What an honor it is for Jena to have us here at Pure Textuality. My name is Shana, and I’m one of the acquiring editors at Immortal Ink Publishing. We’re a small indie publisher specializing in character-based genre and literary fiction. Today, I thought I’d talk a bit about how my experiences as a reader have affected me as both an author and a publisher.
I’d like to start with an analogy. This happened to me last night while grocery shopping. The holidays are coming up, and in my perusal for the perfect holiday dessert, I came across a recipe for raspberry fudge brownies. The mother of a guy I dated in high school used to make raspberry fudge brownies. They are the best! Addictive. For years, I couldn’t find a suitable recipe. No matter what I did, the frosting always ended up runny. Last night, I found a recipe that calls for raspberry extract.
So that’s how she did it! Great, I thought; I am going to make these for our holiday dessert. Excited, I go to the store, not expecting they won’t have raspberry extract. Surely raspberry would be right up there in popularity with orange and lemon. Heck, I know some people who have even gotten banana extract at the store before.
Now, maybe it was just that one store, but there was no raspberry extract. Nor any empty place on the shelves for where raspberry extract might have once been. There were seven rows of vanilla, several of almond, a couple of lemon, and even an orange extract. But no raspberry.
I considered talking to customer service, but I figured they wouldn’t be able to get me raspberry extract in time, and it would take more than one request for them to start carrying it. Maybe I’m wrong. But this wasn’t exactly a small grocer. It’s a chain. Chains carry what sells.
Herein lies the problem. How can you know whether something sells if you aren’t carrying it? Or maybe I’m part of the problem—one of many who don’t speak up about what I really want when I can’t find it.
Well, the book industry is a bit like this. When you go to the book store, there is a LOT of vanilla and a few other flavors. But they might not have exactly what you are looking for. They might have banana and lemon, but no raspberry. Or maybe they have imitation almond, but you’re looking for the real thing.
My business partner, for example, believes horror is a dying genre. Why? He can’t find many horror books in his local bookstore. They have the usual, of course. As if Stephen King should be all any horror fan would ever need. He’s great for a lot of people, but some people want a different style of horror. Because horror isn’t “selling,” it’s not being produced. Because it’s not being produced, it’s not selling. How can something sell if it’s not on the shelves?
Publishers don’t follow trends; they force trends. They look at what has been popular recently, but they shift from one popular genre to the next, it sells because it’s well-promoted and taking up most of the shelf space, not because it’s what readers asked for.
I don’t mind that publishers aim to make money. My only reservation is the publisher’s insisting no one wants to buy books in the genres they have made popular. Other genres would be popular too, if they had the same level of “push”.
As a reader, I get frustrated when I go to the book store and can’t find anything I want to read. This is another reason I buy books online. I can buy older books that the brick-and-mortar stores don’t carry. It’s still upsetting that there are no NEW books coming out in these genres, though. The reason I’m not buying them from stores is because they aren’t there, not because I’m not interested. I’m known to have “mainstream tastes,” so it’s hard for me believe that the reason those books aren’t there is because I’m so unique as to be the only person looking for them.
As an author, I decided to write the books I want to read but can’t find in stores. At the time—before I had the knowledge of the industry—this sounded like a brilliant idea. An idea I was sure inspired most authors! But the reality is, the kind of books I like to read aren’t in stores because no one’s written one or because no one wants to read them. They’re absent because publishers aren’t in the mood to market them right now.
Sure, in the end, my writing style landed me some offers…
If I turned the novel into young adult, or if I added more sex to make it more “adult”. I wrote for the New Adult audience, however small that may be. And maybe it’s only as small as publishers make it. Something tells me it’s not as small as it seems. Look at all the adults who read YA novels…but still wish there was more of an adult edge. Those people are part of my potential audience. An audience I am a part of myself.
I would have sacrificed some things for a publishing contract, but there were also things that I felt made my books, my books. My audience is one of those things. My books are my books because they are New Adult—because they fill a gap in the market for me and readers like me.
As this was happening, I was running a successful editing service (many people I edited for going on to get book deals or agent requests they weren’t getting before). And also at that time, my best friend/writing partner and I were talking about starting some kind of business with books. Some kind of author-promotion site or perhaps a literary magazine. We decided on a publishing house. Through our publishing house, we can promote other indie authors, release anthologies, and even publish our own books. If we can prove ourselves with our own books, maybe other authors would like us to help them with theirs.
We aren’t publishing gurus (yet…hehehe), but we can offer professional editing, professional book covers, money to invest in marketing, “connections”, etc. We’re still huge proponents of self-publishing. We’ve been reading some wonderful indie books lately, such as Amy Kinzer’s Girl Over the Edge, which I would recommend to anyone, YA or Adult.
I’m of the mindset that the publishing world is changing. Perhaps self-publishing does need more gatekeepers, though reader reviews and sample excerpts do a great job of helping with that. At the same time, I’ve read some traditional books lately that I couldn’t even finish. Quality in this industry seems to be slipping overall, but Indies can do well by studying the craft of writing, and by having their books thoroughly critiqued and professionally edited.
In the end, there are several viable options for publishing a book: big publishers, small publishers, self-publishing, and everything in between. An author, no matter which route he or she takes, should ensure the quality of their work before putting it out there. Hopefully, we will see more publishers working for their authors instead of the other way around. The author’s job, IMO, is to provide for their readers. Publishers should help them do this. Instead, we often see authors writing what the publishers want them to and then telling readers this is what they want.
Readers should create the demand, by selecting what they want without being limited to a narrow supply. Demand should come before supply. Instead, we see supply influencing demand.
Readers deserve a larger selection of books. Just like the cook looking for raspberry extract.
Thanks again, Jena, for having me here.
Yours in Books,
From Jena at Pure Textuality – Thanks for visiting us here on Pure Textuality! Loved the post! For more information regarding Immortal Ink Publishing and their authors, please check out their website at http://immortalinkpublishing.com. You can also follow them on Twitter @immortal_ink. Thanks again and we look forward to hearing more from Immortal Ink!
Click here to purchase your copy of Girl Over The Edge from Amazon.com for only $0.99.
I could not agree more. As someone who just self-published a novel, I went through the traditional circus of querying/getting rejected to the point that I started to question my work etc. What I now realize is that sometimes they don’t know where to put you, so they don’t want to put you anywhere at all. My novel, CAGED, which has been reviewed by Jena (thanks for that) is not easy to pigeonhole and I feel that turned agents off of it. Even kindle publishing made it challenging because you could only pick 2 genres to post your novel under…what if that isn’t enough?
I, too, wrote what I would want to read, edited the CRAP out of it so that it wouldn’t be that cliche self-published novel, and then took a deep breath and published. I’m amazed (in the week it’s been out) by how well it’s been received. I love that there are companies like Immortal Ink Publishing out there, fighting for the little guy and trying to get quality books into the hands of readers (that may or may not know that they want it yet).
kudos to you!
Jena, thanks again for having us! We’ll be around to respond to any replies directed our way 🙂
Amber, it was so nice to see this reply from you! I’m glad to hear that this post resonated with you. The ability to self publish–especially when utilized by those like yourself who put the effort into polishing their work–really is a great gift to readers. Pigeonholing may make things easier, but not doing so allows for expansion and the emergence of new genres that readers may become even more hungry for! Keep doing what you are doing! While it may be hard at first to find your audience (though you don’t seem to personally be having trouble with this) you are also at benefit: readers who fall in love with your books will be loyal to you because they can’t get what you offer from anyone else. Sometimes we have to accept these challenges because the payoffs will be even greater.
(PS, Amber… I am also @inkmuse on twitter. We’ve spoken a few times. Neat to cross paths here as well. I’ve purchased a copy of your book tonight as a Christmas present to myself and look forward to reading and reviewing it in 2012)
You hit the nail on the head! As a reader and a general consumer, I agree there must be a better way of marketing. A way that doesn’t force consumers to fit into tiny little boxes. We’re more complex than that. Give readers some credit! We’re not mindless book w****s. Other companies could learn from this too. Show the world how it’s done, Shana!
It’s great to hear from you, Andrea! Marketing can be tricky. For example, sometimes I see some of my favorite novels only have a three star rating. I often wonder if my tastes are really that far off from the mainstream (I doubt it, since the books I recommend to friends usually end up being a hit with them) or if those books just ended up in the wrong readers hands. We need to market books honestly. We need readers to know what to expect from their purchase. To me, it’s more important that a book finds the right hands, than for the book to be bought by tons of people who are bound to hate it. That’s not to say I don’t want a book to read many readers. I do; I just want it to reach many *intended* readers. Readers should have the choice and they should also know what to expect from their purchase. Quality is a given…but what about other aspects that are more subjective? That is all down to finding the right consumer for the book. Additionally, I think it’s great to hear from readers what they want. To me, that Twilight sold millions of copies isn’t nearly as useful as reading the reviews and seeing WHAT the readers love and what they DIDN’T love. That’s one way to determine what readers really want, as opposed to simply looking at what they’re buying. Just because they buy something doesn’t mean they will love it and want 1000 more carbon copies of the same thing. They really might be okay with a little reinvention of the wheel.
At any rate, there’s all kinds of readers out there, and therefore there should be all kinds of books to suit them. Of course, we’re ALL driven by our personal subjective tastes. I don’t claim to be above that because that’s quite impossible. But I am capable of creating a line of books that is different from what’s already out there. And other people are capable, too. And if we all go forth to do that, we can all provide for one (or several) corners of the reading world that aren’t yet fully discovered.
Thanks again for your comment. It’s nice to know my thoughts resonated with you. Keep in touch, please 🙂
Yours in Books,
It is an immutable rule of human progress that 90% of everything we produce is crap. That still leaves a HUGE number of excellent new books available every year. Publishers don’t sift through them and pick the best. They just select a few they are comfortable with, and promote the hell out of them. After all, their job is to make money, not inform the market of the exciting stuff out there.
Ebooks have changed everything. Now most the 100% gets released and the readers have a different problem. In the mountain of crap, how do they find the few new books they would like to buy and read? I wish I had an answer to that one, but in the meantime buy my books! Or Jena’s, of course. Or Shana’s. (Please)
Thanks for posting, Jacqueline!
I agree with you completely. I think this is why having samples available is important, and also why we should appreciate the book bloggers who will read through something and give us their opinion (however subjective, it can still help!) The cream will rise in the end.
As for those big publishers–you nailed it. It’s just about getting by, or throwing some decent books at a wall and seeing what sticks while riding on the coat tails of their current big-name authors. It works for them as a business model, but there are other business models that could work, too.
At least this is what I’m telling myself 😛