Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category
It was the summer of 2000, and my family was headed up to Cold Spring, NY to visit my baby brother, Isaac, who was spending his first summer at sleep away camp. He had given us explicit instructions as to what we should bring up for visiting day: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Book four in the series was released just one day before visiting day, and Isaac couldn’t wait to get his hands on the book.
After our reunion with Isaac, we found a nice spot near the lake, where nearly a hundred other families had already set up picnic blankets. We were excited to hear stories about Isaac’s camp experience. But instead of catching up with his family, what was Isaac doing? Reading Goblet of Fire!
I looked around, and dozens of other children were doing the same thing. Reading Harry Potter! Clearly other families had the same idea to bring the new release up for camp visiting day. Instead of boating on the lake, playing sports, or hiking, so many of the campers were ignoring their families in favor of reading Harry Potter!
What was going on? Kids were reading!!!!
And herein is the real genius of Ms. J.K. Rowling. We all talk about the billion dollar empire that she singlehandedly created, and yet all of that doesn’t speak to the real magic that is J.K. Rowling. With one boy wizard, Rowling had transformed reading for children around the world. Reading became fun again. And not only were children reading, adults were reading too. Harry Potter became an experience the whole family could share together. So forget about the Potter movies, the theme park, and the gluttony of merchandizing. The true magic is that Rowling found the formula to make reading awesome again.
No other writer in modern times has been as transformative as JK Rowling, and for that, I salute her. I know that she has inspired many other day writers to create books that children actually want to read, yours truly being one of those writers. And yet, I don’t know if there will ever be another book as epic and enduring as the Harry Potter series.
This is a big Harry Potter week in my house. We are taking the kids to see the Deathly Hallows Part II on opening night. We’ve had tickets for almost 2 months! In honor of the final adventure in the Harry Potter film series I plan on dedicating my blog this week to all things Harry Potter. So stay tuned this week to more Harry Potter fun.
In recent days, the Twitterverse and Blogosphere have been abuzz about Meghan Cox Gurdon’s article in the Wall Street Journal, Darkness Too Visible. The subtitle is “Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?”
In angry response, a Twitter hashtag, #YASaves has been trending worldwide against the sentiments expressed by Ms. Gurdon.
Ms. Gurdon is correct, the YA shelves are filled with books containing sex, drugs, suicide, and other “dark” topics. And yet, kids are reading! They are reading more today than ever! And this is because the YA reader is identifying with all these “dark” books that Ms. Gurdon poo-poos in her article.
As much as I love books now, when I was in middle school and high school I never considered myself a reader. With reluctance, I read the books that were assigned to me. I remember sleeping through reading The Awakening in 8th grade by Kate Chopin. As a 13 year old, what did I have in common with a woman in a miserable marriage looking for a bit of freedom? Assigned books such as The Awakening really turned me off from reading. It wasn’t until college that I discovered the wonder of books.
But today, kids are reading more than ever before which makes my heart sing! And it’s because YA books are more relevant today. Parents: Let’s be realistic. Kids are faced with “dark” pressures everyday. If they are struggling with a particular pressure and they find solace in a book then why is this such a bad thing? If you want to show kids why certain behaviors are dangerous, you actually have to discuss the behaviors, rather than brush it under the rug. Is anyone really so naive to think that if we don’t talk about sex/drugs/suicide/anorexia/cutting then it isn’t happening?
I don’t remember much of what I read as a young girl, but I do remember reading Forever, by Judy Blume. And why do I remember this particular book? Probably because at the age of 14, Forever was like porn to me! If my mother only knew what Forever was about she probably never would have allowed me to read it. And yet, all these years later I still remember that book. Why? Because as a 14 year old – hormones-raging-crushing-on-boys – kind of girl, it spoke to me!
I found one part of Ms. Gurdon’s article particularly disturbing. The beginning of the article states the following:
Amy Freeman, a 46-year-old mother of three, stood recently in the young-adult section of her local Barnes & Noble, in Bethesda, Md., feeling thwarted and disheartened.
She had popped into the bookstore to pick up a welcome-home gift for her 13-year-old, who had been away. Hundreds of lurid and dramatic covers stood on the racks before her, and there was, she felt, “nothing, not a thing, that I could imagine giving my daughter. It was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff.” She left the store empty-handed.
Seriously? Are you telling me there wasn’t a single book that this mother could find for her daughter? I find this hard to believe. I myself would have been able to recommend several good “wholesome” YA books. Did this mother think to possibly ask one of the booksellers for a recommendation? Come on, lady…buy your kid a book!
When I tell people I am writing a book, the first question they usually ask is, “What kind of a book is it?”
Then I start to fumble.
“Let’s see…it’s kind of a book about kids in a fantasy world.”
“Oh. Like Harry Potter?” they inevitably ask.
“Well, no. Not really. There is no magic in the book. It’s more about a mysterious universe that they are transported to.”
“Oh. Like Narnia?”
“No. There aren’t any mythical creatures or anything.”
Confused look. “Is it science fiction or something?”
Sigh. “Not really.” Sigh again.
It is so important to categorize your book in the correct genre. If you cannot tag your book within the correct genre, you are going to have an awfully hard time selling that book (as you can see by the awkward exchange above). But genre selection can be very perplexing.
So, I write Middle Grade. Is that a genre? Well, yes. But here is where it gets confusing. There are tons of sub-genres within Middle Grade: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Thriller…..
And what happens when your book straddles multiple sub-genres?
A writer must determine the sub-genre of their book. This is critical for the writer to tailor their book to the correct audience, and market their book to the correct agent/publisher . The truth is, if you ever want to see your book on the shelves in Barnes and Noble you need to know your specific genre because there is no shelf called: Middle Grade Fantasy/Adventure with a little Romance.
So what kind of book is mine? For me, this is a toss up between: 1. Science Fiction, 2. Fantasy, or, 3. Action/Adventure.
First off, I think it’s important to understand the difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy. Many people think SciFi and Fantasy are one and the same. This is not true. What makes this even more confusing is that often booksellers will lump these categories together. For example, Amazon lists Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror as one category. What this means is that a book like Treasure Island is thrown into the same category as Frankenstein. Yikes!
So what is the difference between SciFi and Fantasy? Fantasy can never happen. Magic is not real. Elves and dragons do not roam the earth. Make believe is what this genre is all about. SciFi, on the other hand, stretches the bounds of reality but is still grounded in science. Ships traveling at light speed? Probably will never happen, but scientifically it is plausible. Black holes? Unlikely, but can be theoretically explained via science. So these two sub-genres are actually quite different.
Okay, so my book is about kids who are transported to a mythical universe. This cannot happen. There is no science to explain this. My book is fantasy. Yeah! My book has a label!
But wait – my book has adventure too. These kids are in a race against time to get home. There are people trying to stop them. They need to maneuver some tricky situations. This sounds like an adventure book? Is it fantasy/adventure? Is that even a real sub-genre?
The answer is…sort of. I could argue that my book has elements of many genres. Heck, there is even a little romance in my fantasy novel (only a little bit… this is Middle Grade after all). But there is a single, primary genre that an author must choose to represent their work. It is an author’s job to figure this out if publication is the goal.
So I choose fantasy. I think that is the broadest category to represent my novel. I will still argue that my book bleeds over into the adventure category, but for now I am sticking with fantasy.
What do you think? Is it important to pick a genre and stick with it for the sake of marketing and publishing? Or can a book straddle multiple genres?
In 1998, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks starred in a movie called You’ve Got Mail, where the owner of a ginormous bookstore chain is trying to shut down a little neighborhood bookshop. That was the reality back then; the small mom and pop shops could no longer compete with the monster bookstores, such as Barnes and Noble or Borders, with their row upon row of every book imaginable, overpriced coffee shops, and, most damaging, their deep discount pricing.
That was 13 years ago.
Today there is a new bookstore eating monster: The Internet.
I happened to be at my locals Borders today. I was greeted with blazing signs on the storefront: Store Closing! Everything Must Go! 40%-60% Off Entire Inventory! My eight year old son, who considers browsing for books one of this favorite things to do, turns to me with alarm, “Why are they closing Borders?” I responded honestly, “They just couldn’t sell enough books. Business was bad, so they have to close the store.”
The truth is, the big-box bookstores just cannot compete with the likes of Amazon, Apple, and Google. Case in point: even though Borders was advertising this huge going out of business sale, my son picked up a book that interested him which was marked as 40% off, yet it was still cheaper to purchase that book at Amazon. We put the book down with a promise to buy him the book at Amazon; and I was grateful that I didn’t have to wait on the checkout line which was easily 100 people deep (do these people not realize that these books aren’t really such a bargain?).
There is absolutely no doubt that the traditional bookstore is in trouble. With ebook readers such as the Kindle and Nook becoming more popular, the demand for physical books is shrinking. This is a fact. Major book sellers are reporting declining book sales, but ebook sales are growing at lightning pace.
The traditional bookstore is dying the same slow death that record stores faced in the 90s. How many record stores do you see in your neighborhood? Probably not many.
But I have a prediction that may surprise you. It is my belief that while the likes of Borders and Barnes and Noble will suffer a painful demise, the small neighborhood bookshop will rise from the ashes. I’ve already argued why the big-box shops cannot survive. But it is the small bookstore that is poised for a major comeback. Bookstores need a reason to survive, and that reason is a book lover’s need to be part of a bigger community of book lovers – and that is the one service that Amazon, Google, and Apple cannot provide, but the neighborhood bookshop can!
Any brick and mortar shop wishing to thrive in today’s landscape must reinvent the business model to provide services that are impossible to offer via the Internet, Book clubs, writing circles, and author signings, are just a few examples. A small bookstore in my neighborhood recently opened for business. They are offering book-themed birthday parties (think Fancy Nancy or Harry Potter). What a brilliant idea!
If a bookstore wants to be around in five years they must find that special something to bring customers through their front doors, and that will not be books alone. It is these other services – the human interaction – that will drive customers. I’m rooting for the small bookshop!
What do you think? Will Borders and Barnes and Noble be around in 5 years? Can the local neighborhood bookstore make a comeback, or will people only shop on the Internet? Leave your comments below.
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- National Novel Writing Month National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.