Two of the many complexities within book publishing are how often the book buyer and the book reader are different people and how books may sell only in limited locations.
Some people read only what someone else buys for them. Some books sell primarily in one city at one retail location.
Adults will always be the ones to buy a book for a small child. (A child might latch onto a certain book while in a store, but the adult has the money!)
Additionally, an ongoing joke in Christian publishing circles is if you want to promote a book for men, target the women in their life with the marketing.
This is challenging because we always consider the reader-audience as the one to be targeted for promotion, but in some cases, marketing needs to be aimed at someone else entirely.
Another complicating factor is for some books, the primary sales channel might be an unconventional place, such as an institution (church or ministry), a company or an event/festival of some kind…or the author.
Some books sell almost entirely online, and I am not referring to self-published books or digital-only publications.
Most books dealing with difficult personal issues are not sold in bookstores, any other walk-in retail, or carried in public libraries. Online sales create opportunities for books on subjects a reader might not want to be caught holding in a retail checkout lane.
You know for certain the one time you go to a bookstore and pick up a copy of Is This Rash Contagious? by Dr. Homer O’Pathick, the cash register will be staffed by a neighbor and there will be a price check.
“I have a price check on the rash-book for Mrs. Smith who lives across the street from me and attends Community Christian Church!”
For this reason, the internet and plain brown corrugated shipping boxes were invented.
All joking aside, publishers find the more focused, specific or sensitive the subject of a book, the fewer sales channels are involved in getting books to readers.
Titles on abuse, sensitive health issues, or deep spiritual struggles are not the type of books appearing on displays at retail outlets. The buyers would rather their neighbors not know they are buying it.
Of course, everyone wants to have a best life now, a purpose-driven life, and to hear Jesus calling, so it’s obvious stores will carry those types of books.
In a sense, books which are self-published or published with digital-only publishers, utilizing only online sellers (and the author) have it easier than traditional publishers, who must consider a wider variety of sales channels when they decide everything from retail price, packaging, and of course, how the topic of the book affects each of those issues.
Sometimes a traditional publisher might decline a proposal because they see the sales for a book coming only from one specific channel and question whether those sales alone justify publishing.
An implication of this is why Christian books have a difficult time appearing on prominent best-seller lists like the New York Times or USA Today. They each survey certain sales channels for their sales data and come up with a list. Books sold by authors, churches, ministries, Christian bookstores, or most Christian online sellers are not included in the largest best-seller reporting data.
But all these factors pale in comparison to the challenge that many books are not bought by the people reading them.
You may write a book for middle-school “tweens” about an important subject they need to read, but you will market the book to parents, educators, or church youth workers.
Marketing targets and sales channels are factors every publisher will consider when evaluating an opportunity to publish a book. If the buyer-audience and the sales channels are too difficult to reach, they won’t risk doing the book.
Just another complicating factor for authors as they interact with publishing and think about the place their book holds in the world.