Niche or National? Making Your Decision

Two Paths

by Kathy Gordon, guest blogger

To start with, let’s be clear what we’re talking about. The national market  is just what it sounds like: a market that includes every reader in the nation. When you publish to the national market, your book could be picked up, read, and enjoyed by anyone.  A niche market  is a small slice of the national market made up of readers that have something specific in common: they are all speedboat enthusiasts, members of a specific church, horticulturists, or computer geeks, for example. Your book on finding the best low-cost accommodations in Europe would certainly appeal to travel buffs, but wouldn’t hold the interest of speedboat enthusiasts or elderly knitters and quilters. So, now that we’ve defined the differences, let’s explore how to choose the right one for you.

Principles in Deciding Niche vs. National

Your  particular membership in one of these “niche groups” isn’t what’s important—and, in fact, doesn’t even matter unless it gives you the expertise to pen a book about that particular thing. The topic of your book  is what qualifies it for a niche market. And in some cases, it’s also what you exclude  from your book that qualifies it for a certain niche (like certain types of no-deal material in books for the LDS market).

Many of this blog’s readers live in Utah, and thus have sent in requests for information on writing for the LDS market (a niche market if there ever was one) versus the national market. This blog explores that topic in depth. Don’t be too hasty to click out of today’s blog if you’re not LDS, though (a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), or have never thought of writing for that market; the principles (discussed below) that will help you choose which market is right for you hold true for every type of niche market out there, even though the publishers and the content they seek may differ drastically.

Those principles are simple:  Do your best to research: 1) what types of editing and promotion help your potential publisher offers, their take on contracts/advances, and whether they require you submit through an agent (some niche publishers don’t, including the LDS market); 2) what said publisher is looking for, not (or no longer) looking for, and examples of what they’ve recently  published; 3) and how what you have compares to what is already available in the market, whether national or niche—could you write the same book for either market, or do you need to tweak your content to meet the niche requirements?

The LDS Market as an Example

I happen to work for a publisher that targets the niche LDS market, so I do have some real-life expertise in that area. There are some things that make the LDS market unique. Some of the obvious? No steamy sex scenes, gratuitous violence, polygamy or profanity. Fiction for that market was once required to mention something about the LDS church, its members, or spirituality, but that is no longer  a requirement. Nonfiction for that market still sells best when those topics are a major focus (and understanding members of the Church is also a big part of effectively speaking to that audience). Taking those kinds of unique aspects into account, regardless of which niche market you’re considering, will help you decide whether to seek a niche or national publisher.

LDS Fiction Do’s and Don’ts

A word to the wise about fiction: not all LDS-themed books do well in the LDS market. Fiction in all genres sells across the board in the LDS market, but some do much better than others; the most popular right now are Regency romances and good, gripping suspense novels. Literary and dramatic fiction do not  do well in the LDS market; apparently LDS readers prefer to get that sort of stuff from national-market offerings. Or, as we’ve theorized at work, maybe they read to escape … not to hear about the exact sorts of problems and grief they are facing in their own lives!

LDS Nonfiction Success

Nonfiction LDS books sell well depending on author and topic.  Certain authors hit it out of the ballpark every time—among them Susan Easton Black, Brad Wilcox, Ed J. Pinegar, Brent Top, Michael Wilcox, Sheri Dew, Clayton Christensen, David Ridges, and some of the general authorities. If you’re an “unknown” in the LDS market, you might have a tougher time getting accepted, published, and aggressively marketed, but that certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get in there and try. Every tried-and-true author in the market was once an unknown. No one had heard of James L. Ferrell when he submitted his manuscript to Deseret Book; now The Peacegiver  is a bestseller and he’s practically a household name.

There also seem to be certain topics that do better than others: bringing meaning to temple worship, recognizing personal revelation, and deepening your relationship with the Savior are good examples. Scripture-study materials are also pretty consistently good sellers; it seems people are always looking for a new and more effective way to improve their study. And with the Church’s emphasis on “hastening the work,” anything to do with missionaries is pretty hot right now—and I assume will continue to be. If you’re determined to write nonfiction for the LDS market, do some research and find out which topics do best (ask your local Deseret Book or Seagull stores what their bestselling topics and books are).

What to avoid for the current LDS market

Now you know what’s likely to succeed—what about topics that sound the death knell?

Family home evening aids have dramatically dropped off in popularity … and who knows why? If you’ve just invested the last three years in writing one, look at ways you might be able to adapt it to some other angle. Perfect example: We received a well-written manuscript on how to use family home evening to prepare your kids (from a very young age on up) to be effective missionaries when the time comes (and effective member missionaries as well). Partway through production, we realized with some chagrin that family home evening books have taken a huge nosedive. We desperately wanted to save a book that we genuinely believed in, so we went back to the drawing board. Result? We changed the emphasis of the book to be things you can do to make your home an MTC, with no mention whatsoever of family home evening or “lessons.” It was exactly the magic touch the book needed, and the author was thrilled that her hard work still saw the light of day, even if it wasn’t in the exact format she originally intended. So be flexible. Let trends help you shape your book.

Teacher helps are another thing that have nosedived in the LDS market. We think that’s mostly because of two factors. First, the Church periodically issues statements that teachers should not use ANY material other than what’s in the manual provided for that class. Of course, many teachers still  look for outside materials that will help them dazzle their class members, so we know they’re out there searching. So why don’t they snatch up books containing teacher helps? Simple: there’s a PLETHORA of cute, awesome, creative, inspirational, and thought-provoking lesson aids online for FREE, regardless of what age you’re teaching (even gospel doctrine). Anyone who knows how to do a basic search online will find a treasure trove. So why would someone dish out money for a book?

LDS nonfiction that can go either way

While there’s always an exception to every rule, and all kinds of factors influence which books will do well and why (like how compellingly well written and insightful they are), there are a few other types of nonfiction that might  prove better suited for the national (or Christian) market if you’re on the fence.

Inspirational stuff is schizoid—sometimes it blows the barn doors off, sometimes it sinks like a heavy stone. If you’re contemplating an “inspirational” topic—finding peace amidst chaos, finding comfort in times of grief, learning to forgive—you might consider ways to adapt your perspective to a national market. People in general, not just LDS people, want to find peace, gain comfort in times of grief, and enjoy the blessings forgiveness brings.

Memoirs are a very tough sell. Whether you’re aiming for the LDS market or the national market, your memoir has to have some compelling (almost extraordinary) feature that drives a reader to pick it up. For example, two LDS publishers each just successfully released memoirs relating to Hitler: 1) readers wanted to know how an LDS boy survived fighting in the German army and  2) how an SS officer ever got romantically involved with a Jewish woman, and why, after their marriage, they converted to Mormonism. Those same two LDS publishers also just published memoirs written by men who lost almost their entire families in accidents caused by drunk drivers, and how they found forgiveness and hope in the aftermath of those accidents. All those memoirs had the “wow” factor readers are looking for in the LDS or  national market.

But there are exceptions to that wow-factor rule:  how good of a storyteller are you? For instance, one of the bestselling memoirs in the national market is A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana  by Haven Kimmel. It describes, quite simply, the childhood of the author, who grew up in the 1960s in the small town of Mooreland, Indiana. A picture of her as a toddler graces the cover. She’s cute, but not exceptionally so. There’s nothing at all noteworthy about her life: she didn’t survive an atomic bomb, didn’t help burn down the local church during a protest rally, didn’t go to Woodstock, and didn’t almost die from an allergy to turnips. But it’s an incredible read that is touching one moment and has you laughing so hard you cry the next. So if you’ve got a flair for telling a story that will reach the hearts of readers, go ahead and try your memoir—but seriously consider targeting the national market.

Even though self-help is a huge seller in the national market, it almost always  bombs in the LDS market. Generally, self-help is a book that gives you specifics on how to do something—conquer a porn addiction, confront abuse issues, overcome emotional burnout, and so on.

Why does it sell so well in the national market but not the LDS? After all, plenty of Mormons love self-help books. But most Mormons do NOT want to go to Deseret Book or Seagull or any other LDS bookstore to reveal what they’re struggling with; who wants to walk up to an LDS cashier and slap down a book that all but announces they have a problem? No, Mormons buy a book like that online or buy it in a Barnes & Noble bookstore where they’re not immediately recognizable as a Mormon. As noted, many self-help books do very, very well in the national market—and the national market might be a safer bet for your book on how to survive divorce or how to handle a rebellious teen.

Do This Now

These are just a handful of tips that might help you decide on a national market versus the niche LDS market. It’s all part of a thoughtful, thorough, and careful analysis of what you’re writing, to whom it will appeal/who you want to reach, and your larger career goals.

  1. Whether you’re considering the LDS or another niche market, start making a list now of comparable books in that industry to see how yours stacks up and if tweaks need to be made for either niche or national appeal.
  2. Then review the other basic decision-making principles at the top of this article.
  3. Lastly, remember to be flexible if traditional publishing is your goal. Let trends help shape your book—whether for the LDS or national market.

For either market, we wish you the best of luck in researching and taking on modern publishing. Fortune favors the prepared!

Your turn. Any insights, experiences, or questions regarding niche or national markets?

Kathy GordonKathy Gordon has been the managing editor at Covenant Communications, a division of Deseret Book, for nine years, during which time she’s just about seen it all as far as submissions and what happens in the LDS market. If she had a crystal ball, she could tell authors exactly what to write for success in the fairly schizoid LDS market. As it is, she doesn’t, but she’s happy to share what she does know about what’s doing well and what’s … well, on the skids.

 

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Comments

  1. Thank you for these tips, especially for the LDS market! It’s good to hear what’s hot and what’s not, and ways to make a manuscript work from a reliable source.

    • Thank you for reading! We hope to provide lots more tips on making your manuscript work–no matter your publishing goals!

  2. Wonderful post! Kathy knows her stuff. Authors always need to be audience-oriented when writing a book. Know your buyer!

  3. Hi Kathy,

    I’m writing a funny memoir about overcoming a rare neurological disorder that has left me unable to speak, and up until four years ago, left me wheelchair bound (today I walk with a walker thanks to lifestyle changes). My main goal is to motivate people to lead healthier lives; and not to give up in life and to follow your dreams.

    I’m not sure who to target my memoir at… Any suggestions would be great.

    Kind regards
    Dahlia

    • Kathy Gordon says:

      Dahlia,

      Now THAT’S an example of a memoir with a WOW factor! Congratulations for facing your situation head-on and finding out what could work to help in your case. It sounds as though you’ve worked in a very inspirational message, which would apply in many niche markets, but I would encourage you to target the national market with this one. Best of success to you on what sounds like a fascinating and motivating read!

      Kathy Gordon

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