I Don’t Get It. . .
Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Are there any four words repeated more often at writers’ get-togethers than the phrase, “I don’t get it. . .” followed by one of the perplexing mysteries of the publishing universe? Let’s face it, there’s much in publishing that leaves us scratching our heads. For today’s post, I figured I’d tackle a handful of the questions I’ve overheard over the years. The only thing that ties these questions together is those first four words— I don’t get it.
I dont get it, why won’t publishers take a chance on something different? Often the writer who asks this question is writing in a genre that is experimental, is currently out of style or doesn’t fit one of the popular categories. The truth is, publishers are always looking for the next new thing. The problem comes in that they must be certain there is an audience for that “something different” and that if they are experimenting with something new, they need to be sure that they’ve found the breakout example of this category or genre. For instance, there was almost no regency romance in CBA until Julie Klassen came along. Her publisher recognized that she took a staple of ABA publishing and elevated it to something altogether different, something perfect for the inspirational market. Her success opened the category for others to follow but because she was one of the first, she owns that category– a nice distinction to hold. Beverly Lewis did the same for Amish fiction. Publishers are always looking for that writer who will define a whole new category. It’s a big risk for a debut author to be writing in an as-yet undefined genre, but if the book is extraordinary, who knows?
I don’t get it, there is a fresh batch of children born every year. So why is the market for children’s books so tight? There are a number of reasons. For one thing, good children’s books stay around for a very long time. We tend to buy the books we loved as a child for our own children. This means there are fewer spots for new writers. Another reason that CBA, specifically, has so few opportunities for new writers is that most people buy their children’s books in the general market. The distinction between ABA and CBA in children’s literature is much less pronounced– how much gratuitous sex and violence are we likely to encounter in a picture book? And many of the finest books in the ABA market have deeply spiritual underpinnings. Children’s books, especially illustrated books and picture books, are expensive to produce which means fewer sales and tighter margins for the publishers. Those that continue to create them often do it out of love for fine juvenile literature. Because of all these market realities, publishers are uber-selective about which books to publish. A celebrity name can often bring in the kind of sales needed for the bottom line.
I don’t get it, I write high fantasy in the style of C. S. Lewis. His books still show up on the bestseller lists and this November he’ll have been dead for fifty years. When are publishers going to publish the next C. S. Lewis? Publishers hear this all the time. Most editors say they’ve yet to see anything that would rival Lewis or Tolkien and when they hear that a writer believes he’s the next Inkling, the book is usually too derivative. In the CBA, no matter how many times publishers have tried with fantasy or science fiction, they’ve not yet been able to make it work. So far, the audience is simply not there for inspirational visionary category. Those who love this genre seem to be perfectly happy to buy in the general market.
I don’t get it, my friend’s publisher put together a wildly creative event for the launch of her new crime novel. it was held at a big city police station with donuts and coffee for all plus free books and a generous donation to the Police Athletics League. All her friends came. The police officers loved it. Even the homeless came and enjoyed the donuts. Why won’t my publisher do some of the innovative events I want to do? It’s all a matter of perspective. Every book has a set marketing budget. As an agent I cringe when the author talks the publisher into doing an “innovative event” that uses a hefty portion of the budget for what could be considered a vanity event. Take the above (fictitious) event. It drew friends, who would have purchased the book anyway unless their friend, the author, gifted them with it. The event also honored the police and a few of them might be readers but if most of the officers are men, the odds are not great that they’d become a fan of inspiration fiction. The homeless may read the book given them but as for influencing others, probably outside of their scope right now. The only way that event would return anything on the investment would be if it received local news coverage and that would not net enough to replace the normal, effective marketing done by the publisher with those dollars. Many of the innovative things we cook up can’t hold a candle to, say, getting ARCs (advance reading copies) into the hands of reviewers, librarians and influencers.
How about you? If you were to start your question with the words, “I don’t get it. . .” what would follow?
I don’t get it. . . A literary agent tackles some of the mysteries of publishing. Click to Tweet
What’s wrong with publishers? @wendylawton tackles a few of the mysteries of publishing. Click to Tweet