The Bike Book that Launched a Publishing House

TEN SPEED PRESS was founded in 1970 in Berkeley, California by Phil Wood, who began his career in the sixties with Barnes & Noble and Penguin Books. Tom Cuthbertson was Ten Speed Press's first author, and his friendly bicycle repair manual not only inspired the name of the company, it also made bicycle repair accessible for the casual and serious cyclist. The story goes that in 1968, Cuthbertson was under the hood of his old Volkswagen bus, working his way through an oil change with the help of a new kind of maintenance manual, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, published by another indie pioneer, John Muir. Written in plain English and full of opinions, it was unlike any other how-to book he'd seen. What if, he wondered, he wrote down what he knew about bicycles and stapled it together to give to his friends? So Cuthbertson started to jot some tips down. As he did, his knowledge filled 10 pages, then 40, then 100. Soon, "Anybody's Bike Book" was born, and a cycling revolution was set in motion. As the technology of bicycles has evolved, so has this classic book, and sales have nearly reached one million copies.

See Anybody's Bike Book at Ten Speed Press online

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Feature

Finding Your Niche

Marketing Genre Fiction takes Author On the Road - Literally
When my first novel, The Pendulumís Path (ISBN 1401030270), failed to sell through its print run even though it received great reviews, I thought long and hard about the sort of a book I would write next. I wanted to come up with a compelling idea that no sane reader would be able to resist. Trouble was, I couldnít get the idea of writing a novel about one of my greatest passions, the Tour de France, out of my head. I found myself daydreaming about it constantly. Finally I decided that I had better get the book written so that I could move on to more commercial ideas.

So I wrote a novel called The Race: A Novel of Grit, Tactics, and the Tour de France (ISBN 0974849200). As with The Pendulumís Path, I was fortunate to gather great reviews. Unlike the previous novel, there was an easily identifiable and fictionally starved niche to market it to. Iíd discovered, almost by mistake, that the right niche market is, in many ways, a better spot for an emerging novelist than the mainstream. Here are some of the reasons, specific to the cycling niche, and my experiences within it.

  • Passionate people love to share their joy. American fans of pro cycling wish their sport was better understood. When they discovered that my novel communicated the complex tactics and intrigue of bicycle racing in a compelling way, they began purchasing books as gifts to both their cycling and non-cycling friends.
  • People of similar interests gather together. The United States supports a thriving bicycle racing calendar. There may not be massive numbers of cyclists in any one community, but a premier event will attract them from far and wide. There were three races in the United States that drew crowds greater than one million spectators this year, and many more that attracted audiences in the high thousands. I purchased booths and signed books at as many of them as I could.
  • Niches communicate. There is not a city in America that doesnít contain thriving bicycle clubs. Before I headed out on book tour I was able to contact the leadership of clubs in every city I visited. They were more than happy to share the information about my signings with their membership. Bicycle shops have provided another easy to access method of communicating with cyclists, and another good outlet for books.
  • Message boards. There are hundreds of cycling related message boards on the Internet. I used search engines to monitor their posts. What an incredible world we live in where an author can listen in on conversations about his book going on all over the world, and then join in. Thatís been a lot of fun!
  • Responding to reader mail. I love hearing from readers. Whenever someone takes the time to write to me, I respond. I often explain the challenges of breaking through as an author, and ask them for their help in spreading the word. Itís been a great honor to see how often they take additional actions on my behalf as a result.
  • Influential niche members. My book has received some incredible breaks along the way as the result of fans of cycling who had influence in one venue or another calling in favors. This phenomenon has directly or indirectly resulted in incredible distribution, great literary representation, media opportunities, conversations about bringing the book to the big screen, and much more.
  • Takiní It To the Streets
    The biggest cycling race in America is called the Tour de Georgia. Last year the race organizers put me in a van with a PA system in advance of the bicycle race and we rushed through the back roads of Georgia signing books wherever we find a crowd beside the road. Other times I sold books to fans crowding the barriers at the finishing stretches. I was a dream come true in terms of novel marketing. These people have traveled from all over the country to watch their heroes in a cycling race, and while they wait what could be better than to buy a book about cycle racing?

    † I've given speeches to bike clubs, I've been the keynote speaker at big century rides (organized hundred mile cycling events), and much more. This week I'm going to be the featured guest in an Internet chat that one of the major cycling websites is promoting. At events where kids wear commemorative†t-shirts and go around asking athletes to sign them, I sign the biggest and clearest of all (actually, most of the signatures are just scribbles). The result is that I end up with hundreds of living billboards running all over the place.

    Itís been thrilling to see my book reaching an audience far beyond the cycling niche, and itís happening because people within the cycling community love sharing their passion with others. I enjoy all the e-mail Iím getting from non-cyclists thanking me for writing this story.

    As a result of all the success The Race experienced, Iíve put off penning a mainstream title yet again. This time itís because Iíve discovered an audience who wants to read more about the cycling characters Iíve created, and I was anxious to discover what happened to them as well. So my sequel, The Tour (ISBN 0974849219), will be on bookstore shelves in April. The early reviews have exceeded my highest expectations, and many of my readers have already joined in the effort to spread the word. Iím honored by their enthusiasm.

    The preceding is only a partial listing of the ways that my niche market has benefited me. Some or all of them are likely to come into play in any subject niche you choose, whether it be stamp collecting, steer wrestling, or basket weaving. What could be better than writing stories about your greatest passions, and then meeting other fascinating people who share your obsessions as a result? If someone had told me back when I started this project that I would soon meet men like Lance Armstrong, Eddy Merckx, Phil Liggett, Bob Roll, Marty Jemison, Frankie Andreu, George Hincapie, and so many of the other greats of this incredible sport, I would have said, ďSign me up.Ē What a journey it has been!

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    The Tour
    By Dave Shields
    Three Story Press (April 1, 2006)
    $14.95; Paperback; 240 pages
    ISBN 0974849219

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    Dave Shields is the author of three novels and father of three daughters. In 2005 he won the Ben Franklin Award for Best New Voice in Fiction. You can learn more about him and his books at www.DaveShields.com.


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