PART FIVE: Knowing Your Market
Who are you writing for? What do they look like? Where do they live? Where do they buy the books they read? In an independent book store? At the big chains? Wal-Mart? Amazon? How do they like to get their stories? Hard backs? Paperbacks? E-books? Audio books?
Let’s go further. Where do they learn about the books they like to read? Is your prospective reader viewing book videos? Does s/he read the New York Times Best Sellers list to find what they want? Do they frequent the library? Belong to reading groups? Only purchase books recommended by friends?
What genres do they prefer and are you writing for them … or for you?
Big, confusing questions, but all important and serious as a heart attack. If you don’t know your reader as intimately as you know yourself, you just may be talking to yourself and no one else.
Yes, a literary agent may sign you because they adore your style or idea and feel strongly that they can sell it, but never forget who they’re selling your manuscript to … publishers who follow the proven formulas for sales. Yes, you may have friends and fans who love your online work and follow your platform to the ends of the earth, but are they really the ones who will cough up the cash and buy your book? Say you’ve chosen the self-publishing route and bypassed a lot of the traditional publisher choices regarding your book’s printing or distribution … you still MUST KNOW YOUR MARKET.
Let’s simplify this a little. Say you are a chocolate lover. Where do you go for your chocolate? As a chocolate lover myself, I’ll happily explore this sweet path right along with you. I might start at the local convenience store where they display the popular candy bars. I’m a real fan of Snickers. For something a little different, I’ll go to the grocery store and check out the boxes of chocolate chip cookies, or the package brownie mix. Okay, maybe I’m not in the do-it-yourself or prepackaged mood and I want something a little higher quality. Look for me at the local bakery where they’ve got chocolate slathered éclairs and freshly made moon pies. All right, maybe I’m looking for something more classy and ready to step it up even higher. Godiva Chocolates. YESSSS.
Now, what I’ve just demonstrated for you is that a prospective buyer can be reached at a number of different places, wanting a number of different qualities but still desiring the same satisfaction for their sweet tooth. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that the person loves chocolate.
Translated, chocolate represents your genre. The various venues represent your prospective buyer’s reading requirements, and the quality levels represent the buyer’s moods and level of loyalty to you as the author. This is called market branding and only you can control, expand, or define it for your specific product.
If you write romance you can write several specific subgenres of romance from historic romance to paranormal romance to chicklit romance and still … marketed correctly, you can span a wide range of readership and create loyalty. You can carefully direct your target markets the way the big houses do, starting with hardback to reach those who keep books on their shelves to re-read – then to paperback or soft backs for those who prefer to spend less, read on the plane, train or during vacations – schedule an e-publishing exposure to reach a whole new audience who prefers to screen read, then generate loyalty through aggressive social media and start all over again with the next book.
It’s all fun and games when you play the format game … but there are no games if you don’t know your reader, because every detail about that reader represents your market and all the colors of it.
Where to start? At the end of course. Take a bottle of water (and a Snickers Bar) and go on a nice full day of exploring in say … Barnes and Noble. Stroll the aisles and take notes. Yes, take notes. How many books of a specific category do they have on the shelves? How many people beeline directly to those particular shelves and how many patrons meander around until something catches their eye? Yes, we all like to think we’re writing something that’s so unique it’s never been done before but if it’s not on those shelves, it’s not going to have a current market. If you spend your research time in small independent bookstores or online, it will tell you the same thing. This is the market that exists … now where does your book fit into it?
Naturally you could research sales numbers for specific genres online, but I highly recommend you do it live and in person. There’s a strong impact gained from watching the prospective buyer in the wild, doing its hunting and gathering thing and making choices based on the touch and feel (and the dust cover blurb) of the chosen book.
Knowing your market is about knowing THE market. Understanding it and facing the fact that changing it may take some doing. To build a new market for something unique and unusual, it takes a whole different strategy. For our purposes, it’s most important to find that very clear vision of exactly who will read your book … and talking right to that reader.
Next week we’ll talk about speaking to that reader. For now, it’s more important to identify and know your market. Have fun defining your audience, and watch out for the sugar high.
Platform Building, One Plank at a Time
Lesson one, The Rhyme and Reason
Lesson two, Creating Your Book Business Plan
Lesson three, Developing Your Unique Hooks
Lesson four, Getting Attention