Thursday, February 21, 2013

Small markets. Big opportunities?

Writer Abroad has been following Alexis Grant for a couple of years now, cheering Alexis on as she tried to sell a travel memoir. Unfortunately, Alexis just blogged about failure. Although she landed an agent for her memoir about backpacking in Africa, it failed to sell to publishers. She mentioned that because it failed to sell traditionally, she feels there is probably still work to do on it if she wants to self-publish.

This might be possible. Writer Abroad is a perfectionist—so she would think the same thing. But there is probably another reason the publishers turned it down: they believed it had too small of a market.

Too small a market for traditionalists? There are other ways.
Writer Abroad is no stranger to this concept of small markets. She lives in and writes about one of the smallest countries in Europe—one that is a third of the size of her home state of Illinois. She’s been told by several agents and editors, "No one cares about Switzerland—oh wait, did you mean Sweden?"

Sadly, if you listen to some of the agents Writer Abroad has talked to, “they”—those pesky self-centered Americans we are trying to sell too—don’t seem to care about much beyond France, Italy, Afghanistan, Iran, and maybe China. And Writer Abroad admits she wouldn’t mind living in one of those places if it would make her writing more marketable.

But if most Americans don’t care about Africa, should Alexis Grant just forget her memoir? If most Americans don’t care about Switzerland, does that mean Writer Abroad should stop writing about it?

Writer Abroad doesn’t think so. After all, if she doesn’t write about Switzerland—who will? (Fine, Englishman Diccon Bewes will—he already has quite successfully). And anyway, despite the naysayers, Writer Abroad has published over 30 essays and articles about Switzerland to so-called traditionalists. To celebrate and to formally stake her little place in the middle of nowhere in the big American writing world, she’s putting together a Switzerland essay book.

Whoa. An essay book? These words might as well read, “death wish.” And a Death Wish about Switzerland? There’s a traditional publishing dead end with a capital D.

But Writer Abroad doesn’t want to go down a dead end. That’s why traditional publishing will probably be a road not traveled for this particular project.

Instead, the independent publishing route is looking better and better. Especially since the big publishers aren’t willing to publish true stories set in so-called "unimportant" places. All the more reason the independent writer should.


  1. I agree that traditional publishing is tough road for travel essays. When I put mine together, I knew it didn't stand a chance. It's eclectic. It's short. But, I went ahead and self-published and have been pleased with the results. I'm not breaking sales records, but I've found some people who appreciate it. It's beeen gratifying.
    One thing about the self-pub route is that the onus for all publicity falls on the author. It can burdensome if you have other obligations. Nonetheless, the experience has caused me to rethink some of my former uppity ideas about self-publishing.

  2. In response to Christina - I had a big publisher for my book Rules, Britannia and I still had to do most of the PR work myself. The big publisher name gets you a few reviews but they move on so quickly that the books would die on the vine if the authors didn't put the work in.

    Also, if a trad publisher turns a book down, it doesn't mean it's not good, it's purely a business decision. I recently had one that was seriously considered by another large publishing house. They had three editorial meetings about it (which spanned an agonising four month stretch) before they decided that the market was too small to merit the money involved in the production. While this was disappointing, it gave me the confidence to keep going with it as they had said it was a great concept and a good book.

  3. Thank you so much for this, and for the link to Alexis's post. Just more ammo to make things happen for ourselves as writers.

  4. For me personally, reading about ex-pat life in Switzerland holds a mystique similar to tales of ex-pats in Italy, France, the UK, etc. If anything, I think the market is already saturated with books by Francophiles and Anglophiles. I don't hear as much about Switzerland so I'm intrigued by that, even if book publishers aren't.

  5. I agree. As soon as I read that her book was about Switzerland, I was intrigued. I love learning about life in places that are new to me.

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  7. Hi all, thanks for your comments and experiences with self-publishing. While I wouldn't consider it for my novel, I'm glad to hear there would be interest for one on Switzerland!

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  27. Hi all, thanks for your comments and experiences with self-publishing. While I wouldn't consider it for my novel, I'm glad to hear there would be interest for one on Switzerland!

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