While watching my favorite real estate shows on HGTV, I had an epiphany…the book business is a lot like real estate. Using real estate as a metaphor illuminates why some books sell and others don’t—and/or what you can do to increase sales.
Location, location, location. This is the mantra in real estate. Picking the right location serves you better than picking the right house. A nice house in low-crime, quiet neighborhood with good schools and other amenities will be more desirable and sell easier, faster and for more money than the same house in a rundown, crime-ridden neighborhood next to the airport. A modest house that goes for a few hundred thousand in middle America would be worth millions in New York City. Why? Location.
Your genre and/or trope is your book’s neighborhood. You will have an easier time selling books if your book is located in a popular neighborhood, i.e. a trendy or popular genre, than in a little known, unique subgenre. Yes, there is more competition in the trendy neighborhood, but there is greater demand, the pool of buyers looking for that kind of book is much larger. If you can anticipate a trend, i.e. figure out which neighborhood will be revitalized or become popular, you can do well. Picking the right neighborhood, i.e. the right genre, will make selling books easier. A “good” book in a hot genre will sell better than a “great” book in a niche subgenre.
Curb appeal. This is how a house looks from the outside. The condition and style of the exterior, the yard, and the landscaping that affects the first impression of the house. If you’ve ever gone house hunting, you’ve probably pulled up to a house and said, “Oh, hell, no” and didn’t bother to go inside. It could have been a fantastic house, but you weren’t interested in seeing more of it because of how it appeared from the outside.
Your book cover/blurb/title equates to curb appeal.Readers won’t want to read the book if something about the cover/blurb/title turns them off. So, if a book isn’t selling well, fixing the curb appeal can have an immediate positive effect—it will get people to go inside.
Curb appeal gets you in the house, but it doesn’t seal the deal. The interior must match the exterior. If the inside quality is poor or the style doesn’t match the outside, it’s a lost sale. Which leads to…
The house. The house itself has to be what the buyer wants and expects. If the exterior looks great, but the inside is a total fixer, that results in a lost sale. If the exterior is modern, but the interior is traditional, there’s a disconnect. Your story compares to a house’s interior style, floor plan, and finish quality. You must have a well-written, well-edited, well-crafted story to go along with your great cover/title/blurb. And just as buyers like different home styles, readers prefer certain kinds of books. A homebuyer who wants a traditional Victorian with self-contained separate rooms for every function isn’t going to like an open, one room industrial loft no matter how awesome the loft is. What appeals to one reader will not appeal to another. You can’t please everybody. Just like a house with a “quirky” style or layout will be more difficult to sell than a style that is trendy and popular, so it is with fiction. Unique doesn’t sell as well as a mainstream or trendy. Also, trends come and go with the times. Today’s reverse harem romances may become tomorrow’s avocado green appliances.
Marketing. Imagine if you put your house up for sale and never told anybody. You stuck a sign in your front yard and waited for a buyer to knock on your door. A buyer stumbling onto your street and finding your house would be highly unlikely. Get your house on the MLS, do open houses, list it on Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia, etc., advertise in newspapers and real estate magazines, and you can see how the odds of selling it would increase. Some authors publish a book and then do nothing to let people know they have a book for sale. Millions and millions of books are available. What are the odds a reader will stumble on yours if you don’t promote?
A good book marketed well will outsell a great one that isn’t promoted at all. (But a ton of advertising can’t sell a poorly constructed, run-down, overpriced house in a bad neighborhood).
What are your thoughts about real estate/publishing metaphor?
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