Two Ways to Think About Your Book

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.


12 Responses to Two Ways to Think About Your Book

  1. Mark Stevenson July 24, 2018 at 3:26 am #

    This gives a lot to consider when marketing a book. But more strongly than that, who the target audience is intended to be. It sounds like one must be creative to survive the pickiness of a potential customer so that they pick up your book and buy it, drawing them into the insatiable appetite for more of the author’s brand of story. It had better be good!

  2. Shirlee Abbott July 24, 2018 at 5:00 am #

    Thank you, Dan, for directing my eyes to the book buyer. I’m writing an easy-reader Bible study series with adult concepts written at a child’s reading level (half of American adults read below high school level). I call my target audience “reluctant readers.” They’re probably “reluctant buyers.” So my marketing plan will have to target others: their family members, church leaders and Christian friends.

  3. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser July 24, 2018 at 7:45 am #

    You’ve given me a lot to think about, Dan. I suspect that ‘Circling The Drain – Life Lessons For The Dying And Those Who Love Them’ might better be marketed to friends and family, rather than to the dying and their caregivers, because the latter group are heartily sick (!) of the whole exercise, and the last thing they’ll want to shop or is a how-to book on the subject. They’d likely accept a gift, though, from someone who cares.

    And yes, the title needs to be changed.

    • Tisha Martin July 24, 2018 at 9:05 am #

      Andrew, to pull in another phrase used in yesterday’s blog post comments, do you think a title like “Going Up on the Updraft of a Prayer” works here?

      Prayed for you yesterday, and glad to see you today. Continuing to daily keep your name before the One who is healer and comforter of all.

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser July 24, 2018 at 9:25 am #

        Tisha, thank you! That’s perfect!

        I so appreciate the prayers. I’m really messed up this morning, but this community is a lifeline. Hard to type (heck, hard to remain upright!) but the energy and optimism and love that I find here, they keep me going.

        And that’s a huge THANK YOU to Steve and Dan and Bob and Tamela for keeping this forum going; you guys may not know it, but you’re saving a life, one day at a time.

        • Tisha Martin July 24, 2018 at 9:38 am #

          So glad to hear, Andrew!!!

          And yes, this community (readers and teachers) is a lifeline of comfort, encouragement, knowledge, and hope—and one that keeps us focused on the God who gives us the ability to accomplish what we’re supposed to do.

  4. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D July 24, 2018 at 9:25 am #

    Dan, thanks for the eye-opening information. I had not thought of these issues previously and appreciate your expertise on the topic.

    So it sounds like a book on the Claustrophobic Kleptomaniac with Halitosis probably won’t be marketed on the front displays at Barnes and Noble anytime soon.

  5. Tisha Martin July 24, 2018 at 9:26 am #

    Dan, I’m reminded of our conversation at Write-to-Publish… So essentially you’re saying that the audience must be general enough but narrow enough to appeal to a felt need that readers can relate, without screaming the felt need at them? Handle each subject with grace, sensitivity, and diplomacy, yes?

  6. Rebekah Love Dorris July 24, 2018 at 11:48 am #

    I remember several years ago selling a display with a variety of books at an event.

    One of the books had a provocative title pertaining to Song of Solomon. One lady grabbed it, hollered the name of the book in glee, and ran around to all her friends giggling at the title of the book. That was the end of my sales for that day.

    So yes, booksellers are wise to be cautious with sensitive subjects lest would be comedians run off business!

  7. Nancy Massand July 24, 2018 at 5:37 pm #

    Yes, worth thinking about. YA and middle grade writers can profit by considering who’s actually buying the books. As a middle school teacher I can tell you that most of my avid readers prefer books in print, while reluctant readers prefer reading on their devices. In either case, the parents do the buying. And they often read along with their kids or preview a book first to make sure it’s acceptable, as well they should. Writing for minors means you reach their parents as well, and it’s a great way to communicate godly values across a wide spectrum.

  8. Tara July 24, 2018 at 7:53 pm #

    Thank you for the post Dan. Nancy and Dan, would you say that the same is true for YA as with MG, that parents are still the primary book buyers or promoters. And also, that YA readers would prefer print over e-book? I am trying to build a platform and future readership and wondering where it makes the most the sense to place my time. Thanks!

  9. Steven Fantina July 26, 2018 at 6:07 am #

    Your comments are helpful. I just completed a Christian children’s book and now realize that when I pitch it to agents, I should stress how it will appeal to the adults who will but it.

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