26 October 07 | Chad W. Post

Ron Hogan has an interesting quote over at GalleyCat regarding the how to sell more literary fiction.

When a potential consumer says “I can’t afford it,” Godin claims, that’s almost always not true. “What they are really trying to say,” he explains, “is, ‘it’s not worth it.’” So instead of slashing prices to reach those consumers, Godin suggests you “tell a better, more accurate story” about your product, “and to tell it to the right people.” Or, he adds, “make something worth paying for.”

That all sounds nice and true, but I think the situation is a bit more complicated.

A few years back a Borders buyer told me that $14 was the cutoff for impulse buys of literature. For customers browsing in a bookstore, who come across a book that sounds interesting by an author they’re not familiar with, a price tag of more than $14 will dissuade a healthy percentage of people from purchasing. (Anecdotally, from my years of working at bookstores, I think this is true.)

In general, I agree with Godin—slashing the price to $12.95 isn’t the answer, but “making something worth paying for” is a real slanted view of the issue. In my opinion, what’s most important is getting information out about literary fiction to the right customers. Which can be difficult (see all the space taken up by reviews of Alice Sebold’s new book), and is somewhat beyond the control of the publisher.

Marketing totally trumps price, it’s just that marketing literary fiction is more complicated that “telling a better, more accurate story” about one’s book (product). Successful marketing is about planning and luck. About getting your book mentioned enough times in enough places that the average browsing customer recognizes it (and feels it’s an “important” book) when he/she comes across it in his/her local superstore . . .


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