I recently came across a news item about a restaurant in Texas that closed due to poor business, in order to relocate to another town. (The only reason I saw this was that someone at this restaurant posted a note essentially chewing out the residents of that town for being a bunch of tasteless inbred rednecks for not loving the crap out of the place, and that made it news. Ah, America.)
So, seriously, the owner of the restaurant said that the residents showed no appreciation for his food and wanted something else from him. He decided that that was something he didn’t want in his restaurant, so he picked up sticks and left. (He denies leaving the note, and no one’s been fingered for it yet.)
When you start a business, you are hoping to provide a product or service that people want. Hopefully, you’ve done some research on your intended product or service and the customers you expect to have—because, contrary to what Hollywood would have you believe, “If you build it they will come” is not a smart business strategy. Sometimes, your strategy works well, and you are rewarded with a healthy business.
But sometimes, the strategy doesn’t work. Customers tell you things like: “Yeah, that’s okay… but we really wanted red ones.” Or you discover all your customers are in a different location and can’t easily get to you. Or you discover that the people in your town are tasteless inbred rednecks. Not always, but frequently, this mistake is your own: You didn’t do your homework, or you (maybe intentionally) overlooked some research indicator that displeased you… like choosing the really cheap property to build your restaurant, and ignoring the smell from the nearby chemical plant that made it cheap in the first place…
As an author, I think about this situation frequently. I’ve written a number of books on space exploration, working (and adventuring) in space, energy crises, virtual worlds, automation and human-robot relationships, that have been well-received… but by small numbers of people. When I do my research, what I discover is that readers are going after different types of stories from what I’m writing: Star battles, space-based kingdom romances, zombies, apocalypses, machine wars, that kind of thing. The clear implication is that if I wrote some of these kinds of books, they’d sell much better than the science fiction I write now.
So it falls on me to make a decision: Should I write stories that sell well—even if they’re not the kind of stories I’d prefer to write—do I try to find a new market for my existing books—or do I ignore it all and keep writing the stories I know no one will buy?
I know some authors who would have no trouble deciding… to ignore it all and keep writing what they want to write. Some of them, of course, are already writing in one of the more popular genres, so it’s hardly a choice for them. But for me, writing stories no one will buy is not an option; before I do that, I’ll unplug my keyboard and find some other way to occupy my time. My intention of making a second income from my novels forces me to consider either changing my genre or stepping up the promotional efforts on my existing stuff.
For the moment, I’m going to investigate better promotion efforts on my existing novels. Because… well, I have over a dozen of them, and tossing them into the trashcan on my computer seems rather silly. If it doesn’t work, I’ll give some thought to other types of stories… but no promises. Battles, romances, zombies apocalypses and machine wars really aren’t my thing, and I make no assumptions about how well I can pull off that kind of stuff.
But I admit I’ll have to think twice about leaving a nasty note… those things really come back to bite you.