As ‘everyone’ knows, there is no money in academic publishing, especially for authors. (True? Not always.) Indeed, a lot of authors find the whole issue of money rather distasteful (for them, it’s all about the scholarship, not money). Others have no objection to fame and fortune – and preferably great dollops of both – but the grubby mechanics of attaining these is something they’d rather leave to the creatures in Sales and Marketing; editorial staff are the publishing people with whom they feel most comfortable.
What success requires
But even if getting rich is not your purpose in getting published, almost certainly you are interested in seeing your book succeed. Unfortunately, this is your responsibility, too; achieving success cannot be totally delegated to others.
Why? Because in most cases, the ultimate success of any book is far less affected by its promotion before and after publication than people imagine. What has much greater effect is that the book’s inner qualities and its suitability, its attraction to readers – in other words, its market fundamentals (genre, readership, level, etc.) – are thought through and implemented right from the start. This is something that only authors (if they know their field and subject) can do successfully.
In short, there is a direct and vital link between the success of a book and thinking its market. And you (with all other authors) stand squarely in the middle.
(By the way, this is not to say that marketing, the active promotion of a book, doesn’t matter. It does, and this is something that authors should also concern themselves with. I’ll return to this in later posts.)
Failure to think market, think reader, can have unfortunate consequences, as was the case with Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld.
A cautionary tale
Alexander McCall Smith is famous for his series of books centred on Precious Ramotswe, proprietor of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. (If you haven’t read them, they are worth investigation.) However, far less well known is his trilogy of comic novels exploring the insane and rarefied world of Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld of the Institute of Romance Philology. Von Igelfeld’s greatest achievement is his beautifully leather-bound monograph, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, which everyone in his field (all 100 of them) say is the definitive work on the subject. Needless to say, few if any buy the book and, in an effort to recoup some of their investment, Von Igelfeld’s publishers propose selling off the stock as shelf filler to a home decorating company. Sadly, it is also proposed that the book’s title as it appears on the spine be changed to Portuguese Irregular Herbs, thereby attracting customers with a gardening interest …
Why thinking about the market/readers is important
Von Igelfeld is not unique in the academic world for having a narrow interest – and few readers for his books. Nor, I suspect, would he (or the many others like him) easily be persuaded to broaden his offering. But what has changed in recent years is the willingness and ability of academic libraries to buy such specialized books. Library sales have been declining for years and one thing you can be certain of: the current economic recession/depression will not make things easier here.
Nor is it simply a matter of falling library sales. As Alan Thomas from the University of Chicago Press has noted, sales to individual scholars have also collapsed.
The collapse of the library market for monographs is easy to identify and explain. We have been less willing to explain the decline in the market for monographs among individual scholars. It is commonly observed in many fields [that] scholars do not buy the kind of books they write. Nor, incidentally, do they assign those books in courses.
– Alan Thomas, contribution to ‘Outlooks in University Press Publishing: The Crises, the Opportunities’, Asian Studies Newsletter, 2005.
The implication here is obvious, I think.
Nor is it simply a matter of authors finding that sales of their published books are disappointing; it may be that they cannot in fact get published at all. Certainly, academic publishers have reacted to the crisis by getting much more tough and ‘commercial’ in their decision-making. Today, their likely response to the assertion that ‘Market is a six-letter word’ would be to retort, ‘So is “author”.’
In other words, if you want to be a (published) author, then thinking about the market/readers is unavoidable. Just how you go about this will be explored in posts over the next few weeks.
Alternatively, you can jump to the head of the queue by reading our book. It’s available just about anywhere.