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Why Great Books Fail in the Literary Marketplace

Why do good, even great, books fail in the literary market place? Having reviewed thousands of books down through the years I thought I would share some observations on this all-too-common phenomena.

Most of the time when I have reviewed an outstanding, unique, innovative, groundbreaking book that has gone on to critical praise and marketplace failure, it has been because the small press publisher did not do a good job of presenting the book to its intended readership. And this was in turn the result of an inadequate (or all-too-often nonexistent) marketing plan. To have a successful book that is as enduring as it is well-written and well-published you need a specific marketing plan of strategies and tactics, down on paper and scrupulously followed.

The lack of publicity, promotion, selective advertising, and author/publisher "hustle" is what drove those wonderful tomes into an undeserved oblivion.

Conversely, I've seen the occasional "time-lost" book re-discovered and reprinted with a marketplace success that outshone its original debut, because this time around the publisher had a marketing plan to bring that book to the favorable attention of its intended readership -- and applied it.

The very books that Alan used to illustrate "great" books that succeeded financially even though they were trailblazers (and Velty's impressive book on Filipinos is one I would number in that group!) were the result of their publishers doing professional, innovative, cost-effective marketing and bringing the reading public's awareness of their books' existence into the reading public's consciousness, into their "radar screen" for interesting, recommended reading.

You don't have to make a pile of money on schlock (even good schlock well appreciated by readers of good schlock) before funding your stab at publishing the truly "great" book -- the one that you want to have mentioned in a eulogy to friends and family as your particular contribution to generations yet unborn.

What you do in marketing determines not only if the "great" book will be successful financially but also if it will be read with appreciation by discerning minds crying out for what it has to offer. It will determine if "generations yet unborn" will have access to your "great" book to their benefit and betterment.

So the question for me isn't "Should I publish this innovative, unique, truly great work of literature?" but "What will I do with this "great" book once I decide to put up the capital to have it published?"

And the business of creating your marketing plan should commence simultaneously with your plans to publish the book. Indeed, that marketing plan should be actively engaged long before your book comes back from the printers.

For those newly come to publishing and having not the slightest idea what constitutes a cost-effective, efficient, innovative, and successful marketing plan, please take heart. Most of the wheels have already been invented. You need only apply them to your particular circumstances. It's for just this reason that the "Publisher Resources" section of the Midwest Book Review Web site was established and is maintained.

All aspiring publishers should do their homework about marketing. You owe it to yourself, your authors, your intended readership, and (especially in the case of the "great" book) to generations of readers yet to come.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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