Tuesday, June 15, 2010

There's always a market for Awesome.

Q: Are chapter books a tough sell for a debut author? What if they are 10,000 words?
Q: Are Nonfiction picture books possible to sell? What if there are photos? 
Q: Is there a market for boy YA? What if it is paranormal? What if there are sharks?
These are examples of the class of question that is the most frequently asked, and also possibly my least favorite. Don't get me wrong, I totally understand why authors ask... it is just that I don't have an answer!

People love to make pronouncements about what will or won't sell, or what there is or isn't a "market" for, what you can or can't do as a writer, and they are mostly wrong.  For every person who has said "Picture books don't sell" in the past year, there are ten picture books that did just that. For every blog post waxing philosophical about some imaginary rule like "Picture books must NEVER be over 1000 words!" or "You must NEVER write a YA in second person!" or "Delete all prologues! -- there are examples of people who have broken those rules and thrived.  They may only be the exceptions that prove the rule... but they are out there, waiting to torment writers who just want to know for a FACT that they are on the right track.

I've said it before and I am sure I'll say it again:

There is always a market for AWESOME. 

"Boy Books" are notoriously difficult to sell. But the first thing that I ever sold -- when I barely knew how to be an agent yet! -- was a boy book, and I sold it in just a couple of weeks.  And it has gone on to garner starred reviews and awards and just general love from the universe. Why?  Because it was really, truly Awesome.   
In this down economy, when picture books are supposedly near-impossible to sell, we as an agency have sold 30+ in the past year. Why?  Are we magicians? Are we bewitching editors? No. (Well... maybe. I mean, I can't give away ALL the secrets.) But I can tell you this: We've sold this many because they're Awesome -- they are the best of the best.

How many "Kinda Good" or "Just OK" picture books have we sold?  I'm gonna guess ZERO.
Nonfiction is often said to be difficult to sell. And it is.  But if you have a perfectly wonderful, well-written, interesting, surprising, timely piece of nonfiction that will appeal to schools as well as bookstore patrons, on a topic that is not overdone but also not completely obscure, you'll probably find it fairly easy to sell.

So you see that it is pretty much impossible for me to say if your nonfiction picture book will sell (particularly without a point of reference, writing sample or anything else) -- because it totally depends on not only how good that individual book is, but also the timing of it: what other books on similar topics the editor has seen recently, the weather is like in New York that week, etc.  So a lot of it is not only being Awesome, and The Best of the Best, but also, Good Timing... which means, well, work hard and hope you have a four-leaf clover.

And no, I can't easily answer this type of question.

Get it?


  1. These questions make me think of a giant supermarket full of book ideas. Editors wander around with shopping carts, sometimes in a daze, and have to go find someone in an apron to ask "Where's the contemporary love story with a twist?"

    "Aisle 9, at the bottom. You go past Paranormal, take a left at mer-things. Once you see the cardboard cutout of a cheerleader smacking a werewolf with her pompoms, look down. If you wander into Civil War Era historicals, you've gone too far."

    The editor says "thanks" but suggest next time the clerk should try and deliver his answer in 3rd Omni. rather than 2nd.

  2. LOL, Josin!

    I wish that editors and bookstores wanted more boy books. My sons are big readers, but they are hitting that plateau (at ages 12 and nearly 10) where they've read much of the MG out there, and are facing the barrenness of little boy YA books.

  3. Love this answer. I think some times, we as authors want concret answers but the fact is, there just aren't any. I will write a boy book different than the next person. Their's might be awesome and mine not. So while there's not a market for my boy book, there is for Joe's.

    *Sigh* Now to go work on an awesome book ;)

  4. In both the recent #askYAeditor and #askagent chats on Twitter (yes, I've been lurking!), I couldn't help noticing this recurring theme. As book buyer and bookseller, I agree wholeheartedly: if it's an outstanding book, we'll find a way to sell it.

    If you write something to a formula or to fit certain criteria, chances are it won't be honest and exciting and brilliant, and even if you get it published, stores won't be excited about buying it from the publisher and then selling it to the consumers.

    Go ahead and write the book you are passionate about, and worry about the marketing later. Better to have an outstanding book that takes a while to place. Just my opinion.

  5. I completely agree with this. I often here people say "don't write a book on such and such right now. Agents aren't looking for that."

    My take is, if I write a book, I want it to be good enough that it doesn't matter what's "hot" at the moment. An awesome book is an awesome book. They aren't gonna be like... "Wow! This book is awesome! I think it might be the next bestseller...buuuuut, I'm not looking for books with elephants right now."


    Excellent post!

  6. Another great post! Especially encouraging to a writer of "boy books."

  7. clientm10:50 AM

    Okay, but . . . let's just say theoretically that you write a book, and every editor who looks at it says, "Love the writing, but I don't think I can sell this topic." Wouldn't it be nice to know that before you write the book?

  8. Anonymous11:14 AM

    Okay, but . . . let's just say theoretically that you write a book, and every editor who looks at it says, "Love the writing, but I don't think I can sell this topic." Wouldn't it be nice to know that before you write the book?

    But no one ever knows this up front, really.

    And editors change, and this year's unsellable book can be next year's hot book.

    And no one can ever take away from us the experience of writing a book we really really want to write, and knowing the market is tight isn't always reason not to write it.

    Many books are hard sells, but it's the rare book that is both brilliant and that one knows, up front, has no chance of selling whatsoever.

  9. Ah yezz. Zee problem iz zat mozt of our zelf-awezomenezz meterzz need recalibration!

  10. I get it. Thank you so much. All writers need to work on is making some AWESOME. Everything follows that and if you have AWESOME it creates it's own market.

  11. Hmmm....I thought it was all about writing because you must/have to/want to....if you write to sell move to advertising..B

  12. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    I'm always on about this. People spouting rules like a leaky pot spouts water. There are no absolutes. Appreciate the rules and why they're there, but if you want absolutes, give up on writing and be a mathematician!

  13. Wow, terrific post! Just might be time to query you. Keep up the tweets -- love 'em!

  14. OOOOH! The new blog layout is great!

    So pretty.

  15. Oooh nice new blog design.. I fee like I am visiting your private library.

  16. Great post. "Awesome sells" is a great way of getting to the point. If a book is awesome, it will sell eventually. Of course, awesomeness can be subjective, to a point, can't it? But I get it: a book that simply can't be argued against will eventually find a market or make its own.


  17. Good point, and something for writers to think about. Writing what is popular now may not be when your book is ready to sell.


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