Welcome back to our new Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.

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[ Originally posted: August 19th, 2009 ]

I opened the Books section in yesterday’s New York Times “Urban Eye” to read the headline, “Why Literature Doesn’t Matter.” Really? How sad. It matters to me. It matters to my family, friends, and colleagues. It matters to the self-publishing authors I work with every day. Literature doesn’t matter…. I wish someone would have told me.

According to “Urban Eye,” a recent Sunday Book Review article penned by novelist Kurt Anderson was to fill me in. Anderson writes, “During the 1960s and ’70s…people who hadn’t read a word of a first-rate contemporary novel — no Cheever, no Bellow, no Salinger, Heller, Styron, Doctorow, Updike or Roth — nevertheless knew the novelists’ names… And then everything changed.”

But book sales in the US have remained strong, and are even growing over previous years in Europe. Despite the current recession effects, statistics show that readers are still buying books. Not matter? Anderson goes on to claim, “But irony of ironies, after literature was evicted from mass culture, pop culture itself began to fragment and lose its heretofore defining quality as the ubiquitous stuff that everybody consumed.”

Ah, I’m seeing to whom, or rather to what, Literature doesn’t matter to – pop culture. Wait, then this is a good thing for authors and readers. The fragmentation that Anderson talks about is the segmenting of consumers into smaller, more clearly defined profiles. What that means to self-publishing authors of fiction, non-fiction, etc., is not that your work doesn’t matter, that Literature doesn’t matter, but that it doesn’t matter to everyone. Perfect, now you can coordinate and focus your subject matter and marketing efforts to readers who will benefit from, and buy your books.

Talk to your self-publisher early on about your custom marketing plan.

Karl Schroeder

 

Interior detail of antique and vintage books and ornaments on a shelf in a Cotswolds country cottage

When Karl Schroeder first wrote this blog for us back in 2009, the market for self-publishing authors had already begun to (in his words) “fragment” into smaller and smaller niche genres and industries.  Authors were on the lookout for that “big hit wonder” element for their books to tap into, the mode that we’re often taught to expect or at least reach for as writers in the modern West.  But despite appearances–despite the rise of J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer and E.L. James and Gillian Flynn and too many others to name–the superstar writer has mostly receded into the background.  What we have today is a (more) stable, (more) diverse, and (more) opportunity-rich industry, and this holds true even for the oft-neglected self-publishing author.

So, yes, what Karl said remains true: literature does still matter, though not to everyone.  What may have, perhaps, changed is that it no longer matters just to connoisseurs of hyper-specialized niche genres and so on … literature does in fact have a profound impact upon and presence within pop culture.  And I’m not just talking about Young Adult Literature or the ever-popular megagenre of crime fiction … I’m talking about the supposedly “forgotten” or “neglected” classic literature.

Ever heard of the #IReadEverywhere hashtag?  Well, it’s a thing.  A very, very big thing … because it demonstrates that our favorite pop culture icons–whether Mindy Kaling or or–read.  A lot.  And they read a pretty fantastic cross-section of all genres, including, yes, classic literature.  For example, we have:

ireadeverywhere1

Mindy Kaling reading Jane Austen (it doesn’t get more classic than that).  And …

ireadeverywhere2

Judy Blume reading Wally Lamb. And …

ireadeverywhere3

The Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch reading Jonathan Safran Foer and Julia Child, while their co-star …

ireadeverywhere4

Jim Parsons reads Buster Keaton.

And they’re not the only ones!  The #IReadEverywhere campaign has generated hundreds of pictures of celebrities catching a few classic words between subway stops, while sipping mochas at coffee shops, or playing on the floor with their cats.  The age of the book may vary (Foer and Childs never overlapped with Jane Austen in the historical record, let’s just say), but the tenor of the trend remains the same: everyone reads, and a lot of people read everywhere and perhaps even often.  You can’t despair for the state of classic literature or any literature at all when it’s literally a marker of “cool” to snap a selfie of you toting Hemingway along to a hip bar in NYC of a Saturday night.

And yet, Karl’s ultimate point remains as valid as ever: you still need to “[t]alk to your self-publisher early on about your custom marketing plan” if you want to create and maintain a steady stream of book sales.  And you can do that most effectively by narrowing your gaze to a specific, manageable target audience.  It’s better to start with a handful of very interested, very invested readers than to spread your fairy dust thinly among people who are only marginally interested.  Invested fans will (sometimes quite literally) sell your book for you, and that has historically been how self-published works have come to receive broad acclaim.  Think of Andy Weir and his blog readers.  Think of E.L. James and her fanatically excited followers on FanFiction.net.  Think of John and Jennifer Churchman and The SheepOver.  You can do everything right as an author and still not sell books if you haven’t gotten your fans on board.  On the flip side, you can invest just a little time and energy in wooing your readers and seizing opportunities when they arise, and sell books like hotcakes by doing so.  Talk to a marketing expert at your self-publishing company, and see what magic you can make happen, together! 

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

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