Monday, September 19, 2011

Guest Blogger: Amanda Brice

I'm excited to introduce my fellow Ruby Slippered Sister, Amanda Brice. She's a busy mom and new adventurer into the world of self-publishing. She's got some awesome insight for us today!

First of all, I wanted to thank Danniele and the other Playfriends for inviting me here today. I’m really excited to talk about “niche” publishing.


Ever since I decided to jump into the indie waters, I’ve been told that the book cover for my debut teen mystery novel fit right in perfectly with the traditionally published Young Adult books out there. I have to admit, I’m pretty proud of it (shout out to the fabulously talented Amy Lynch of PhotoArt by Amy!). But long before I got to this point, NY didn’t think the book would ever fit in.

My former agent shopped Codename: Dancer widely. The book was named a finalist in Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Golden Heart® Awards, and it had gotten a lot of attention. Editors at several Big Six houses raved about the premise, the writing, the voice, the characters…and even though the manuscript made it to several final acquisitions meetings, ultimately they all passed. Despite editors who loved it, marketing didn’t know where to place it.

The kiss of death.

The YA imprints called it Middle Grade. The Middle Grade imprints called it YA. I’ll let you in on my dirty little secret…they’re both right. It wasn’t that I didn’t know my audience. I just had a different audience in mind.

For years I’ve lamented the fact that there isn’t a category between Middle Grade and Young Adult, despite a large segment of readers who could benefit from one. There’s a real market void. The Middle Grade books are too babyish for this group, yet many YA books are too mature (for lack of a better term). My middle-school-aged niece is a prime example. She’s a voracious reader, and is ready for something meatier than what’s offered for her age group. But my sister-in-law doesn’t want her reading Twilight (and Twilight is actually on the tame scale compared to some YA books out there) yet, and frankly I don’t blame her. Intellectually, she’s ready for it. Emotionally? Not so much.


So with this age group in mind, I sat down and wrote Codename. But because NY didn’t know where to shelve it (is it a “children’s book” or would it go in the “teen section?”), it never sold. Apparently main characters can only be 12-or-under or 16-or-older. Fourteen-year-old high school freshmen need not apply.

Some might consider my book to be “tween” but even that seems a bit limiting, because I know several teenagers who have read it and loved it. And what 13-, 14-, or 15-year-old wants to be lumped in with the 10-to-12-year-olds? Uh-uh. No way. So I’d call it a “Younger YA,” but that’s not an accepted trad-pub term. Where do you shelve it?

That’s the beauty of indie-publishing. With a virtual bookstore, we’re not confined to the categories already in existence. We don’t have to choose whether to shelve something in Middle Grade and Teen (or Mystery and Romance) and can instead cross-list it so we hit all the correct categories…and readers!

Then there was the whole dance element. I didn’t realize it when I wrote it, but apparently dance books aimed at teens don’t sell well. But that could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. New York doesn’t publish YA novels focusing on dance, because supposedly only little girls want to read about dance. And because they don’t publish them, they don’t sell. Circular logic.

Yet today you have tons of popular reality TV shows about dancers. If it can work for TV, why not for publishing?

When I first started researching the indie scene, I came across the fabulous YA novel, Girl in Motion, by Miriam Wenger-Landis. I absolutely loved it. When I discovered that she had self-published, I knew I had to chat with her. I learned that she was a former professional ballerina, who (upon retiring from her dance career at the ripe old age of 22) later worked as an assistant editor at a Big Six publishing house while writing a novel based on her experiences in a ballet boarding school. She told me that she wrote Girl in Motion because it was the type of book she would have wanted to read as a teen.

Same here. That’s why I wrote Codename. I, too, was a dancer in my teens (although not as serious in my training as Miriam). We’d both read the Satin Slippers series as preteens, but that was it. That was in the 80s. And the market hasn’t really changed since then. Very few novels for teenage girls who love to dance. We saw an opportunity, but New York didn’t see it that way. Despite agents who believed in us and strong writing that NY editors loved, both books were deemed “too niche.”

And that’s the beauty of indie publishing. Bob Mayer once said, “The Internet has made things more specialized rather than broader.” By targeting a good portion of our promotional efforts towards the various dance media, we can find a respectable readership. Maybe not a readership that would have a NY publisher jumping for joy, but we don’t have to sell hundreds of thousands. By using freelancers and pricing accordingly, we can be profitable with many less units sold than in traditional publishing.

So the moral of the story is that if you have a “niche book,” don’t be discouraged. It might be perfect for indie publishing. And I bet you’ll have a blast!

So tell us, have you written or read a book you see as a "niche book"? What was your favorite book as a teenager? Amanda will be answering questions for us today and giving away an ecopy of her book. So comment to win!



Instigator said...

Welcome to the Playground, Amanda!

I was a teenage dancer as well and agree that there just weren't a lot of books to read. I love the premise and niche of this book! I read the shoes series (Ballet Shoes, Circus Shoes, etc.) growing up. I've tried to get my oldest daughter interested in the series but she just isn't. She says they're too old because they were written in the 30s and 40s. I'll have to tell her about this book.


Smarty Pants said...

Welcome, Amanda.

Boy, do I know about trying to fit a book into a category that doesn't exist. Right now, I'm avoiding a request that would require me to solidly brand a single title book as 'paranormal romantic suspense.' It has all those elements, but I never really thought it was solidly one or the other. Slapping that label on it raises expectations I'm not sure the book meets.

I understand that young YA issue, as well. Aside from Sweet Valley High, which I hated, there was nothing really for me to read when I got so far ahead of my age range. I ended up just skipping ahead to Harlequins, despite the fact that I was 11 or so, because I wanted to read and there wasn't any other choices. "YA" as it exists now wasn't really an option or I would've eaten it up. there is a huge gap now, too. Good look with filling it. Buck the label!

Playground Monitor said...

Welome, Amanda! And congrats on getting your book out there.

As a teen I read spy novels because I was hooked on "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." And I think that's when I first dipped my toe into romance with Mary Stewart's books. Odd combo, huh?

Angel said...

Welcome, Amanda!!!! I'm glad you could join us today.

I'm going to shamelessly pick your brain today. I have a daughter that is falling into that "middle of the age" category. She's 11, but she's reading way above her grade level. She loved the Warriors series and Percy Jackson, but we've yet to find anything else for her to get hooked on.

I let her read Twilight, because I felt it was less intense than some of the things her friends are reading, like the Hunger Games series. I have no idea what to even look for at the library. :)

Any suggestions?

Also, could you tell us a little more about your self-publishing experience since you released your book?


Donna Caubarreaux said...

I read The Diary of Anne Frank when I was eleven, then when I reread it in high school, it was almost a different book. There were elements I didn't understand when I was younger.

Amanda Brice said...

Thanks for having me!

Angel, just some author suggestions for your daughter...has she read Ally Carter? Or Maureen Johnson? Rhonda Stapleton's cupid series is really cute, as are Melissa Francis' funny vampire books.

Shea Berkley said...

Wonderful post, Amanda! Marketing is so specialized it can be frustrating at times. I write something they're now calling Upper YA. When I wrote the book, it was just a story. I didn't think it was all that different, but because of certain aspects of the story my publisher decided to classify it as an Upper YA. I think developing a Younger YA is brilliant. You're a groundbreaker so don't worry. The industry will catch on.

Cynthia Justlin said...

Amanda, you make such a great point about that void between middle grade and YA. I'm seeing that with my boys. (As well as the fact that there is a huge void for boy-centered upper middle grade/young YA).

And I wrote a book that's sort of a genre blender...too thrillerish/violent/dark for a romance, too romance for a thriller. But if you take away one of those, the book falls apart. It needs both, so I'm not about to change it. :)

((No need to enter me into the drawing! I already have a copy of the fabulous CODENAME: DANCER))

Cheryl said...

Hey Amanda, so glad for you getting yourself out there! I currently have a book, like SP, that is kind of romantic suspense/ paranormal which I can't make fit any publisher. Hearing your words of wisdom is wonderful!

As a teen, I read Marguerite Henry, Mary Stewart, and Frank Herbert. We had no YA novels back in the dark ages. Couldn't stand Nancy Drew. I also began reading Barbara Cartland.

Vanessa Barneveld said...

Excellent post, Amanda! Please keep paving the way for those of us who write books that aren't quite MG, aren't quite YA.

Margay said...

I wish I had books like this when I was a young dancer! I used to read books with stories of the ballets themselves, but not books about dancers as main characters (unless they were biographies).