Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The LDS Book Market

Something is happening in the LDS book market. No one seems entirely sure how it will shake out and whether it will be good or bad, but it is happening. As an LDS author I have to react to it, but how do you react to something you can't even clearly define.

On the one hand, the number of independent LDS bookstores is decreasing rather dramatically. Also, from everything I've heard, Deseret Book stores are cutting back on the number of LDS novels they carry. This would lead you to believe that fewer people are buying LDS books. But, if anything, the number of LDS readers seems to be going up. There are more LDS books, higher quality writing, and a greater variety of books than ever before. So what gives?

Is it possible that the very increase in available books is hurting LDS bookstores? Imagine there are only twenty LDS novelists cranking out 1 book per year. There are two or three publishers. An LDS bookstore has it pretty easy. Order lots of each of those books, get a good discount, and make money.

But now imagine there are 80 LDS novelists representing a dozen publishers. How do you pick and choose which books to carry? Obviously you focus on the top sellers. But there are only a handful of LDS authors that really guarantee high sales and those titles are heavily discounted by everyone from Wal-Mart to Amazon. The rest of the titles all kind of fall into a mid-list hodgepodge. Instead of ordering twenty of each book, you order four of each.

Now, you don't get the best discount, you need more shelf space to give each book decent exposure, and with more new books coming out each month, the shelf life of the average book is much shorter. Jack Weyland's books stayed on the shelf for decades. The typical new LDS novel may only be available for a year or two now in most stores. That means you may end up taking a loss on the books that don't sell quickly enough.

So what does this mean to me as an LDS author? First and foremost, the increase in variety and quality of fiction is good for everyone. If each new book wins over twenty people who didn't read LDS fiction before, everyone wins. Five years ago I hadn't read an LDS book other than the Work and The Glory. In the last month I've read 6 excellent LDS novels ranging from humor to fantasy. As a reader I have definitely benefited.

On the other hand, with fewer stores I am more dependant than ever on the big chains. It’s also harder to stand out from the crowd. It’s not enough just to be a good writer. You have to be a very good writer, with marketing and sales skill at your disposal. We may very well begin to see the stratification that has taken place in the national market where there are so many titles coming out, but most people have only heard of JK Rowling, Danielle Steele, John Grisham, etc.

As a writer, I have to decide whether I am content being one of the mid-list or if I want to be one of the handful of bestsellers. Obviously I choose the latter. Over the next twenty-four months I will be trying to climb that very slippery slope. I started when I decided on my new mystery series. I am trying a variety of new marketing strategies. I am putting more time into selling this book than I ever have before. I'll keep you updated on how it goes.

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