The frustrating thing about publishing is that so much of publishing buzz is smoke and mirrors; the way to market some books is to make people think that everyone ELSE is loving/buzzing/dying to have it. As Newberry Honor Winner Grace Lin said brilliantly over on Blue Rose Girls, “A lot of good marketing is about making it seem like your book is selling like hotcakes, that your fans are rabid and you are just the hottest thing out there, even if you're not. Many marketing gurus see it as prophetic actions, using overstatement as a blessed commandment.”
A lot of book marketing is making yourself and your books seem more important or popular than they really are.
I kind of hate that about the industry, frankly.
That’s why getting a good hard look at publishing data such as that reported in the PW is so important. (Sorry, I don’t mean to harp, but I’m a Ruminator—I like to mull over things for a long time. A loooong time.)
There is a problem that develops when smoke and mirrors become a critical part of a business—and that is that the people involved in the business quickly lose their perspective or any hope of an anchor of reality as they navigate their careers.
Looking at those sales numbers from PW for 2009, I was struck by a couple of things.
1. Middle grade seemed so very, very underserved on that list. It made me realize that they, more than picture books or YA were bought by people who weren’t their intended audience. There is a huge gatekeeper element to writing for that age group.
2. So many of the highly buzzed books I’d heard about and would have sworn were bestsellers—weren’t. They were nowhere on the list. This proves that internet buzz—while highly beneficial—isn’t the final arbiter of whether or not a book has successful sales.
3. I was also surprised by how many of the authors of some of the bestsellers weren’t huge users of social media or even had a major online presence. Sure, they all had websites of some kind, but their books’ success weren’t fueled by a huge internet presence. That was very reassuring.
4. I was surprised at how very, very many mass market titles were on the list, titles I’d never even heard of. Again, an entirely different path to writing success, one that doesn’t get spoken of too much—writing mass market or movie tie ins or work for hire.
5. There are SO many different paths to a successful writing career. Sure some, the ones we probably hear the most about, involve a big front list push and splash, but that’s not the ONLY way. There is the strong, consistent midlist author, and the slow and steady backlist sales building. Some of those authors had been writing those books and series for years before they appeared on that list. As writers that is SO important to keep in mind.