Friday, December 08, 2006
Narrowed Audience--a Good Thing
After yesterday’s post on segregated shelving, I found another interesting article—this one in Publishers Weekly. In an indirect way it gives an opinion on the shelving issue.
The article was written by novelist Marta Acosta, who recently published a “comic novel” entitled Happy Hour at Casa Dracula. She was surprised to see that the book’s jacket and marketing pegged it as “women’s fiction” and some of its subcategories, rather than general fiction. (That she was surprised by the marketing copy surprised me. I always see my marketing copy way ahead of time—in fact, I write it. But that is a topic for another day.) Agh! thought Acosta. These labels are limiting my sales by ignoring men as potential customers.
Acosta followed the seemingly reasonable logic that targeting a smaller, more limited audience would naturally cost any book in sales. But as she researched about this issue, she found she was wrong. She quotes Joel Vincent, a marketing consultant in San Jose, California: “There’s definitely a philosophy that satisfying one set of customers 100% is more effective than toning down your appeal to that segment in order to be attractive to other customers.” In other words, “going whole hog” with the most likely audience, even if it’s narrower, is a far more successful strategy than a wide spray of bullets. (Needless to say, the mixed metaphor is mine.)
So, thinking back to what we discussed yesterday, those of you who said it’s easier to find a certain type of book if it’s shelved in its own section may be right from a marketing/sales standpoint as well as the customer/buying standpoint. The publishers are thinking target audience when they write marketing copy. The merchandisers are thinking target audience when they shelve the book with that marketing copy. Bottom line, we authors are concerned with sales numbers for our books. If romance sells better because it’s in a romance section (where romance readers know to go), and mystery/suspense sells better because it’s in the mystery section, why shouldn’t Christian fiction (or black fiction) be shelved where it’s readers know to go?
I will say, however, that I agree with Becky’s comment from yesterday. I think Christian fiction segregated shelving is fine, but I wish it would be in its own section in the fiction area, not in the “religious” area. That way, fiction browsers who happen to be Christian, yet not familiar with many of our books, might find us as writers. That’s not nearly as likely when we’re stuck in the middle of nonfiction titles.
I wonder—when is the last time you found an author new to you simply by browsing (not by word of mouth)? Most likely you were already in that section of the store. (Or perhaps you saw the book staring you in the face the moment you came through the door. You know—in one of those $10,000, man-what-I-wouldn't-give slots. Which, again, is a topic for another day.)