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!