What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of market research? Eight people taste testing crackers in front of a one-way mirror? Irritating telephone calls from pollsters at dinnertime? A four-page check-box survey that arrives in the mail boasting of free coupons if you’re one of the first 500 people to return it?
You’re right, these are all tools that researchers use to find out more about their customers. Most of us believe that this element in the product development cycle is only for manufacturers of cars, the staff of politicians and producers of cleaning products. However, this little post is all about market research for the author.
Most authors balk at having to promote themselves. After all, they are ‘Creators’, not salespeople. That’s the job for publicists or agents or publishers or someone else. However one might feel about it, the responsibility for marketing one’s book is the author’s. How they go about that is really up to them, whether they hire someone or take it on themselves. The importance of building an author platform is paramount in the selling of the book – and any author worth their weight knows this.
This blog post is here to help you with that. This is a simple primer on market research, that little thought of, but oh so important aspect of selling a product, and yes, whether you like it or not, your book is just that – a product.
Simplistically speaking, the goal of market research is to determine the market demand for a particular product. By determining demand, one is then able to determine how to best sell it. That is why market research is important for authors, because after doing this relatively simple task, you’ll find it is easier to sell your work.
The traditional product development cycle would say to research the demand for the product, go build it, then go sell it. For the author, this might mean checking out bestseller lists, libraries and online networks to find out what people are reading and buying and then write a book on something that has high demand.
But does that really work in this arena? My say is no. The minute you write for someone else, and not for yourself, you lose all credibility as one who creates. And what you create will be lacking, aerated and void. And readers will see that. And they won’t buy it.
So, remain true to yourself and create something from your heart, soul and intellect. Go through all the steps necessary to get to your finished product – a manuscript. Then once you’re done, you’ll try to sell it. For some authors this means self-publishing. For others this means shopping it around to publishers and agents. If you take the latter route, you’ll soon find out that most of these people are looking for authors with an established platform.
No matter which road you take, developing a platform means getting yourself out there, marketing yourself and your book. You might Tweet, start a Facebook page, join author’s groups, hold readings, get a webpage, a blog, etc. It means doing anything to get yourself or your book in front of customers – whether they be readers, agents or publishers.
But, if you take the time to do a bit of research before you start all your platform-building efforts, you’ll find that you can cut down on the costs and time you spend doing sales and marketing and maximize your efforts. While some might say that these tasks only apply to those authors who self-publish – I say that doing this task is for all authors.
1. Know Your Product
Being the creator of your product, one would think you know it well. However getting a second or third opinion would be prudent. Get your friends to read it and ask them to give you a “product overview”. Ask them to describe the book as though they were telling someone who knows nothing about it, subject matter, length, writing style, etc. You’re not looking for reviews – just a description. Both you and your colleagues should write down your “product overviews” so as to avoid any misinterpretation in trying to remember what people said. Then from these, compile a final description of your book, including all the details from ISBN, to title, to genre to word count to synopsis.
2. Know Your Customer
You likely have a pretty good idea on who your target reader is. However, it is a good idea to get some second and third opinions, via your colleagues as mentioned above. I have had several authors be surprised that a demographic group, different than the one of which they originally thought, enjoyed their novel. Write down who your reader is. Don’t stop at the regular demographic particulars like age, income and whether they have kids. Think about their lifestage. Are they young urban singles, suburban stay-at-home-moms, mature professional men, etc? Then, think about what those groups might enjoy doing, list their possible hobbies and past-times. Think about their reading habits, frequency or where they read. If you don’t know, talk to people. One of the reasons Dan Brown’s books are so popular is because of his very short chapters. His books fit today’s harried and hurried lifestyle of multi-tasking; and fitting in a short chapter on a coffee break makes for easy reading that many people want. Then, once you’ve got your primary reader targeted, think about your secondary readers – or groups who may also be interested in your book.
One might read this and wonder how we can group individuals into static uniform groups of readers. I’m not proposing that – but generally speaking, people in similar life stages share similar interests. In no way is one trying to exclude any particular demographic, but having a sound idea of who your target readers are will better enable you to reach them.
If you’re shopping your book for publication, then you need to identify another customer segment – publishers and literary agents. Take the time to research these people and companies and get to know them the same way that you are trying to get to know your reader.
3. Know Your Market
Here is when you get to know the marketplace in which you are jumping into. You would want to know the size of the market and the growth that’s in it. If your book is romance, a quick web search will yield that in 2008 Romance is the largest genre of the fiction market taking 13.5% of sales. Other things you might want to have an idea of are average prices, lengths, and trends in cover design or storylines. You should also make yourself familiar with the trends in reading, publishing and bookselling. Bricks and mortar bookstores aren’t going anywhere for a while, but paper books are down in sales and the only growth is in digital or eBooks. If you don’t know anything about digital publishing or any other industry trends, make it a priority to find out the basics.
4. Know Your Competition
Finally, get to know who else is out there. By knowing what authors and books are selling and not selling will help you figure out where your book belongs and perhaps what kind of sales you can expect. It’s not hard to figure out the current trends, from YA vampires to middle grade fantasy. Pay attention to these trends and pay attention to what your competition is writing and how they market themselves. Glean ideas from others who are better at it than you. Watch, listen and learn, then you can get out there and put your own spin on it.
This might all sound a bit daunting, but once you start writing these elements down in an organized format, you’ll realize that you likely know a lot of this already. You might have to get a few other opinions or bits of information. This isn’t about creating tables or graphs or demographic pyramids. It’s just about cementing in your mind where your book fits in this mass of new books that are released every day. You’ll find that all this will fit on a few pieces of paper.
Once you’ve done this, you’ll find that marketing becomes a bit easier, more creative, more task-oriented and far more effective. For example, many authors join Twitter or Facebook and start trying to sell their book/themselves that way. They accumulate lots of friends, and figure they’re doing a great job. But what if their target readers are middle grade kids? Many parents don’t let their 11 year-old kids on those social networks, so all that time spent tweeting would be much better served by doing some local advertising at schools, libraries or by getting creative on how to get viral with that highly social demographic.
Of course, now comes the hard part, how to find creative and effective ways to reach your readers. But now that you know who they are, who else is out there, what kind of market you’re in and what you have to offer – the ideas will flow much more easily from what we already know is your highly creative mind.
Michelle Halket is the Creative Director for ireadiwrite Publishing, a digital small press which specializes in literary fiction, poetry and selected non-fiction by new authors. For more about her and ireadiwrite Publishing, check out www.ireadiwrite.com