A week ago I was at Fraley’s birthday dinner at the Burren, right up the block, and another attendee mentioned his attempts to sell a book. I had just given Fraley a copy of Joel’s book, Your Religion is False (hilarious, I assure you), and used it as a conversation piece: how Joel had gone to LightningSource for print-on-demand publishing; how he’d marketed to other humorous/secular blogs; how he’d used his own blog as a point of audience contact, etc. Since the other attendee was trying to sell a non-fiction book with a narrow niche in its own right, I suggested he might try a similar path. He took copious notes.
This conversation, along with some recent reading I’ve been doing (more on that in a later post), got me thinking about publishing again. Self-published non-fiction is easier to market than self-published fiction. Non-fiction audiences congregate in easy niches (rock climbers, quilting enthusiasts, frequent travelers, etc): just find the popular blogs and offer them review copies. But fiction crosses broader channels. It doesn’t help that the fiction niches which are easiest to identify – sexy vampire novels, historical romance, conspiracy theories turned into prose – are also flooded with crap. Compare the Fiction and Non-Fiction sections of your average bookstore: one market is saturated, the other isn’t.
Those hurdles aside, the following things are still true: it has never been easier for a writer to publish and market his own work than it is today, and breaking into the traditional publishing market is really hard. An editor (or an agent who sells to editors) might turn down a manuscript for any number of reasons: it doesn’t fit their current publishing schedule; they think the market has no taste for the subject matter; they can’t afford to give the book the push it would need to be profitable; the book’s just garbage. Of those, self-publishing can help bridge the first three hurdles and is no good on the fourth. Part of the reason I’m going to Muse and the Marketplace this weekend is in the wild, unreasonable hope that an agent or editor, having read the first twenty pages of Eminence, will decide yes, this is saleable and we want to buy it. This will render all my speculation about self-publishing moot, for a time. But a larger reason is also just for feedback: just to hear if pros think the manuscript is any good at all. If it is, there’s that fourth obstacle overcome.