From Rick:

Last time, I gave you some articles to read, and we looked at the basic requirements to give a book the best chance of success: a good story, good writing, good editing, and a professional-looking cover.

Those alone will not ensure success, just as shortcomings in some of those areas won’t ensure a failure. Story must always come first, though. You have to give your readers something they will enjoy reading. Absent that and your book will go nowhere, at least in the long term. With great marketing you might get lucky initially, but once word spreads, your sales likely will bottom out. The other three factors can certainly influence your success, so why risk something substandard?

Now that we’re in agreement (I hope), we can look at ways to make your readers aware of your efforts. One caveat: I am not a marketing expert (and neither is Scott), so the advice I’m giving is what I’ve picked up from others, combined with logic and good sense.

Marketing begins with discovering your potential audience and the realization that your actual audience may not be the one you think it is. I’m quite sure J. K. Rowling and her publisher had no idea that Harry Potter would become crossover novels, ones aimed at a YA audience yet crossed over to an adult audience. A good marketing approach casting a wide net, but not too wide a one initially.

Some new authors often make the mistake of assuming that everyone will want to read their book. By trying to hit every possible reader, they dilute their efforts and may fail to find and focus on their true audience. Yet other authors err the opposite way. They’re so sure they know who their audience is that they focus too narrowly and skip over their real audience.

What if Stephenie Meyer, the author of Twilight had self-published her first novel and decided that she should target horror fans? It’s a vampire and werewolf story, after all. She would then promote her novel on websites and chat groups frequented by adult horror fans. And if those reader had dismissed it, she’d have missed an opportunity and perhaps the novel would have died there.

Now, let’s assume that she did include the teen romance element in her promotion but still kept at the adult sites. She might have gotten lucky if one of the chat group members passed the novel to a teen daughter. But would a teen son have cared? Check out the article below.

Twilight Fans

Am I saying that in our hypothetical scenario Stephenie Meyer should have tried to sell to everyone? Absolutely not. The best approach for an author is to identify a couple of possible audiences and focus on those initially. Do not assume that because your novel features YA/teen characters that it will necessarily appeal to teens (or only to teens). What if Mark Twain had targeted Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn only young audiences because the protagonists are teens? Would his novels be with us today?

Or let’s go more modern. One of my favorite recent “young protagonist” novels is Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. Despite the age of the characters (and even though it’s billed as a YA novel), for me it goes beyond being just a YA novel. I don’t know if it would have achieved its popularity had it been aimed solely at teens. I’m convinced that what helped sell it is that Doctorow made it available as a free download while it was also available in print from a traditional publisher. But Doctorow also had already made a name for himself as an author, and he used his liberal views on copyright laws to spread his name. He used multiple means to find his audience.

Are you getting the picture with regard to marketing? You cannot simply put your book out and hope it catches. The odds are stacked against you. What you need is some type of MARKETING PLAN that helps you find your audience, or better yet, one that helps you create an audience that didn’t exist before as happened with Rowling and Meyer. John Grisham created an audience for legal thrillers.

Are you seeing a running theme here? Marketing begins when you first conceive of your novel, and it continues as you write and polish it. From the outset you should be thinking about what makes your novel different from what’s already out there. Why would someone want to read your novel? You can’t answer that by a simple “because I wrote it.” You must find something in it that sets it apart from your competition.

In considering your marketing approach, what will you do to distinguish yourself and your book? Can you find something that no one else or few others are doing? Naturally, you can’t ignore the more conventional means of promotion, but you have to go beyond those.

While you’re thinking of ways to make your novel stand out, think carefully about some of these standard marketing approaches as starting points:

–Craft a compelling cover copy (the short synopsis that appears on various websites and on the cover of the printed version if you go that route as well. (Scott and I will discuss cover copy in a future post.) The right synopsis will help focus your book to the appropriate audience, whatever that proves to be.

–Carefully choose the categories for your novel (“categories”–plural) those that most closely represent your novel. Don’t limit yourself to one or you could doom yourself. That’s where many books go awry in bookstores. They’re shelved in the wrong place and the potential audience never sees them. This is a problem that exists with large bookstores. They want to know where to shelve each book, and if the publisher gets the category wrong, the author loses out. Indie authors have to be sure they do get it right, whether their books are on physical shelves or virtual shelves.

–Do not limit yourself to one seller. It’s okay to start out with someone like Amazon, but don’t stop there. The more places you make your book available, the better your chances of finding your audience. Yes, I know some authors have tried this and claim they get few or no sales outside Amazon. Do you remember one of the cautions in Part 1 of this series? Things change, sometimes quickly. Just because your sales are weak in one particular online store now does not mean they’ll always be weak there.

–Look for reviewers to help promote your work. When choosing, seek out those with a good following. Those may be harder to get to review your book because they’ll likely be in demand, so don’t ignore some of the smaller ones, especially if they’re willing to review your book and you feel their readership is a good fit for your book. That’s the important part. I’ve seen indie authors practically spam hundreds of review sites (sometimes ones not even appropriate to the book’s genre), then they complain that almost no one wants to review their book. This is the same as trying to sell your novel to everyone. By failing to focus, you waste yours and potential reviewers’ time. Do your research.

One of the differences between indie and traditional publishing is that traditional publishers usually look for an existing market of sufficient size to sell the book to. If they aren’t sure of the market or don’t see one large enough, they’ll reject your manuscript. Some years back, many publishers cut back on the number of sci-fi novels they released, even though that market has always been a small and reliable one. In their quest for hit novels, the publishers realized that blockbusters simply didn’t come from the sci-fi category, and the 15% or so of the market share that sci-fi had wasn’t enough for them.

You, the indie author, don’t have that limitation. You may see a limited market for your book, but believe it’s large enough to suit your needs. Or you can experiment with creating a new market.

Next time I’ll suggest some ideas for ways to get your novel noticed and make it stand out.

–Rick