent or potential publisher, the question is “What is your genre?”
This question can baffle new writers for it forces them to confront the reality of the marketplace. And, in my experience, most new writers haven’t any idea what the publishing industry is all about. After all, while writing the manuscript, the author has been writing for a reader – sometimes a specific person - not a publisher or agent. Then, when it’s time to sell, the new writer is lost.
It’s important to confront the marketplace, even if the author plans on publishing his or her own book. Not surprisingly, authors can do this by visiting the marketplace.
To determine your book’s genre, start by visiting your local bookstore – a large bookstore if possible. There the books are arranged by genre and you can browse the titles. Check the store’s category name for the titles which are most similar to yours. For example, if those books are crime thrillers, that’s your genre.
Many stories seem general and the author will want to just call them fiction. But that’s not specific enough. For example, go to your favorite bookstore website (not Amazon) and look up a list of fiction titles by genre. There you may be startled to see how many types of fiction are produced.
Further, if an author has categorized a work as “romantic”, further research is called for, for most romance books follow a specific storyline. Further, just because a book contains romance, it may well be in some other category.
Confounding the problem, the category of “literary fiction” implies high quality fiction, ideally a book which will become a classic. But within that category it is possible to include works in various subcategories.
Sadly, like most commercial category lists, genre listings to conform to the rules of fuzzy sets. Ideally, the set of categories would include all book topics and yet be mutually exclusive, so no two (or more) categories could contain the same books. Wrong! Actually, there is a lot of overlap between and among categories, and ultimately the publisher chooses the category, sometimes for commercial reasons.
As an author it’s best to browse current books in each category using local bookstores or the Internet. Not only will this tell an author what is selling well today, it will also help in choosing the genre which best describes the book’s topic.
Print on Demand.. (continued)
Though most authors know to stay away from vanity publishing, where you pay to have your book edited, designed, and printed and then it sits in your garage, for some reason, millions of authors have fallen for the appeal of POD/subsidy publishing—where you pay to have your book edited, designed, and printed, and then it sits in someone else’s garage.
Not that there aren’t good reasons to use POD/subsidy publishers—and for those authors who have books that work for POD/subsidy, it can be a fantastic time and money saver. If you’re doing a family genealogy, or a church cookbook, for example, where you have a limited audience and once you’ve given or sold the book to those 200 people, that’s it, POD/subsidy publishing is a great solution. It’s also an incredible timesaver for the busy corporate executive who needs to have a book to show the media, or for the workshop leader who wants a book to sell back-of-the-room at talks, or for a civic group that wants to do a book as a fundraiser, without investing the time-sink that is self-publishing. These are the cases where POD/subsidy is a wise choice.
But what most authors (many of whom call me for consulting, depressed and already deep in the clutches of POD/subsidy publishers) don’t realize is that doing your book this way probably precludes making many sales. Certainly you’ll have a hard time selling to bookstores and libraries—by the time you pay the POD/subsidy company, and factor in the wholesale discount that the middlemen require, the price points are too narrow for most bookstores or libraries‡. Furthermore, you’ll probably never even get as far as the bookstore or library—because POD/subsidy books are ineligible for review by the major review journals (such as Publishers Weekly and Booklist) you’ll miss out on those thousands of sales automatically, regardless of how good your book looks.
Thus, for most authors, you’re better off self-publishing yourself, and avoiding the POD/subsidy option.
But let’s distinguish between POD/subsidy publishing—companies such as iUniverse and AuthorHouse—and digital printing (also, confusingly, referred to as POD.) Digital printing just means printing small (under 1000, sometimes under 100, sometimes just one or two) quantities of books. Your per-book cost will be greater, because you’re printing in lower quantities---but your total capital investment will be much smaller. And that can be a great idea for an author.
Let’s say you’re coming out with a book on a new diet, but you can’t decide whether to call it “The Stressed-Out Diet” or “The Stress Free Diet.” Rather than just arbitrarily picking one and hoping it’s the right decision, or spending lots of time trying to get a focus group to agree, simply come out with a few copies of both titles—under different ISBNs—and see which one is ordered more frequently. You’ve just used digital printing as an easy, inexpensive way to do market research—on the very title that you’re marketing! The beauty of this is that even after you’ve committed to the “preferable” title, you can still sell the other title to whoever wants it, because both are in the system, and it doesn’t cost you anything.
Or let’s say you’re stuck between two different cover designs. Digitally print them both. And see which the world prefers.
Obviously this works with many, many other elements. You can even use it to decide between various price points.
Likewise, at the other end of your book’s life cycle, digital print is an easy way to keep just a few copies available to customers, without the capital investment and inventory requirements of offset printing thousands of books.
So let the rest of the publishing industry continue to quibble over the merits and detriments of POD/subsidy and digital printing. Me, I’m off to write my new book. Stay tuned—you’ll see it out there soon. Under many different names. You choose.
‡There’s a lot of confusion (promulgated, in large part, by the POD/subsidy publishers themselves who are understandably interested in blurring the distinctions and detriments) about whether bookstores will buy POD/subsidy published books. Although you can certainly get your POD/subsidy book into your local bookstore, the answer is no, most bookstores will not stock POD/subsidy books.
Aside from the fact that the bookstores make most of their buying decisions on the basis of reviews—and we’ve already discussed the fact that Publishers Weekly et. al. will not review POD/subsidy books—bookstore margins are quite tight. So unless they can get their regular discount (usually 40%)—and returnability—on books that they stock, it’s just easier for them not to stock any given book.
So take a 250-page paperback book that you publish through a POD/subsidy publisher. Let’s say its optimal retail price is $10. It costs you $6 per copy to print through the POD/subsidy publisher. You won’t be able to give that book to a wholesaler (who demands 55% discount) or a distributor (who takes 68-72% discount) because that would mean selling them the book at between $2.80 and $4.50 per book—which you can’t afford, because your cost is $6 per book. You could, technically, market it to the bookstores directly for their 40% discount—but you’d be selling exactly at cost (which would mean no money left for promotion, profit, or anything else) and you’d be asking them to purchase the book outside their regular buying channels.
So unless you have a book which can stand a much higher retail price and still be competitive, POD/subsidy publishing is really not a viable option if you want your book to be in bookstores.
Fern Reiss is CEO of PublishingGame.com (www.PublishingGame.com) and Expertizing.com (www.Expertizing.com) and the author of the books, The Publishing Game: Find an Agent in 30 Days, The Publishing Game: Bestseller in 30 Days, and The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days as well as several other award-winning books. She is also the Director of the International Association of Writers (http://www.AssociationofWriters.com) providing publicity vehicles to writers worldwide. She also runs The Expertizing® Publicity Forum where you can pitch your book or business directly to journalists; more information at www.Expertizing.com/forum.htm. Sign up for her complimentary newsletter at www.PublishingGame.com/signup.htm. And definitely sign up for her Facebook Writing and Publishing group at harvard.facebook.com/group.php?gid=6138914001.
Copyright © 2009 Fern Reiss
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