Tuesday 2 August 2011

Bookstores need shelves for the not so tidy boxes ...

So I've been mulling over genre and how if authors want to eventually be published by the big six they need to fit strictly into a particular box, which is ultimately determined by those who dominate the industry.

Honestly, IF THEY WANTED to market books that didn't fit into a clear cut box, they could. They have the resources to do so. All they have to do is tell the public what's hot and they'll buy it. When it comes to the big six, it all comes down to marketing. I think that is a sad fact.

I'm not saying that writing can be bad and made to become a worldwide hit (though I doubt it hasn't been done), I'm saying that those who have the power can market anything they want to and make it sell. If they wanted to make an unpopular genre popular, they could do it. I'm certain of it.

So WHEN are the writers that want to write OUTSIDE THE BOX going to be seen for their sheer originality and talent and given a shelf of their own? Why can't there be a shelf in the bookstore that says "Literary/Women's/Western/Speculative-Cross," for example? (yeah, that's going a bit overboard, but you get my drift, right?)

Do you think this'll ever happen? Why/Why not?


  1. I think a person can write about anything.....as long as it is interesting and is compelling to the reader.
    Enjoyed your views on the subject.


  2. Don't know if this will ever happen. Although it sort of does happen for writers who are already established. So maybe we just have to follow the rules to get published and then write what we wish once we have a fan base? That seems like being a sellout.

  3. Sadly, no I don't think that will happen esp. with bookstores carrying fewer and fewer books. I think if ereaders had never been invented and the market never crashed - the really good ones might have broken through.

  4. The bookstores will only narrow their genres, not widen. However online, I'm sure it will be a different story.

  5. +JMJ+

    Jessica, your hypothetical "Literary/Women's/Western/Speculative-Cross" actually makes me think of Steampunk! So perhaps that shelf already exists! =)

    My own view of marketing, however, isn't so rosy. I've read lots of case studies (and seen some real life examples) of perfectly good products failing because the target audience just wouldn't buy them. Take McDonalds' Arch Deluxe burger from the 1990s: it was a pretty good fast food hamburger (which I even ordered from the menu several times!) that got a really creative national TV ad campaign in the US and a high-profile Radio City Music Hall launch . . . but it ultimately didn't sell.

    Anyway, I also have no doubt that these experienced publishers can market the heck out of any book they wanted. Maybe they already have and been really unsuccessful. So now they're not so eager to try.

    But I also think that people who deal with books just naturally think in terms of genre because it gives us such neat and useful mental categories. Hence the lumping together of books as different as George Eliot's Middlemarch and J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, because both are considered "Classics". (At least that's how they're shelved in many chain stores I walk into!) I once knew a reader who was so frustrated with the idea of genres and subgenres and hybrids and such (which happen to fascinate me to no end) that she said she wished all stores would arrange their books alphabetically, by author, so that we wouldn't have to worry about what fits into which category. (Really overboard, I know! LOL!)

    I also think anything that is outside of all the established genre boxes will just inspire those in the industry to make a new box. A few years ago, thanks to Oprah's Book Club, it seemed that everyone was trying to sign writers of "Oprah books." It had become a small genre of its own.

  6. It's funny you say this. My manuscript was read by several and the major consensus was that it was too unique. They weren't able to market it. I went and told my husband that after I wrote several fresh new takes on old ideas and sold them they'd then look at my unique idea and sell it. Yes, because I was established. I think right now that's how they make their way to the shelves. That person can sell books. Therefore it can be anything.

  7. With fewer brick and mortar stores, that means even less shelf space, so I forsee them being even more strict in publishing only books they feel will sell. They simply don't have the wiggle room to carry niche books anymore.

    However, if they learn how to market ebooks, then that can all change.

  8. I think this is a 'bang for the buck' thing. Something that fits in a box doesn't require the same effort to describe--the audience knows what to expect with just a few words and fewer of the 'wrong people' pick it up, so it's received well.

    I LOVE outside the box books, but I don't see big publishers taking them on very often because it is more work.

    It's frustrating, because this is more what I like to write, but it sure was easier to get a deal with something that fit VERY easily in a very specific spot. I figure I will build my name recognition and then get back to it.

  9. I agree with what Alex said above, online it the place where you can tag books with whatever label you want and make it easily searchable. Bookstores are limited by space (and their bottomline).

    Moody Writing

  10. I totally know where you're coming from on this, and I think it would be great if that happened...but I think one of your other commentors was right when he said the bookstore genres will narrow and the kind of expansion you're looking for will happen online. Retail space is tight, tight, tight, and the proverbial bookstore is struggling to survive. In Edmonton, we've seen a drastic reduction in the number of book stores, but also the size of the ones left.

    Those stores are making room for the books published by the Big 6, because they are a guaranteed sale. This weekend I was in the bookstore and saw three NEW books by James Patterson - a middle grade novel, a new series novel, and a new Alex Cross novel. Tough to make room for something outside the box when one author is pumping out THREE books that so tightly conform to the box.

  11. I don't know if it'll happen or not.

    With Borders closing, MIke and I went book shopping the other day. He came home with three zombie books he was all excited about and made it halfway through two before he had to put them down.

    He said grammar, along with characters being completely out of character for the sole purpose of moving forward the plot stopped him from continuing on. They were both pubbed by the big six, and in a small bookstore that only carries a small stock. Really??

    On the same note, some of my favorite reads last year were self-pubbed books - Grounding Quinn and Geek Girl. Both YA, both self-pubbed and both really fun reads.

    So, yeah. I think it means that people who are serious about finding good books will find them, but whether or not they make it into one of the big stores? I don't know. I will say that I'm totally grateful for the internet and the words of books it's opened up to us all.

  12. I wouldn't even worry about the Big Six and what they want or don't want. Everything is changing so fast, and it's the ideal time for writers to work on whatever genre they feel passionate about, and do their very best work with it.

    Plus, the big publishers cannot make a hit out of anything, despite their marketing dollars. If they could, they would do it every time. There are a lot of unknown factors in creating a bestseller.

    Water for Elephants didn't do much until indie bookstores got behind it. The Shack was a self-published book that bookstores wouldn't look at twice. Harry Potter started out with a print run of 100 because the publisher didn't think it would sell.

  13. There is no unrealistic goals - only unrealistic deadlines.
    Therefore, set a plan, and go for it!
    I'm always here to support you.

  14. Welcome back to the "real world", AlliAllo!

    Glad to know you got back safely and had a ... uh... had a... time.

    Anyway, I ain't got nuttin' to offer regarding the topic at hand (surprised?), but I just wanted to say:

    Welcome back to the "real world", AlliAllo!

    Glad to know you got back safely and had a ... uh... had a... time.

    So that's what I did.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  15. Great point! Now you have me thinking...

    Have a good week! :)

  16. I think this is where the small presses and self publishing is coming into the fore. We are seeing are larger variety of books that aren't necessarily dictated by the big six.

  17. I guess it would only happen if the editor or publisher was convinced that the book would go above and beyond. Or by word of mouth, as with Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.

  18. Sadly, everything comes down to money. If the influential people in the business don't think a book will take the market by storm - read that as make them tons of money fast - then why waste time with it? I guess this is why so many writers with books that don't-quite-fit-neatly-into-any-particular-genre opt to try small publishers. The small presses are a lot more willing to take a chance on something unique.

  19. I just hope there will continue to be bookstores in some form or another. The very concept of a physical structure is a confining idea with limitations and by that very nature the genres must be kept to minimums. I agree with those that internet tagging provides more possibilities for outside the box labeling and authors should be content to find whatever shelf they can wherever they can and hope that marketing and word of mouth will get their products to the public's attention.

    Tossing It Out


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