Fiction vs. Nonfiction

This week Harry and I had the opportunity to make a presentation on authorship and book publishing to a group of public speaking apprentices–people exploring the career of public speaking.

One question we got was about what types of books sell.

My initial response was business, self-help, and inspirational books (the three categories we publish at Expert Publishing}. But I also acknowledged people like to read fiction and we’ve published two young adult historical novels under our imprint, et al. Publishing.

Why don’t we publish more fiction? The answer comes more clear if you think about your own personal library. You populate your library with both fiction and nonfiction books, I’m sure.

What happens when you finish a novel and tell someone how good it is? Often they ask to borrow it (or you offer to lend it to them). Either way, that’s a book that doesn’t get sold! Neither the author nor the publisher (nor the bookstore) receive any income for that book.

On the other hand, what tends to happen when someone asks to borrow your nonfiction book? If you lend it at all, you do so reluctantly. There’s a much better chance the other person will purchase their own copy or you’ll purchase a copy to give to them for their birthday or Christmas or some other occasion. Well, that’s another book sold and the author receives some sort of payment (royalty or profit, depending on how the author was published).

Another quick way to determine what sells is to look carefully around the big bookstores. They pay a lot of money for that real estate and they stock it with merchandise they think will sell. They want their shelves to hold merchandise that moves, not to serve as storage space.

What percentage of the books in the big bookstores is fiction? Nonfiction? Without doing a scientific study or taking an actual inventory, I’ll bet the percentage is somewhere around twenty percent fiction and eighty percent nonfiction. You’ve got memoir, cookbooks, popular reference, religion, hobbies, computer, and, of course, there are business, self-help, and inspirational books too.

Yes, you’ve got genre fiction (mystery, romance, sci-fi, western, etc.), and literary fiction, but most of the shelf space (that hold the titles with the longest staying power) contain nonfiction books.

Publishing is business, so as you think about what type of book to write, think about writing books that sell.


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