This is a general, rambling comment covering some of the more touchy-feely components of setting up a marketing plan. I prefer a more organic approach rather than the nice, crisp document with all the numbers in a row. They have their place, but if you have an interest in developing your ability to perceive your market better, read on…
“Millions Sold!” Remember the little tag line that used to be seen between the Golden Arches under every McDonalds Hamburger Sign? Just knowing that …millions…of people had purchased and eaten these “bombes du gut” really made your mouth just water, didn’t it? It also made established two implications. First, that the burger was good. Second, that if you didn’t scarf one up, you were cutting yourself off from…millions of people. Millions.
I receive the Daily Email from Publisher’s Weekly. As an Indie Author, I find it about 50-50 with subjects of direct interest and entertainment. Today, (I’m getting a head-start by actually beginning on Friday for tomorrow’s article.) the banner ad running across the top of the email was for “NY Times Bestselling Series” Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead! Then, just below – and I realize the PW is a TRADE publication for those that sell books – ran the slogan, “Over 2 Million Books Sold!”
Not to disregard the money to be made in the Vampire Genre, by booksellers hungry for every sale, but it really did remind me of McDonalds’ advertising. Brings P.T.Barnum to mind. I won’t be scarfing up any Vampire bestsellers right now, and I don’t care if I’m ostracized from millions of sold readers. I don’t write Vampire. After Stoker – good, tasty stuff – I won’t be reading Vampire either, no offense intended to Anne Rice, who launched this amazing fountain of gold, then exited holding a huge bag of cash.
So, if you write and enjoy Vampire Genre, my column may not give you any new marketing ideas. You’ve been lucky enough to hit upon a trend. Being light on your feet and enjoy lucky timing is a rare and can be a profitable blend of skills, but it might not be something you can learn. It may not be sanguine enough, or sexy enough, or….you get the idea. Still, the idea of Millions Sold…Millions! Just the thought makes my mouth water for the griddle-fried goodness!
Most of us who write fiction in niche genres, creating prose with a unique voice know or rather, should know we won’t be selling millions. It’s not a bad thing, after all – it’s just such a distant prospect that we tend to dismiss the possibility. Along with appearing on Oprah every other month. We have more realistic ideas — the ones we can actually help create, if we can be patient.
The Zen of Waiting…
It can be tough, waiting for recognition and the resulting book sales, but while we do wait, we should not be waiting idly. Waiting is an activity, after all. I remember when I was in College, investigating whole new worlds of thinking I found Zen Buddhism particularly interesting. One of the major pathways that Zen can use to lead you to enlightenment is to learn how to wait. It was also covered in great detail in Herman Hesse’s book Siddhartha, which in the day, was to my generation what Vampire Academy and it’s like, must be to the current crop.
There is an important lesson to training yourself to be occupied with the activity of waiting. Waiting allows you to quiet all the background noise and actually observe what is happening around you. If done with deliberate non-focus – deliberate non-attachment, it can lead to all kinds of new awareness. It works in meditation. It works in business. It works in the creative process.
While waiting, we can learn techniques which will sharpen our ability to sense opportunity. Now, I’ve let a lot of opportunities slip away, over the years – I’m not a master in any way. Yet. As an Indie Author, not everything remotely literary/publishing-oriented will relate to my personal path towards my goals. Some things will. Those are the ones I don’t want to miss. I know I’ll miss plenty – I just want to pare down the numbers to improve my chances.
Mientras Descansas Hace Adobes
This is an old, New Mexican “dicho” or saying, handed down through the years. It was meant to be a final comment made by a husband, to his wife as he left the family home for a day of work. It’s supposed to be a kind of joke. Sometimes, we’ve seen it inscribed on a tile or embroidered on a sampler, then hundg up near the door. Translated, it means “While you’re resting, make adobes!” Adobes being the 40 pound mud and straw bricks that are left to bake in the sun. Not exactly the kind of job done while “resting”, but the saying applies equally well to Indie Authors. While you’re resting….
One of the first things you need is a set of goals. Not one. Several. These should be visualized as a series of steps that lead to different places you want to reach. For example, good (insert number here) bookstore sales may be a goal that takes several different paths to reach. Another, better (insert cogent qualifier here) recognition, also may be achieved through different steps and tools. Let’s assume here, that you don’t have several hundred dollars burning a hole in your pocket to spend on a retained publicist. I can’t afford that expense, so it’s been up to me to find ways of getting the word out while I’m waiting. That, and making sure that what the word conveys, is what the reader wants to hear.
The first step…
Making sure you understand what your readers want to read is step one. In the same way we tried to visualize and quantify our readers and booksellers (if we seek to sell to book stores) when designing our book cover, we need to hold those ideas close when we wait to see what is working out there. Think: My Book’s Niche. How are our readers and potential customers (booksellers, who are also readers) different from those who won’t even consider reading our books. Try to answer those questions by observing – at a relaxed pace – what the media is dishing, what the niche-forums are spouting, what “people” (insert appropriate adjective that relates to your readers here) are talking about. What are their concerns? Why are they reading at all, assuming they are.
I have a group of bookmarks in a special folder on my browser named “Book Marketing” in it I put links to forums, book seller sites, publishers sites, other writers sites and anything else whose subject works towards the subjects or settings in my book that may attract potential readers. I visit these every couple of days – sometimes I post a comment, sometimes not, but I try to get a general idea of what’s cooking.
I pay special attention to anything which uses keywords also found in my books. If a forum offers a keyword search, I’ll use that, along with my trusty list of ten keywords that pertain to my work and I’ll limit the time frame to the last two or so days. If I find a lot of activity, I might go back into the threads, but I try not to get too ensnared. I actually do try to remain somewhat disconnected, so my own inner demons don’t trip me. Forums that specifically deal with subjects that create dissenting opinion may be entertaining, but the egos fly fast and furious, and the useable lessons may not be as easy to parse through. But, if you have a competitive nature, and like to see the fur fly, this may produce useable results for you, depending on what you write, and who your reader is.
I also like to visit libraries, and ask librarians what’s being checked out in similar genres of fiction. Have they noticed any sudden shifts? Do these shifts always follow the marketing pushes from publishers? Try to notice readers, while you’re in a library or bookstore. Are they quietly reading, or are they casting around for contact or experience? Do they look at posters or other marketing materials, or do they seem to be on a mission, heading directly to what they want, and then, leave just as fast, book in hand?
Bookstores also now provide coffee bars and cafe environments which can be very useful in catching interesting comments – even if just to see what’s being read. If you’re not shy, you might even engage readers – and find out many things you can use to train your ability to understand YOUR reader better. Most people, unless engaged in conversation, will react positively if you ask their opinion about something. That’s what Marketing Research Firms count on, and so should you. It makes the “subject” feel important. You may get more information than you need, but it may be useful later on – you never know.
Ask ’em Questions…
It’s a good idea to keep any interview conversations spontaneous and light-weight and on-target, so that it will be a simple matter to decide when your part of it is over, and you can move on – unless the entanglement is appealing to you. I am a better observer usually than I am an “interviewer”, but you may be better at conversation. Use what you are good at, and improve those areas that need improving, by doing. You should learn to observe and retain information until you are able to spot your reader by sight alone — probably not possible, but you get the idea.
Everyone has lots of characteristics that betray their inner selves – for example, if you write about driving on the Nascar circuit, your reader may indeed by wearing a specific team hat, or T-Shirt. I’m not sure specifically what your reader would do to betray their interest if you write Vampire Novels, but there would be signs. These signs are often referred to in Poker-playing circles as “tells”. Few players can eliminate all of them, thereby being “unreadable”. Outside of Poker, most folks like their “tells” displayed proudly. Good for them – good for you.
As you learn to wait effectively, you’ll begin to amass a great deal of data and understanding. The better you know your prospective reader – customer – the easier it will be to make the sale. As a producer of goods (Indie Author)you have the additional opportunity of massaging your product to appeal directly to any or all of the “tells” your customers display. Specific, salient selling points that will satisfy their needs in a good read. Now, unless you’re producing hamburgers, of course, you’ll still want to retain your own voice, and your own story ideas, but inserting an occasional piece of juicy fruit or candy into a cake never made the cake less tasty.
Begin to think of the “ingredients” that your readers will be hoping to discover in your writing. List them. Train yourself to learn to see them in other contexts, in other writer’s work, in discussions. If you can do this, then you can gently guide your story’s appeal without making it seem false, or over-reaching. The chances are, you already have quite a few of them in your work, as it’s come from your imagination – full of the things that appeal to, or are frightening to, or are of interest to….you.
Enjoy the scenery.
You’ll learn to wait in different places. You’ll learn to wait while engaged in all kinds of other work. Multi-tasking is possible, if you don’t try to do too much at once –even for men. Now, in case you think I’m suggesting you become a spy – that’s not what we’re doing here. You’re an interacting human being, not a recording device. Besides, words are your favorite medium. Your interactions, past and present with other humans gives an honest voice to your writing. If you were doing market research for a particular tool, for example, you’d clearly want to know what users liked and disliked about the tools they use as well as the tool you have designed or are trying to sell. Sometimes you ask, other times, you listen. It’s a simple matter of quantifying the results to help refine the tool to be positioned properly for the market.
Writing is an interactive, yet singular activity. So is reading. Writers read. Readers ….well, some readers, write. You have a lot in common with your readers, mostly those things are the key to making your writing rewarding, both to you and to your readers. Rewarding writing is appealing to booksellers, even eBook sellers. If all the ingredients are in the mix, and the product satisfies the market, then all you need to do next, is let ’em know. No small task, but made easier by you’re having learned that waiting isn’t down-time. The ongoing task of selling your book, unless you have a publisher willing to do it for you (pretty small chances out there for that kind of commitment these days) will become easier the more you practice it. Like Zen. Learning to sit and …be.
Now go out and grab a nice, juicy cheeseburger. You’ve earned it! Oh, and make some adobes.
Next Week: We learn to narrow down the number of targets while waiting for success to improve our aim and our scoring.