Two questions. (If you don’t already know the answer.)
1) What kind of books does she (yes, that’s me) most like to read?
2) What kind of books does she write?
1) Historical Fiction involving Slavery & Civil Rights.
2) Historical Fiction.
Does that match what you thought?
I’m a thirtysomething, suburban, white, stay at home mom, and I’ve always had a passionate interest in books about slavery and civil rights.
I’m also obsessed with all kinds of historical fiction. Don’t get me wrong–I’ll read anything–but when you ask what I LOVE, what I’ll always buy, recommend, and write, it’s historical fiction.
Yesterday I had a book signing at Borders in Annapolis. The Annapolis Borders has a great vibe, so I always enjoy my time there. I obviously enjoy selling my book, but I also enjoy the hidden perk of bookstore signings: watching people. When I’m alone in public under any other circumstances I’m either writing, reading, or messing around on my cell phone. At a signing, I just have to stand and stare. Well, I try not to stare. I don’t want to intimidate people or make them uncomfortable, but I find them fascinating. I also find it fascinating how very wrong I am about a) who’s interested in buying my book, and b) which books will appeal to the different people I see.
I tried (and failed) all day to predict who would buy what. Here’s some of what I found:
a) A businessman in a starched, collared shirt: I thought he’d pick up a book on business, politics, or sports. He picked up Ozzy Ozbourne’s Memoir.
b) Two, teenage boys: I predicted horror or some kind of graphic novel. They were at the romance table.
c) Teenage girl: I thought she’d go straight for the Twilight and adolescent angst section. She actually wanted a book on Russian phrases. Why? Because Caps hockey star Ovechkin is Russian, and well, if they ever meet…
That’s just a small sample of all of the inaccurate judgments I made. Even my Borders help desk friend said “I didn’t see that coming” after a few of my sales. Some of the people who bought my book were a teenage girl, a thirtysomething woman who spoke broken English, a sixtysomething male journalist, a twentysomething male art student, a fortysomething woman who loves historical fiction, a sixtysomething woman who generally reads romances, a thirtysomething woman who loves mysteries, and on and on.
Do you detect a trend, here? I don’t.
All of this is leading to my inevitable conclusion that selling books, particularly fiction, is voodoo. Publishers don’t educate their authors how to market their books because selling fiction is like trying to play pin the tail on the donkey. There’s no science. There’s no rhyme or reason. You have a general idea where to aim, but you’ll never get it exactly right.
It all goes back to what M J Rose said in my last post. You just have to write the best book you know how to write. If it resounds with readers and if the story is memorable there’s hope it will attract a large audience. There are, of course, no guarantees, but all we can do is write great books and hope they find their way into the hands of those who will appreciate them.
Do you agree or disagree with my observations? Writers who’ve done signings, have you had similar experiences? How about those of you in marketing or publishing?