Monday, April 26, 2010

Smoke and Mirrors

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.


Deva Fagan said...

Thanks for posting this -- I can never get tired of hearing #3 and #5.

It'll be interesting to see what the whole publishing/marketing situation is like ten years from now. One of the things I've been reminding myself of a lot recently is how NEW so much of this is. I mean, ten years ago, we didn't have twitter, facebook, book trailers, blog tours, or even very many book blogs, did we?

Anonymous said...

That IS reassuring, Robin. You're absolutely right--it's all smoke and mirrors. What's best of course is to do the best work we can do, and the work we enjoy doing, and let the chips fall where they may. I do love to mix my metaphors!

beth said...

I learned that myself recently.

I teach high school kids, and run the Creative Writing Club. The kids in the club are very in tune with current books, love YA, and stay pretty in touch with the new releases the library offers.

None of them had even HEARD of HUNGER GAMES a few months ago.

HG has had a lot of fame on the internet, but in real life, there are actually a lot of people who haven't even heard of it. It's easy to forget that buzz is just buzz.

(Not that HG deserves obscurity--I love that book and have since gotten my students to read it!)

Robin L said...

Yeah Deva, I'm very partial to #5, myself. :-) And your Ten Years Out point is an excellent one. Whatever we'll be using to market our stories (notice I didn't say books) we can pretty much bet it hasn't been invented yet. :-)

And you mix them so very well, Val!

Beth, this is fascinating to me, that so many high school kids hadn't even heard of HUNGER GAMES in spite of it huge success. Which, as you say, totally proves the point that the internet is completely different from real life.

Once they read it, did your students love it as much as the internet seems to? (I adored it, myself.)