How to Build a Catalog

While I’ve not made much progress in producing another book since July, lots of other people have. And some of them are operating under the belief that the books they offer have to be somewhere in that 80-100K word range.

That’s not true in today’s publishing world, unless the author insists on staying within the traditional (legacy, outmoded) publishing model.

I know that sounds like I’m ripping every writer who won’t step away from that model, won’t give indie publishing a try, but I’m not. Any writer, even those with long histories in traditional publishing, will tell you that mode of business operation for this industry is outmoded.

And I get it. It’s their dream to have it come down that way. Or maybe they think they need the validation of that particular aspect of publishing to be a true author. There’s likely as many reasons for it as there are writers doing it. So that’s not the point here, at all. I’ve presented that apologetic more times and in varying degrees of rudeness than I care to recall.

Got a writer friend who either just finished his twelfth or fourteenth novel, depending on how he wants to count them. And some of those are big stories, on the order of epic fantasy – 120K, 150K words.

I’m an advocate of telling the story, however many words it takes. And I know the readers out there aren’t necessarily averse to meatier books, especially in that fantasy genre. I know of at least one case where the author took a 210K-word doorstop and broke it into three 70K-word novels. No real endings, though, just…stop points. (Note to Self: Don’t do this. It ticks readers off.) And one of her commenters complained that they’d gladly pay for a nice, thick book they can really dig into…if only they could find them.

See, here’s how this happens.

The traditional publishing industry doesn’t want an author’s big book, especially as a first book, because they are still peddling the paper product to their distribution channels and retailers. There is a limited amount of physical space in those places. And even when that space is vast (anyone remember walking into either a Barnes and Nobel or a Borders [when they still existed] bookstore for the first time? Don’t tell me you weren’t blown away), there is a limited amount of it. Home Depot is big, but they can’t hold everything.

So those publishers want your book – and especially if it’s a first book from a writer, and one that may have sequels, or not, depending on how well that first one does – to fit in a specific amount of space. On the shelves of those retailers.

That’s it. That’s the reason they don’t want you to write long books, and will reject you out-of-hand, no questions asked, if you don’t have a long-standing, proven career like George R.R. Martin, or aren’t a proven seller like Stephen King or J.R.R. Tolkien, or aren’t writing a sequel with a smash-hit, runaway success first entry, like say Stephenie Meyer, or Suzanne Collins.

You see what’s missing from that perspective? That’s right, boys and girls! The reader is missing from the publishing industry’s requirements for publication! They don’t care about the reader, or what the reader wants, because they’re thinking about that limited shelf space, and production costs and investment, in an unproven commodity: You, the untried writer.

You, the untried, need to meet the expectations and the prerequisites of the industry gatekeepers, whether agents or acquisition editors. (Yes, you can go direct to the publishers, and don’t need an agent, but they will not let you know that – or want you to know that.) If you don’t, you’ll be weeded out before you even begin.

So, my buddy’s got a good idea, because his dream for his writing career is to be published through that traditional system. His idea is like the other author I told you about – he wants to cut the 150K book into rough halves of 75K each. I think he might be better served to add a subplot – a meaningful one, with direct impact on the story, so it’s not fluff – and then cut it into thirds of say 60K or so.

And, if he does that, he’ll need to write endings for the two books that aren’t the end. Those books should resolve those portions of the overall story, but don’t have to close out the overall story.

After that, he can label them as Books 1, 2, and 3 of a series. See, people don’t seem to like individual novels. They want series. (Do not confuse this with serials, however, which are undesirable. Now.) They want to find an author’s books, then go get subsequent books and follow the characters through the story. Then they want another series. And another. And another.

(They don’t care that this might suck for a writer. More on that in a moment.)

My buddy has a nice, full catalog, which, with a little promotion and effort in the business end of the industry, would potentially allow him to have a full-time career writing. He’s got enough books to produce what used to be known as a “backlist” in traditional publishing. And, this replicates (or, actually, facilitates use of) the Liliana Nirvana approach. It won’t work for every writer every time, but it does work enough that lots of writers swear by it.

Now, one thing my writer friend might run into is, those books of his outside a series aren’t really good sellers. Unless you’re well-established – and from a time when standalone novels were okay – then you’re going to have to write series books, even if you’re sick of ’em. Ask Arthur Conan Doyle if this is a new trend. (Hint: It’s not.) Robert E. Howard might have had something to say about it too. But we’d probably do better to listen to someone like Lester Dent instead. Or the aforementioned George R.R. Martin, or J.K. Rowling, or Stephenie Meyer.

Promotions aren’t hard either, especially when you have a nice catalog (like a backlist, but without prior publication) you can publish. He does. He’s got 12ish novels, like I said. That’s a book every two months for two years, while he writes new ones. And, if he wrote full time? Well. Can you say “discoverability,” boys and girls? I knew y’could.

I’m in the other boat. I have only one published novel, and nobody likes it. And I have no promotions, because I’ve nothing for those who see that lonely book to fall onto when they buy it. And those readers will see that, shrug, and assume I’m not writing anymore, or at least not very quickly, and move on to someone more able to meet their reading requirements.

Write. Publish. Rinse. Repeat.

Now, I have some catching up to do so I can have a 12-book catalog to publish someday too.

See you next week!


One thought on “How to Build a Catalog

  1. Just getting even a few words down at a time, it’s like eating an elephant. Keep at it consistently and you’ll get there! I believe in you!

    Thanks Beloved. So glad you do. 🙂

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