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.)


Grady Houger said...

Specific sections means you don't have to be bothered with those weird novels about elves piloting space ships or the boring ones about ordinary humans who ride around in taxi cabs and yell at each other.
I find less than one interesting book a year by bookstore browsing. The back cover rarely tells the theme and values contained, and it takes a friend to tell you if a books worth reading.

Anonymous said...

I actually found one in the library a couple of days ago. The only way I'll try a new author is if I can find one in the library. I know this isn't exactly what authors want to hear, but when the money's tight, there's no way I want to feel like I've just "wasted", on average, $15.00 or so on a book.

Anyway, I found Tamara Leigh's Stealing Adda. I LOVED IT. So will feel good about spending money on the next book she has coming out in 2007. Can't remember the title...something Kate. Anyway, I won't hesitate to run right over to my Christian bookstore and plunk down my cash.

That's how I got started on you, Brandilyn. Well, almost. I found Eyes of Elisha at a discount store, and paid about $3.00 for it. After that, there was no waiting for the discounts or the library, I've bought, at full price, every book you've written thereafter. Same with Dee Henderson. I stumbled upon her too.

Anyway, that's how I usually come across new authors.

Just FYI...


Anonymous said...

Oh, I meant to add, that I personally would love it if all the Christian Fiction were shelved accordingly in one section, by themselves...or by publisher, although I know this wouldn't help the average reader who isn't familiar with the Christian Publishing houses. The main way I found Stealing Adda at the library was...

I don't look at the new releases by title, I look at the bottom of the spine where the name of the publishing house is, then if it's one I recognize as a publisher of Christian Fiction, I look at the title. Then I read the back and if it sounds interesting, I take it home.

Weird, I know, but hey, I'm an author.

Cara Putman said...

I picked up a new ABA thriller writer at the library this week sans recommendation. But I certainly wouldn't buy one first. I'm a little freer with CBA books, because I know there is a baseline of content I won't deal with. I haven't read the book yet, so we'll see if it was a good gamble or not.

Tina Ann Forkner said...

So, can anyone individually do anything to have their book shelved in the fiction area? Or is this set in stone?
I have a feeling I need to read yesterday's post, which I am sorry I missed. Will read it asap. :)

Kristy Dykes said...

Very interesting post, B, AND interesting quote by the marketing consultant. Is applicable to something I'm writing now. Thanks for a great post.

Eden said...

2001 was the last time I found a new author by simply browsing. I was in Costa Rica teaching Spanish for the summer. The school had an adult reading section that was completely unorganized. I started browsing the titles. Postmortem by PC was the one that popped out at me. I loved it and have read most of PC's Kay Scarpetta books.
I don't go to bookstores or libraries very often b/c my MIL usually gives Steve and I about 5 books a piece every Christmas. So I read mine and then I read his.
Now when I do go to a bookstore, I'm usually looking for hard cover classics, etc.
I want Olyvia to be well-read in the classics by Poe, Dickens, Chaucer, Twain, Tolkien, Lewis, Hawthorne, Homer, Bronte; just to name a few.

J. Mark Bertrand said...

Moving the "inspirational fiction" over to the fiction section makes sense to me. Should it also be divided into the various genres -- i.e., inspirational suspense, inspirational romance, etc. -- rather than lumping the books together and alphabetizing them? The way I see it done at most stores suggests that "inspirational" is the genre and the books are all the same, but that is not really the case.

But if one breaks the inspirational books down by genre, perhaps those sections should go with the parent genre rather than being grouped together as inspirational. So a section in the mystery shelves is set aside for the inspirational mysteries, and so on. Obviously, this will never happen -- I'm just curious about what the ideal arrangement would be, one that allows readers who know what they want to find it, but also allows readers of the parent genre to discover books of that sort by Christian authors.

Anonymous said...

I do the majority of my browsing on Amazon. I browse by genre, not by ABA/CBA. I already said it yesterday,I would love to see the CBA titles in with the ABA by genre.

This might sound a little elitist, but I only trust "word of mouth" recommendations if I already know the person's taste.

I have bought a book or two from one of the front tables after reading the back cover, and when browsing the ABA fiction section. In my fav used bookstore, the books are divided by hardcover/paperback/trade paperback, not into ABA/CBA. I usually visit with a specific author or book in mind, but I have bought a couple of "unknowns" from reading the back cover.

Since money is tight, I visit B and N with a pad and pencil in hand. If a book looks good, I write the ISBN down, go home and read about it online. If it still sounds promising, I buy it (at a lower price online,) borrow it at the library, or find someone who owns it and ask to borrow. I know that might take the "fun" out of simple browsing, but when there are limited funds to spend on books, I hate to waste money. I have a pile of books on the floor near the door, ready to trade in because I bought them impulsively without researching them first.

Anonymous said...

I usually buy my books through or after I decide what I want by browsing at the Christian book stores. I used to buy all my books at the Christian books stores until the books got smaller and the prices stayed the same or went up. When there's a good sale, I still buy at the Christian book stores because I really do want to support them. (When I worked for one a couple years ago, we could take the books home, read them, and bring them back as long as we took care of them. I read about 3 a week--it was awesome.)
Very rarely do I take someone's word for a good book because most of my reader friends have different more all-encompassing tastes than I do. I'm usually the one they ask about books or borrow the books from.
I discover the authors I like and will support them by buying their work. I've never checked out a novel from the library since I was a kid. Only books for research, info there.

Anonymous said...

As always, Brandilyn, an interesting post and thought provoking.

I've been saying for some time that I'd like to see just a general fiction section in bookstores where novels are listed alphabetically by the authors name. I think it would open authors up to a larger audience. The employees at the ones I buy from seem to agree and say it'd make their job easier by not having to separate the novels by genre.

Though the majority of novels I read are from a certain genre I enjoy others too. I wasn't always this way. If it wasn't Ludlum, Clancy or the like I didn't touch it. That is, until I started reading the jacket blurbs and found some interesting ideas. I found a guy named Peretti this way and another one named Dekker. Maybe you've heard of them. :-)

When I consider these thoughts I'm thinking of it in terms mainly to do with the whole secular/sacred issue. There are some great Christian novels that I believe anyone would like but they don't find them 'cause they're dumped in a corner labeled Christian. Or if they did happen to see it from afar when they're picking through Knootz and King or whatever they wouldn't dare buy it because it's 'Christian' and they come at it with certain preconceived ideas of what that means. I've loaned Christian novels to folks who'd never read one. I didn't tell them it was Christian, just that it was a great read. Without exception they agree after reading them and are shocked to learn they were Christian.

I'm thinking of how Robert Liparulo's novels are marketed. Each of his novels are Christian themed and published by a Christan house. Yet in the bookstores I go to his novels are either in General Fiction or Mystery/Suspense. Not Christian Fiction. Both his novels are very successful at this point. Sells are good. Movie rights have been purchased for each and his latest novel is going to have a video game version. I believe his next novel--which isn't even completed yet--has already had the movie rights purchased. How many Christian novels have had these kind of opportunities? Not many. I'd venture a guess that it has to do, in part at least, with the marketing of his titles.

It was mentioned that a lot of stores group Christian fiction with Religious Non Fiction. For what it's worth, the bookstores I go to have Christian fiction in it's own section, separate from nonfiction. Though it's usually side by side, there is a clearly marked sign telling you what section you're in a fiction section, not it's non fiction companion.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Brandilyn, I'm not a marketer, but aren't there different goals for books? I mean, some books are clearly aimed at a specific market--readers who like certain types of fiction. For instance, when I told you I didn't read horror, didn't like to be scared, you told me not to read your books (and if you wrote horror, I wouldn't read them, but you don't, so I do! ;-) In other words, you were aware that I wasn't your target reader.

I think most romance writers understand that not everyone enjoys reading romance, so it surely wouldn't make sense to market outside the target audience.

But what about the big sales books? Do they become that because they are so successful with their target audience, it spills out, or are they so successful because marketing looks at the general public as the target audience?

As to your question, I can't remember buying a book without a recommendation unless I'd read the author already. I do find new authors via the library, but I don't spend money on a "maybe." Not even those in the $10,000-up-front display.

I don't even spend as much time looking at those books any more now that I know their publisher rents the space. It does catch my eye when I see a Christian publisher putting a book there. I mean, they must believe in the book (or author) a lot to put up the big bucks.


~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Mark, there has been a move in recent years to try separating fiction by genre in Christian bookstores. Those stores who have tried it (they tend to be the bigger stores that have room to do this) have mostly felt that it works better. Sure. This isn't rocket science. It's simply that in Christian stores, fiction just 10 years ago took nowhere near the shelf space it does now. So as our fiction market tends to grow, I think genre shelving will become more ubiquitous.

Becky, some "big sale" books, whether ABA or CBA, cross genre/gender lines, but others sell great because they have built a large audience in their target. In CBA, look at some of the biggest continuous sellers. Karen Kingsbury, Lori Wick, Beverly Lewis--all are gender-specific for women. Ted Dekker does well, and he's genre-specific for suspense. I'd say it's about the same for ABA. The PW article said that romance and chick-lit are the hugest sellers in ABA now, and they're clearly gender-specific.

Eden said...

Can you make some suggestions of some good authors I might enjoy, please. Thank you bunches.

Everyone Else,
If you have extra books around the house that you are interested in parting with, check out this cool website.

My friend Sandra (Diary of a SAHM) introduced me and it's been a lot of fun.

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

For Eden, and anyone else--if you'll email me personally with your particular tastes in reading, I'll try to recommend a new author for you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brandilyn! Just stopping by with a hug and warm holiday greetings. Enjoyed the post as always. I tend to browse through Amazon and read reviews instead of browsing bookstores lately.

Anonymous said... is there a Christian publisher for inspirational fiction targeted for multi-ethnic teens and twenty-somthings dealing with relevant topics in various genres (i.e. Sci-Fi, romance, etc.)??? How's that for being specific? That's the main audience I'm looking to connect my stories with.