Where Is This Thing Going?

I love bookstores. My wife and I both do. Roaming the aisles, picking up books that catch our eye, then meeting back at the cafe for a latte has been a favorite date night activity for a long time. It’s been especially fun over the last 5 years, since my own novels have started showing up on bookstore shelves (that’s my newest one on the right…shameless plug). But I’ve noticed some unsettling trends in the past few years when we visit bookstores.

Perhaps you have, too.

  • We don’t see as many people walking through the aisles.
  • Or as many book titles on the fiction shelves.
  • Or as many copies of my books, or my author friends’ books, on the shelves.

In the last 2 years, I’ve been reading poll after poll, survey after survey, blog after blog and they all seem to be telling me why. We are in the midst of a massive, tectonic shift in the publishing world. Or maybe better said, in the book-buying world. Things are moving increasingly toward online stores and Ebooks and away from the traditional bookstore.

Let’s take a look at the hottest-selling books in the Kindle store on Amazon at the moment, see if we can learn anything about what’s selling and why:

  • 7 of the Top 10 Bestsellers on Kindle are full-priced books (in the $10-11 range). Most are “brand name” authors like O’Reilly, Stephen King, James Patterson and Nicholas Sparks.
  • But if we extend this list out to the Top 20 Bestsellers, we find 9 books priced at $2.99 or less.

This tells me that lots of people are still willing to shell out decent money for authors they already know and love. But even more readers are willing to buy books by less well-known authors if the books are drastically reduced in price. Another factor…all these books averaged 4 to 4.5 Stars (or better), so it’s clear good ratings matter, too.

What do we find when we narrow the focus to Amazon’s Top 10 Bestsellers in Christian Fiction (again, looking at Kindle sales)? As far as pricing goes, it’s a little different story:

  • Only 1 of the Top 10 Bestsellers could be considered “full-priced,” although 2 are in the $8 range. But 5 of the Top 10 are significantly discounted at $2.99 or less.
  • Extend the list to the Top 20, we find 12 (the majority) are discounted books at $3.99 or less.

Once again, all 20 of these novels have reviews averaging 4 to 4.5 Stars (or better). So once again, solid ratings are another thing that really matters (not just low price).

When I look at numbers like this, it’s no wonder sales at brick-and-mortar bookstores are in serious decline. People are able to instantly preview, then download well-reviewed books for $2-4 a piece. That’s several dollars less than what mass-market paperbacks used to go for.

And it’s not just Ebooks that are selling well. Readers who love to turn real paper pages are increasingly buying their books online rather than at the bookstore. Whenever I get with readers to chat I ask them about their book-buying habits. I keep hearing the same thing. More and more are buying them online, for two main reasons:

  1. Price – they often get print books at much lower prices.
  2. Availability – they can instantly order whatever book they want (complain they often can’t find what they want at bookstores anymore, especially when buying books in a series).

I hate to say this but…unless we experience a horrific solar flare or a huge asteroid knocks out all our internet satellites, I don’t see a bright future for the traditional bookstore. It seems like it’s just a matter of time before this massive shift in the book-buying world relegates the bookstore to the ranks of the Smith-Corona typewriter, the horse and buggy or old wooden ships.

Am I overstating this? What do you see up ahead? Where do you think all this is going? What kind of things do you think will stay the same? What kind of things will permanently change?

Dan
Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of 8 novels, including The
Unfinished Gift, Remembering Christmas
and The Dance. He has won 3
Carol Awards and 2 Selah Awards. Six of his books have been Top Picks on RT
Reviews. Two were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year. Dan is a member
of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach
area where they love to take long walks. To connect with Dan or
check out his books, go to: http://danwalshbooks.com

Pick Me, Pick Me!

I heard a preacher once say, “What’s the first thing you do when you look at a group picture that you’re in? Raise your hand if your answer is: Look for myself.” Guess how many hands were raised?

All of them, including mine.

A couple of days ago, my 9th novel, The Promise, came out. Always an exciting time, for the most part. If you’re still waiting to be published–especially if you’ve been waiting a long time–you might think, “What do you mean, for the most part? You’ve signed a multi-book deal with a major publisher. Something you’ve written is being made into a book and sold in stores all over the place, and you’re getting paid for doing something you love? How can there be a downside?”

For me, there kinda is.

Take a look at the picture above. What do you see? These are all the Christian fiction books being released in September. Just September. And just through traditional CBA publishers. If you add in the books from smaller, independent houses and self-published books, it would be way bigger.

The good news is…my book (The Promise) is among them. The bad news? My book is among them. You can find it…just keep looking.

When I first saw this, I was excited and instantly scanned it to find my book. Then I started looking at books from author friends, happy to find many I recognized (and happy for them, that they have another book coming out). But soon I started seeing this pic from a different angle, from a reader’s POV. Man, that’s a lot of books. SO many books to choose from. What’s the chances they’ll see my book in the middle of this huge pile or pick mine as one of the few books they’ll buy this month?

Then my marketing-self kicks into gear (reminds me of those old cartoons with the little red devil on your shoulder). How can I get people to pick my book, and not all these others (well, they can buy a few others)? How can I stand out from all the rest? There’s way too many books to choose from. I’ve got to do something, anything, to make a splash. How could I make it go viral? Maybe do something on YouTube. No, that won’t work. I’d have to hire a ridiculously good looking model to pretend he’s me. Besides, there’s too many pics of the real me already out there. But I need to do something that’ll cause my book to become a runaway bestseller. The book everyone is buzzing about.

I hate marketing.

Can’t I just write? Can’t I just focus on the stories and the characters? Can’t I just spend my time doing the creative things I love and interact with people for all the good and right reasons? Can’t I just be glad to have a seat at the table and not care which table I’m sitting at, or how close my table is to the front of the room?

The answer is…Yes. Because I’m a Christian. Because I belong to God. My writing life is not a separate compartment from the rest of my life. It, too, falls under the jurisdiction of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Even the marketing parts I hate. Anyway, from everything I’m reading and learning about marketing, there is no science to why one book takes off and another one founders. Some great works of literature wind up going nowhere and some dopey books sell a million.

Instead of desperately crying out to that mass of fiction readers, “Pick me, pick me!” I can let it all go and put my energy and focus on the things I’m gifted at and do best. I’ll still do the various marketing things I’m supposed to do, but I’ll leave the results in God’s hands. It’s too big for me. He’s the One who sets my boundaries. That’s how this is supposed to work.

(A sigh). You know, I feel better already.

So…how do you all deal with this stuff?

Dan
Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of 9 novels, including The
Unfinished Gift, Remembering Christmas
and The Dance. He has won 3
Carol Awards and 2 Selah Awards. Six of his books have been Top Picks on RT
Reviews. Two were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year. Dan is a member
of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach
area where they love to take long walks. To connect with Dan or
check out his books, go to: http://danwalshbooks.com.

Do You Judge a Book By Its Cover?

File:Old book bindings.jpg
Photo by Tom Murphy VII

You know that old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s an
old saying that makes sense because it’s something we typically do. We
DO judge books by their covers. Their covers and their titles.

I know I do. I may be an author, but I’m also a reader.

When I’m walking through a bookstore that’s exactly what I’m doing.
Cover after cover, title after title. I only pick up ones that grab me
or peak my interest. It doesn’t mean I’ll buy them, but they don’t even
stand a chance if the cover doesn’t work.

Obviously, I’m talking about books by authors I don’t know or haven’t
read before. If I know and love the author, I’ll buy the book whether I
like the cover or title at all. But I’m always on the lookout for a new
book and new authors and, with them, the covers and titles definitely
matter.

This issue often creates a challenge between authors and the
marketing folks in traditional publishing houses. When authors finish a
book, we’ve typically spent between 6 months and a year on it. For most
of that time we’ve been calling it something; often referred to as a “working
title.” It’s called that because the author’s title rarely survives the
marketing process (unless you’re a mega bestselling author. In which case,
you get to call all the shots). My books are selling well, but that’s not my situation.

I have 8 published novels on the
shelf now, 2 more due out in Sept and next April. Both have official covers and
titles already fixed. Of those 10 books, guess how many of my working
titles made it onto the actual books? Only 4. Six of my titles are not
mine. Some (won’t say which ones) I didn’t even like. I will tell you
which titles were mine: The Deepest Waters, Remembering Christmas, The Dance and What Follows After (the one due out next April).

As for my covers, I’ve liked all but 4 (won’t say which ones). My
biggest gripe is probably when we settle on a cover that, to me, seems
to have absolutely no tie-in to the book. I’ve actually gone back with a
couple of my books, after the cover was decided on, and added several paragraphs to the story so the
reader won’t be asking, “Now what in the world does that cover have to do with this book?”

The Promise - CoverI’m curious…how much do you judge a book by its cover and/or its
title? Does it matter much to you when considering a book by an author
you don’t know? Have you bought books with covers and/or titles you
didn’t find appealing? Do you have any pet peeves about covers and
titles?

While I’m asking questions, I’d like to get some feedback from you on
a couple of title matters. My 2nd book with Gary Smalley comes out in
September, called The Promise. I wanted to call the book The Broken Portrait.
That got nixed because the marketing folks thought it might be too negative.
I don’t think it is and, to me, it works much better for the story. Be honest,
would you consider buying a book called The Broken Portrait?

To my fellow published authors, do any of you struggle at all with this? Have any similar challenges? To everyone, can you think of any books you actually bought just because the cover and/or title were so good?

Okay, let me have it.

Dan Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of 8 novels,
including The Unfinished Gift,
Remembering Christmas
and The Dance. He’s won 3 Carol Awards and 2 Selah
Awards. Six of his books were named Top Picks by RT Reviews.
Two were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year.
Dan is a member of ACFW and
Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach
area where he and Cindi love to take long walks. To connect
with Dan or check out his books, go to: http://danwalshbooks.com. He also blogs weekly with fellow male fiction authors Jim Rubart and Harry Kraus at: http://3menwalkintoablog.com.

Can Men Write Fiction Women Want to Read?

Before I say anything more, I’d like to wish you a happy Fourth of
July! I imagine many who read this blog on a daily basis might be taking
a break to enjoy the holiday. Perhaps you’re getting ready to host a
crowd at a family barbecue or making plans to join a crowd somewhere
else.

If so, you’re probably not reading this today. If that’s so, hope you had a great day yesterday.

Over
the past several years, I’ve been interviewed on Novel Rocket several
times and have occasionally written articles about the writing craft.
Starting today, I guess you better get used to me. I’ve been invited to
be a monthly contributor.

Thought
I’d start off with something I’m curious about. The idea of men writing
fiction. What’s got me thinking about this is an honor I received last
week when ACFW announced the finalists for this year’s Carol Awards. I
was thrilled to find my name on that list for my 5th novel, The Discovery (best Historical Fiction category). I’ve won 3 Carols so far, but I’d happily welcome a fourth.

The
following day, Jerry Jenkins pointed out to me that I was the only male
author in the list of finalists. I didn’t know that. Read the list over
and, sure enough, Jerry was right.

I’m kinda used to
being in the minority by now (my first novel came out in 2009). It’s
readily apparent that far more women read and write fiction than men.
Surveys I’ve read suggest an 80/20 ratio. That feels about right when I
attend my monthly Word Weaver’s critique group and local ACFW chapter.
And I know whenever I attend a writing conference I never stand in line
at the restroom.

But events of this past week have got
me wondering if we might be dealing with a bigger problem than we see on
the surface. Could there be any underlying issues fueling this gender
gap?

Improving Our Chances

It stands to reason that if 80%
of the buying fiction audience are women, then a significant percentage
of women will need to “cross over” and buy books written by men, if the
men are ever going to make it financially as authors. This poses two
questions:

  1. Are male fiction authors writing the kind of books women want to read (and writing them well enough)?
  2. Do some women buyers struggle with a “prejudice” and only buy books written by other women?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this (especially the ladies).
Some have suggested my measure of success is largely due to the kind of
books I write, which are mostly love stories and family life dramas
(reviewers often compare me to Nicholas Sparks or Richard Paul Evans).
Typically, the kind of books women like to read.

But
I’ve experienced a good deal of prejudice, myself (if that’s the right
word). I’ve lost count of the emails I’ve received from women who tell
me they love my books now, but admit they avoided them on the shelf
until after a friend recommended me. This even happened with my current
book series, co-authored with Gary Smalley. When Gary was on the hunt to
find a fiction author to work with on this new series, my publisher
sent a box of books to his executive secretary to review. She later told
me, apologetically, that I was the only male author represented in the
box and, because of that, she read my books last.


Let’s Fix This

So ladies…do we have a problem here?
If so, how big is it? What can male fiction authors do to increase this
“crossover effect” (get you buying more of our books)? Is it our
covers? Our titles? The genre we’re writing in? Is it the writing
itself? If so, what’s the fix?

Dan Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of 8 novels,
including The Unfinished Gift,
Remembering Christmas
and The Dance.

He has won 3 Carol Awards and 2 Selah
Awards. Five of his books have received RT Reviews “Top Pick” rating.
Two were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year (2011 and 2012).
Dan is a member of ACFW and
Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach
area where he and Cindi love to take long walks on the beach. To connect
with Dan or check out his books, go to: http://danwalshbooks.com. He also blogs weekly with fellow male fiction authors Jim Rubart and Harry Kraus at: http://3menwalkintoablog.com.