How to Market Fiction Effectively and Profitably
2018 is the year I picked a content niche and promised my everlasting fidelity to it. My life partner of a niche-subject is authorship and publishing. The reasons for this marriage are:
To understand your subject is to know and reach your audience.
To reach your audience and to give them what they want directly correlates to success.
To NOT know your audience is death by 1000 cuts. (It’s what I call the swirling vacuum of who cares.)
With my new vow in mind, I’ve created a mountain of content about writing, publishing, and marketing nonfiction books, more specifically nonfiction works in the genres of how-to, personal development, and self-help.
Nonfiction writers have taken notice and love what I’m doing. Yippee! For me, this has resulted in clients and a much sought after lucrative digital publishing career.
However, FICTION writers have also taken notice and have asked, “Hey, what about me?” And they are right.
My blogs on how to:
- Define target audiences
- Write book proposals and get advances
- Look at your books through the lens of business planning
were NOT written with the novelist in mind.
Let me start by saying, I DO write fiction. I have one finished manuscript sitting in a drawer collecting dust, and another half-finished novel sitting on my hard drive collecting digital dust.
The reason these novels are so damn dusty is because I wrote them without ANY IDEA OF WHO I WAS WRITING THEM FOR.
Again, even though many of us self-publish, the secret of how to succeed and reach bestseller status is hidden in the age-old acquisition processes that legacy publishers have used to discover marketable authors.
If you can get very, very clear on your genre, then you can market to the audience that reads that particular genre. That’s the basic premise behind marketing fiction. Within your genre, see if you can pinpoint sub-genres like… perhaps… an erotic circus bildungsroman. Don’t laugh. I wrote one 🙁
Next, break your audience’s preferences down even further to main character demographic (age, gender, race), setting (imaginary, historical, a particular country or location), and plot (open, fast-paced action, conflict-driven, threaded).
Dig deeper with mood, tone, level of weirdness, sexiness, predictability, and more.
After I finished my entire first novel, I sat down to write my query letters.
Title: American Circus
Word Count: I know that one! 80,000 words.
Genre? Errr, gaw… I don’t know! Mainstream? Literary Fiction? Umm, a bestseller, of course. Right?
I wrote 80,000 words without having the slightest clue about what genre I was writing in, or who I was writing the novel for. FACEPALM.
In retrospect, my finished book was (and is) a young adult (except for several sections of hardcore erotica) fictionalized circus memoir set in the Caribbean. Otherwise known as the ever popular, chart-topping erotic circus bildungsroman.
But wait, perhaps there IS a market for this bad-boy! (There’s not, but I do have a point.)
Market research is essential. (Market research is decidedly what I did NOT do for my first and second novels. If only I had known.) Writers of practical nonfiction, if they are pursuing a publishing contract, are at an advantage here because they are required to write a book proposal.
For the novelist, the process is to pitch your finished book to agents. Fiction writers can totally skip the planning and strategy that goes into creating a proposal, but they SHOULD NOT do that.
Why book proposal writers have such an advantage is that, through the process, they gain an understanding of who their competition is, who their audience is, and what problems they are solving for their target market BEFORE they even write their book.
Solve a Problem
Sure, if you’re writing a book about weight loss, your target market has an obvious problem to solve — they are fat!
As a novelist, you might be saying to yourself, “What problem can I possibly solve if I’m writing a military sci-fi epic, a sweeping nautical saga, or a yaoi?” (Look it up. Yaois are super hot right now.)
Try boredom, lack of connection or understanding, spiritual need, need for inspiration, or escape from unhappiness? Dig deep. The problems are there, and you can solve them, at least temporarily.
A standard section of a nonfiction book proposal is an analysis of competing titles. For writers of fiction, this can be immensely valuable.
Make a list of authors who sell well in your genre.
Make a list of beloved books that are similar to yours.
Write down a list of the recent bestsellers in your genre category.
Keep listing until you selected at least twelve titles that are excellent examples of what you want to write and that are currently selling well.
For each book, include the following:
- Amazon Categories
- Amazon Rank
- Book Description
- How your book is different or better than this title
To download a free fillable market analysis for fiction worksheet that includes instructions on how to find and use Amazon ranks, categories, and keywords for comparable titles, click here.
This research will not take long, perhaps a day. Dedicating a few hours to really understanding your genre, audience, and competition before you start outlining your book and developing your characters will save you from years of wasted effort and immense headaches when you are ready to publish and market your book.
The secret is planning and working on your plan. If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you arrive? You can’t just stumble upon success.
~ Jack White
To those in publishing, book sales are a multi-billion dollar industry. As a novelist, this kind of strategic analysis may seem counter-intuitive to the creative spirit of writing. However, knowing how you are going to position and market your book before you start writing will only serve to clarify and strengthen your voice and conviction.