When an author first publishes their book, they have visions of walking into a bookstore on their book's release date...any bookstore...and immediately spotting their book on the shelf, right there at the front of the store. There may even be a stack of their books in a point-of-purchase display or in the window of one of the major book-selling chain stores. However, unless they are already a best-selling author, a celebrity or infamous (think Tiger Woods or Sarah Palin), this is highly unlikely.
But why? you might be thinking. My book is great! Everybody who reads it tells me how great it is! This may be true, but believe it or not, the decision to stock your book on the shelf has less to do with the merits of your book and more to do with mathematics.
In 2008, there were 560,626 new titles published in the U.S., more than double the number of books that were published just five years earlier. Most of this growth has occurred in self-published or short-run titles. However, despite the growth in the number of titles, bookstore sales are actually declining. Taking into account the number of titles available and the number of actual books sold, the average U.S. book is selling less than 250 copies a year.
When a new title is released, it isn't just competing for shelf space at bookstores with 562,626 other titles, it is also competing with the millions of other titles that have been published in previous years. For every spot available on a bookstore shelf, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other titles competing for that one spot.
Don't just take my word of it. Most of this information was originally written by the president of another publishing company. As for the prime point-of-purchase displays at the front of a bookstore, publishers pay for that space, and that real estate isn't cheap. The major chain stores don't just put the books at the front of the store because they like them.
This information may seem a bit depressing for authors, but only for those that completely depend upon the major chain stores to sell their books. It isn't the fault of the bookstores. With so much at stake, the bookstore buyers must stock books that they feel will have a good chance of selling and making money for the store. A book by a new, unknown author is a gamble, and a big one, for stores that must turn millions of dollars in profit each year just to make payroll and stay in business. That means stocking a lot of titles by famous celebrity authors, or titles that already have a good track record of sales.
Pretend for a moment that you own a video store. Which movie titles are you most likely to stock? Blockbusters like "Twilight," or an independent film featuring unfamiliar actors? This is the same decision bookstores must make, and there are far more book titles released each year than movies.
This is the reason why niche marketing is so vitally important to authors and publishers. One fact I didn't touch upon earlier is that most book sales don't occur at bookstores. Most books are sold through other channels, such as retailers other than bookstores (supermarkets, pharmacies, gift shops, coffee shops), book clubs, online booksellers like Amazon, churches (many have their own bookstores now), home shopping TV channels, etc.
Of course, publishers do want their books to be stocked and sold through bookstores. Bookstores do, in fact, sell books. However, this shouldn't be the only marketing channel used by publishers and authors. Focus on the book's niche, figure out who the audience is for a particular title, and where that audience can readily be found, and you'll have identified your prime market.
Leave a comment answering this question: What have been the best markets for YOUR book?