Answers to John Magnet Bell from Elena Ornig.
“Don’t you think that, thanks to the gigantic leap forward that e-publishing represents, more authors will find it easier to target their niches and find a devoted core readership? Obviously, this requires analytic thinking and a knowledge of the market… but what about *creating* your own market? After all, each writer is a brand. Think about this: there was no specific market for Coke before Coke was created.” Bell from http://www.startyournovel.com/
Let’s take the beginning of the Coke brand. At first it was French Wine Coca ‘invented’ by a dispensing chemist, John Pemberton, and presented to the public as a curative medicine; it had a strong stimulant from coca leaves and later it was mixed with kola nuts (a source of caffeine). Quite an addictive mixture thanks to the genius behind it – John Pemberton. When it was first named as Coca-Kola by Frank Mason Robinson, it was already a non- alcoholic mixture (syrup with carbonated water) but the claim of it being a curative drink was still exploited. Does curative or healing create a great topic to market? It is fantastic and valuable to people to read about.
Take for example Petrea King – eight best-selling books; all about healing and curing, particularly cancer. Do you really have to create a market for this niche? Not really, but you do have to produce valuable content and what can be better to help people to become healthier based on your own healing experience?
Let as conclude that the market for Coca-Kola was there, straight from the beginning, because people are always looking for a cure and they always will.
Now the main and the most intriguing question remains: “… but what about *creating* your own market”?
Sure, John Magnet Bell, this is a great way to go and there are still many fields/niches to find at any time.
Let’s take a look at your own great creation and I do, personally, love your blog ‘StartYourNovel’. First it is a very clever name and secondly, your personal appeal to your readers is just absolutely admirable: “Twice a week, I post one or two small writing prompts, 50 words or less. Let’s call that a story-seed. The rest is up to you. Take my ideas and run away with them. Go wild. They are freely given. This is an adventure in open-source storytelling… I have tons of ideas. Why keep them all to myself? ”
Aren’t you guiding people, inspiring them, giving them multiple ideas and in some way you are healing them – healing them from living through the pain of procrastination and uncertainty, “Dr. Bell”? And the real proof is right there in the replies on your blog:
“John, I love reading your posts; they make me think…”
You make them think! That is quite the compliment and one I wish to receive myself, one day. From you it will not be counted, because you are a thinker already.
You second question was: “What gives me pause is your mention of a “valuable product.” Are we talking about numbers? What constitutes the value of a story? Is it length? Is it content? A book, good or bad, is a work of art (I speak of fiction, of course). Can you judge a work of art in terms of market acceptance or financial performance? If so, what would the criteria be?”
Let’s start with product in general, because it doesn’t matter what one is producing – idea, concept, brick or art. It is still the product of someone’s effort, creativity or talent. Unless you want to keep it to yourself or give it away, there is no issue of market value involved, just like in your case – you give your ideas and advice for free. You don’t have to even think of valuing it against the market but it still it has an inherent value because people comeback for more.
However, a written (produced) book is a product that must be valued in the market in order for it to sell; the exchange the creative product for money. The formula (criteria) is simple: the perceived
benefit that a customer sees in the content of a book compared against a price the customer is willing to pay to possess that content, whilst comparing it to every other similar book that is available ( thanks to the Internet) globally.
Length, size and form is such a case for the buyers, its value being based on the buyers perception of what they like or dislike ( what is appealing to them, individually). In the current situation with digital books, we have broken monopoly on this aspect of a product and more unconventional looking books are appearing on the market, plus this value assessment has shifted towards data base capacity with the market already showing that the size of an electronic file, font and format is becoming a criteria of valuation by buyers of digital books compared to the traditional valuation standards of printed books.
What haven’t changed – the prime criteria for any book: its value of content to buyers who have their own individual needs to educate themselves, or to entertain themselves. The difference in the current situation is the choice of content for every category (traditionally controlled by a monopoly and their capacity to produce and deliver; and their ability to choose which book to publish) – has risen dramatically. The liberty of writing (whatever one wishes), digitally producing and selling at the click of a button is unprecedented, but there is a catch – the competition has risen equally through the freedom of choice. It is simply huge, and it is getting bigger every day.
For example: the educational books (nonfictional) are rightly divided into two different types – one is necessary to have (for students, teachers or technical references and so on) therefore the consumer must buy a specific book by a specific author and at a specific time. The only relief for them will be the cheaper price because of digital technology. As for the content, in this case it will be approved by industry or other institution.
The other type of educational books is for self-education and therefore the choice again becomes unlimited. In this case buyers will clearly value content by their own reasoning of benefit against price. In the case of entertainment (regardless of it being fictional, non-fictional, for children, poetry and so on) – it will still be the biggest market with the highest competition for writers and publishers to find and convince the buyers to buy. Readers’ demand will be criteria.
But as you correctly asked, “How to value art in dollars terms?” and the answer is:”It’s up to the readers to decide what they value as a good, bad or average book”. The only other value will be added by experts, to whom we are usually referred and listen to. They can evaluate any book as academically valuable; historically valuable; scientifically valuable or simply identified as valuable to produce and have regardless of market demand.
There is no need to go further than what the current market has already shown –a 200 empty pages notebook, heavily marketed as a novelty gift and appearing (cover) as a novel “What Every Man Thinks About Apart From Sex” by Sheridan Simove which is in huge demand and is already a bestseller.
I personally signed a contract with a writer “Secret Author” with a real book, with real content, and the title is “Why Every Man Should Update His Wife” (it will be out in March 2012). I was agonizing over the title, and certainly over the content, talking to lawyers and so on. Would it become in demand? I don’t know. Would I try to promote it smart and hard as much as I could – yes, I will. Will it be recognised as valuable for Men’s Study/lads’ culture by critics and academics – I have no idea. Would I buy it myself as a reader- absolutely! I cannot wait to read it to the end… but will other men find it interesting because it is written and addressed to men specifically – I have no idea because I am a woman…
When you said: “As you can see, I said ‘thought-provoking’ and I meant it. My mind is all aflutter with questions. I needed that. Thanks.”- I decided to write directly to you and talk directly to you because I am still full of multiple questions on how to identify the value of a particular book because tastes are so different. But at least I have had a better look at such issues and I have to conclude – there are indications only, assumptions only, that are based on what is selling and what is not (trends); what readers will like today and hate tomorrow?
One criterion is quite stable is what they love forever, from generation to generation – the classics.
However, according to a quote of the respectable Italo Calvino- “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” How would you identify what makes a book valuable or not?
I only write myself on my blog, and very rarely publish someone else, but since we started this discussion would you like to answer these questions yourself as a guest writer?
My warmest regards,