The Importance of Finding Your Niche: A Q&A with publishing veteran Richard E. Abel
We tend to look very hard for potential authors. We stay very close to the authors in the niche we’re working in. … We’re looking for literature niches that have not been occupied. Then, we do some nosing around. Who’s the best person in the field? Then, we go and entice them to do a book. There’s a lot of initiative in all of this. On the East Coast, it’s become pretty much a marketing affair. Out here, you’re still very much known by your catalog. Your catalog is your calling card.
Extra: How would things be different today if you were to start a company like Timber Press now?
Abel: I would look around for niches that are inadequate or not filled at all. I know they’re out there. I’ve done a lot of consulting since I sold Timber—both in this country and [in] England. There are a whole slug of niches. …
… To keep your list intact, you’ve always got [print-on-demand (POD)]. POD was just a dream when I was active. Now, it’s a great way for a niche to keep a title in print for years on end.
Extra: You’ve seen all of the various parts of the business—what has excited or shocked you the most in recent years?
Abel: What I’m really excited about is print-on-demand. You can do your own composition in-house and then send it to someone like Lightning Source and have books back in two or three weeks. …
One of things that really strikes me is that the unit sale of books has been topped out and is starting to recede. I think what we, therefore, are seeing is the demise of the book [for] just pure entertainment. People still are buying the serious book, the nonfiction book put out by the niche publisher, and that’s going to be around because people need knowledge. The entertainment books—the thing to spend away a few evenings with—there’s the competition from TV, the movies and now the Internet. They’re replacing the entertainment component that the book used to serve. Back in the golden age of reading, toward the end of the 19th century, almost anything would sell. That’s not the case anymore. ….