by Adam Fenner
Reposted with permission (and minor editing corrections) from the 13Thirty Books blog
In the past we’ve borrowed posts from 13Thirty Books because we found them relevant topics to Write Well readers. We invite you to check out their website for other posts and information on their current and upcoming books. I make no apologies that my brother is a 13Thirty author and that Scott and I soon will be as well. I believe strongly in what 13Thirty Books is doing and in their intelligent, innovative approach to publishing.
There is a lot to be said about writing for your market and listening to the advice of experts. This will not be my addition to that comprehensive set of established advice from those who have and have not succeeded within the industry.
I am going to start by saying that you should write from your heart, reach deep down and smear your soul over every page. Make every character embody every bit of you that makes you flawed and human. Put them into scenarios that elicit the types of emotions that you want to feel. Why? Why would you ignore all the advice about what is, and is not, readable… or marketable? Simple. You are one in more than seven billion people. You are not so unique that you are the only one that thinks that a type of story or character is entertaining. There are more people out there just like you.
Now, here is the hard part, and this is where the experts have you. Once you have written your truly unique piece that comes from the deepest parts of your soul, you have to find your kindred spirits and convince them that your story is what they want. That is marketing. This is why the publishing industry has genres, and why the big houses have editors that specialize in their genres. They have mastered the market, found out how to reach those kindred spirits, and know what to give them to keep them happy.
When fellow 13Thirty Books’ author, Lance Taubold and I started shopping On Two Fronts around, we kept running into this problem. It wasn’t really a war story, so the military editors didn’t want it. And it wasn’t a romance, so the romance editors wouldn’t take it. It was a relationship story between two unlikely friends set during war, and it was too different for anyone to take a chance on. Then, we found 13Thirty Books and they took a chance on us. But again, no one would push our book harder than us.
As a writer who hopefully has the goal of selling his/her books, you need to find your target audience and reach them. Remember: first and foremost, you need to reach readers. Readers buy books. Authors do tend to be voracious readers, but they aren’t your target audience most of the time. I can’t stress that enough. As you develop your marketing plan, you need to understand your target audience and where they look for the books they buy. If your book is so incredibly unique that only three other people on the planet will like it, then your task is to set out to find them. Maybe your entire market is so unique that it is unusually small. Whatever your target market is, your task is to find it and let them know about your book.
[RICK ADDS: If your market is only three people on the entire planet, you might want to rethink the wisdom of writing it and trying to sell it, but I know what Adam means. If your book has a highly specialized audience, then you will have to work that much harder to sell a copy to everyone in that audience.]
A genre such as romance is a well-established market. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of trusted reviewers, and a readership that has an insatiable lust for books. Non-fiction, war, history books are also well-established genres. Those readers love books about war–any war, or a specific war. They know their favorite authors, and they can be easily reached through specific channels. But you wouldn’t advertise your contemporary romance about a detective and his new beautiful client on the history channel. Nor would you market your nonfiction work on the history of submarines used in WWI through Romantic Times Magazine.
Finding your target audience is your first step, followed by how to get to them. These aren’t arbitrary questions. These are the major million-dollar questions that even big houses fight to answer. Who is my market? How do I reach them? And the last question: How do I convince them to buy my book?
How do you convince someone to buy your book? In a market saturated with authors and their books, people are beginning to be overloaded with options, and they are beginning to resort to purchase only from their most trusted authors or reviewers and stores/websites. This is what economists call “Choice Overload.” Simply put, if a person is provided with too many choices, they shut down and go only with what they know. That is what is happening with the self-publishing, “everyone is an author/publisher” market. We may be providing too many options to the consumer. “Choice Overload” is, then, the end result.
How can we mere mortals overcome that? We need to begin the same way that every other successful author did: by reaching out and gaining the trust of those around us. Start small. Convince your friends and family that your story is worth reading. Turn them into your advocates, and have them start reaching out. Now, don’t limit yourself there. The giants of the industry don’t stop with who they know. They reached out further, slowly over time, to markets and niches that they didn’t know. Things take time to develop.
We’ve done this with On Two Fronts–started with friends and family, and while we were developing that very limited market, people who already trusted us and would buy our books for no other reason than we wrote them, we began to broaden our market by reaching out with book signings and media appearances. Have any of these put us on the NY Times Bestseller List? No. However, every time we found new advocates, convinced new people to try our book, we extended our reach just a little further.
All the while you are doing this, keep writing. Keep writing what you love. Every book you sell will extend your reach. It will put your name in front of people who already loved your previous work and remind them to keep advocating on your behalf. The new book will find more readers, further extending your readership. Those new readers will look back on what you have already written and pick up your backlist. This effect snowballs. And where you started off, physically handing out a copy of your book to each new reader, happy to have sold ten a month, you will find your numbers increasing exponentially.
A final important word is this: continue to develop your current readership. Take those that are already buying your books and learn what they like and dislike. Maintain that conversation in whatever platform suits you best, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, or a means you find more efficient.
Grab your readers with a story they love, and keep giving them what they want.
Never forget these important questions:
Who is my target market?
How do I reach them?
How do I convince them to buy my book?
Once you have answered these three questions, don’t quit. Hold on to those people. Develop them as your advocates, and they will begin advertising your books for you. They will extend your reach on your behalf. Then you can focus on writing more of what you love.