While waiting, this past week, I had to learn to lay a brick floor – repetitious, but very satisfying when you’ve hung up the rubber mallet and swept up the last of the sand. In a similar way, a writer with a story needs to repeat a few simple steps, to be sure that when the story becomes a book, and the book is published, it will be found by the right readers.
If a writer has publishing their work as one of their goals, then these steps may well be as important as the agony of learning how to write by producing unavoidable dreck. Also repetitive, but ultimately satisfying. The first step is to ask yourself, just who is going to want to read this story. Who needs to read this story. (OK, if you write non-fiction, you may not think of your work as a story, but in fact, it is a story. It is the story of your involvement in following the material information, and the subsequent story of how it affects the reader. Readers always like stories) Asking who will read it is the critical starting point to developing a Marketing Plan. Indie Authors can always pay someone to write a marketing plan for them, but it won’t be anywhere near as effective as the one you prepare — mentally, within yourself.
Your Test/Focus Groups
You may know several readers who would want to read your work. The initial group usually involves family members and friends, whose criticism may not be all that useful. They may enjoy reading the work immensely, but it would be almost impossible to separate out their feelings for you, the intricacies of your relationship with the actual reading. At least it is a beginning, and I’m sure they have all been curious for some time.
Among them, may well be readers who want to share the book with the next circle of friends, or with a specific friend, and when that happens, you have a great opportunity. Ask why. Why would this interest this person. What kind of person is this? What are their interests, their background? Everything you can discover will help you begin to separate your perception of your own work from first-born child to new product.
Creating this split in your perception is very important to letting your work tell you who to market it to. Writers don’t always write “to order”. Many fiction works seem to create themselves, and what you have when finished can be as much of a surprise to the writer as to the reader. You will always approach your first-born with love. The love that eventually teaches you to use a firm hand in guiding your writing into the beautiful expression it can grow into.
You’ll need some time to develop a realistic definition of just what kind of book you have written. This will tell you, if you learn to observe, who will want to read it, and who will be willing to pay for it. If you can list the attributes of your writing as you see it, then compare it to information you have gleaned through open discussion (which friends and family members will undoubtedly feel all too willing to engage in), you may be surprised at the outcome. Your book may, in fact appeal to a different reader than you had in mind, assuming you did have a reader in mind, besides yourself! If this realization comes, it will be invaluable, so guard it carefully. It will be your road-map to marketing your new product.
Expand Your Test Group
The next step is to begin to broaden the reader-interest circle outward so that you can gain understanding of the interests of readers you don’t know. Keep in mind the fact that Agents and Publishers will be in a very outer circle at this point, and, for the benefit of your sanity, concentrate on readers. There are four easy places to get ideas about readers. More specifically, how your book will appeal to them – or not. Libraries, Booksellers (bricks and mortar as well as online) and Reader’s Forums. Some of you may belong already to writer’s groups or reading clubs.
Librarians Don’t Bite
Start at your local library. Try to spend a few days there, off and on, if you have the time and your day-job allows. Watch what kind of books, similar to yours are checked out or taken out of the stacks to actually read. Anyone who will take a book out of the stacks and sit is either dodging home or work, or is a really committed reader. You’ll want to speak with the librarian, asking questions about the authors and books they see moving out of the stacks and if any in a similar story-line or genre to your work, are being read repeatedly. See if any books like yours are in the stacks and if any reader reviews are available on them. If you have access to reader reviews, watch what comes up frequently. How are the reviews similar? Positive comments as well as negative are important to your understanding of why these people checked out or read this book. When reviewers agree, the information is critical to being able to either craft your work, or to target your book’s market effectively.
Nothing is Free
This same research activity can be carried out at bookstores. Try to get a meeting with the bookstore owner or book buyer if at all possible, and try to get their take on books like yours. Their perceptions gathered day-in, day-out are really important. Ask them about the kind of readers you’re tentatively going to target. If they have any tips or suggestions, have them written in stone. Find out what other kinds of books your target reader will buy in addition to your type of book. This will give you a clear idea of how broad interests can run. It’s important to find out if there is content in your story that will hold a reader’s interest in several areas at once. If possible, strike up a conversation if you see someone ready to purchase or seriously considering a book like yours, but don’t interfere with their decision-making. If you pester too many customers, it’s good way to get thrown out of a bookstore! Be sure to support your local bookseller. Even if all you’re doing is gathering marketing research, buy a book anyway, every time you go in. They make great gifts!
The research that can be gathered in online writer’s and readers forums is also very useful, especially if your book appeals to the online generation. In my case, to target readers for my work, I have to also look offline, where most of my kind of reader resides. If you also write in a genre that may not be as appealing to younger, or more tech-savvy readers, then you’ll need to realize at some point, that your research will have to be more directed to where they are, not just online.
Another consideration to your interaction online is that most people will respond to questions differently face-to-face, than safely protected behind a keyboard and monitor screen. Keep this in mind as you look for similar comments and ideas that run through discussions. It is the similar points that may either be people adopting and promoting the prevailing attitudes of that particular forum, or real gems of information. Learning the difference will take some time and mean learning how to put frustration aside – at least it did for me! You’ll have to jump right in and get involved directly to get the full measure of what I mean.
The Right Approach
After you’ve spent some time gathering information in these ways, you’ll have a much clearer understanding of who your reader is. Now you’ll be able to position your book in the right places either physically, or online. This way, you’ll target your market, and get more bulls-eyes than if you simply threw your books into the air to see where they came down. This is what happens if your book is just put out there, with little consideration as to who is actually going to see it, especially in the net universe.
A Plan Emerges From the Rubble…
Follow your reader’s interests, and they will lead you to the most effective venues to showcase your book. This constitutes an effective, well-researched marketing plan and it cost you only time, observation and conversation, not lots of dollars. Most Indie-Authors, like me, have little extra left at the end of the month to pay other people to do what we can do for ourselves, if we take the time to learn to do for ourselves.
Next week: Creating an effective showcase ad, now that you know who to show it to.