We already know that more books than ever are being published these days. Figures for 2014 report more than 300,000 books traditionally published and 458,564 self-published. The rise of indie publishing has brought with it many more books, and a surge of new voices. There is much to celebrate about the rise of the independent author/publisher, and yet, looking at these numbers, you can see why industry folks are overwhelmed.
If the number of books being traditionally published represented an already steady stream of titles coming into the world every year, then self-published titles are a fire hose. This is why it’s imperative that indie authors do their research and spend time learning how to think like an industry insider, or hire outside people who have industry experience to maximize their chances for success.
One simple thing every indie author can do before they publish is to consider their positioning. Positioning is marketing term that refers to the way in which a book is angled to consumers, and by extension retail and media outlets. Books are largely positioned based on genre and category, but positioning is further articulated through title, subtitle, descriptive content, keywords, and blurbs. Positioning decisions can also downplay a certain theme by highlighting another that’s more saleable. For instance, addiction sells better than sexual abuse, so a memoir that has both might be highlight the addiction—in its title, subtitle, descriptive copy, and blurbs—and underplay or not even mention the abuse narrative, even though it’s there.
Positioning is often a point of confusion for authors who don’t have marketing backgrounds. I’ve worked with many authors who resent or don’t even consider the notion that certain elements of their book might need to be pared down, or simplified, or edited out entirely from their marketing or jacket copy. Positioning can feel like pigeonholing, or dumbing down, depending on the author’s mindset around such things. Regardless of an individual author’s understanding or thoughts on positioning, its importance is undeniable. There’s little room for nuance when it comes to commercial positioning, and the industry is getting more and more tightly wound in its positioning of titles for the purpose of ensuring their commercial viability in an overcrowded market.
As is the case with any new enterprise, you don’t know what you don’t know. This is particularly true for first-time authors. Because writing is a creative endeavor, and a work of personal expression, many authors are loath to make the necessary changes that positioning sometimes requires. It can involve changing your title to find something more on-trend, or coming up with a subtitle that does what it’s supposed to do—explain your title, or do the heavy-lifting of telling the reader in a straightforward or clever way what your book is about. Most authors I work with want to cross-categorize their books, sometimes choosing categories that, in the world of publishing, are incompatible. For instance, your book can’t be self-help and memoir, even if it is.
Authors who fail to understand why positioning matters do their books a huge disservice. It’s a key component of marketing and sales, and a book’s positioning determines who its buyers are going to be (both retailers and consumers), and what media and reviews it might get. It’s something traditional publishing does very well, and publishers spend time and resources to get it right. Therefore, indie authors should do the same. It may require getting an expert opinion, or creating a focus group. If you’re self-published, you don’t have access to the sales and marketing team that many hybrid and traditionally published authors benefit from, but you can create your own team. Make room for positioning conversations in your publishing plan. Don’t betray your creative instincts, but also remain flexible enough to be open to feedback that might ultimately help your book reach the right audience. You’ll be thankful you did.
Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-light Your Book (June 2016) and What's Your Book?. This is the second installment to a new monthly column she is writing.