Monday, September 12, 2016

Sometimes Great Stories Don't Sell

I know all agents and editors have received a follow up letter after a rejection where the author complains that the person rejecting doesn't know a great book from a hot rock. They often go on to
say that if the "publisher/editor/agent" were more open to things then... I think you get the idea. While I understand that much of this response is purely emotional venting, what these authors fail to think about often is what that this is a business. We are selling a product to a buyer and that would be the readers out there. If the market simply will not buy the product, then your book will not sell.

What is unfortunate, is that we often see some fantastic writing! There are a lot of you who tell some great stories and create some great characters, but that does not mean the book is going to sell.

As agents and editors, when we look at proposals, we are also looking at projects in terms of the market. We are always doing "market research." In some cases, we are looking at hard core data that the marketing departments have acquired. Many publishers, for example, do this when it comes to titles. They know that certain words in the title will bring the book to a screeching halt, while other titles will see spikes in sales. They also take the time to know what type of characters work and what type don't work.

In other cases, that market research is purely casual. Through conversations with other professionals or simply scanning the bookshelves, we can see who is selling, what they are selling and what the trends seem to be.

If you are someone who loves watching SHARKTANK you have seen similar situations. How many times have the Sharks passed on projects that they liked, or that they liked the enthusiasm of the inventor, but they simply saw no way to market the product? A Lot!

As authors, it is always important to take the time before you start a story to really identify if this is a story that will sell, or one you simply want to write. You may love the project, but if the story is simply not going to sell to the general public, this might not be the story to write, especially if you want to be a professional author.

I remember teaching a workshop at a Romantic Times convention one year and this author came over to chat about her book. She was writing a biography about her mother. This author was very enthusiastic about the project and you could clearly see she had really worked hard with the project. The problem, however, was this story was simply not unique and was not going to sell. She was writing about what it was like to grow up in the depression. She was focusing in on how the family struggled and how they had to manage on a limited income...and to take a line from Sienfeld "yada, yada, yada." Her only answer as to what was unique about this story was that it was a story that "had to be told."

This is a case, where that story was one that was indeed important to the other members of her family, or the people who know her mother, but for someone on the outside, this was nothing more than the same things we all read in our US History books.

So, please remember, there are times when we know we are passing on good projects. But, also remember that we are all in this for the same reason. We want to sell those books.

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