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.
Finding Your Niche
Marketing Genre Fiction takes Author On the Road - LiterallyWhen 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.
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!
* * * * *
By Dave Shields
Three Story Press (April 1, 2006)
$14.95; Paperback; 240 pages
* * * * *
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.