Been following deconstructions of the recent Book Expo America (BEA), and one conclusion agreed upon by everyone in the industry is that “the times they are a-changin’.” Most of these changes appear to be driven by two factors: 1.) The economy and 2.) Technology.
I read an interesting summation from Janet Grant, literary agent from Books & Such (who also happens to be my agent). In What Does the Future Hold? Janet distills a workshop she attended at BEA entitled “Product Centric Publishing in a Community Centric World” presented by Mike Shatzkin, which seems representative of many of these publishing trends. Among the points she makes (and, if you’re a writer, you should peruse her entire post), the one that most intrigued me was this:
Publishing widely to reach as broad an audience as possible will go away. In its place will be publishing “vertically”– reaching more deeply into a narrower audience.
Later, Janet goes on to summarize and expound on this “vertical publishing” concept:
The two key words to keep in mind as you eye the future are: “vertical” and “community.” You must understand yourself vertically and present yourself vertically (develop a web site designed to reach your community; collect emails from your community; create partnerships vertically). (emphasis mine)
So rather than trying to build a “broad audience,” you should “present yourself vertically,” identify your niche and dig in — develop friendships, support others’ efforts, familiarize yourself with the “language” of the community, and build a fellowship of readers / followers.
It makes a lot of sense, but it raises some questions about the nature of literary niches and niche marketing.
Does building a “vertical fan base” assume that there are more people in a niche than meets the eye, and that there’s more people in that niche than are really engaged? For instance, despite spec-fic (sci-fi / fantasy / paranormal / horror) comprising a big chunk of the mainstream market, the genre is woefully under-represented in Christian bookstores. Does this shortage of Christian speculative fiction imply that there really isn’t that big a fan base or that that niche has just not been fully tapped? Are there really less Christian spec-fic fans out there, or are there a lot of un-engaged Christian spec-fic fans? If you can reach “more deeply into a narrower audience,” doesn’t that mean the audience is really NOT that narrow, or that that “narrow audience” is not fully engaged? Am I making sense?
All said and done, I think this new model has less to do with niche marketing (which is more the traditional model), than building relationships / friendships / community within an already existing community of readers.