Thursday, March 23, 2017
For many authors, thoughts of where and how to sell their books don't come to mind until the manuscript is finished and sent off to the publisher, or when a release date has been set for the book. After all, the book has to come first, right?
Certainly, writing a good book is essential for its sales prospects, but if you are waiting until you are holding a printed copy in your hand before you start thinking about the best means of marketing and promoting your book, you could already be handicapping its chances in the marketplace, and hampering your chances to sell more books.
In fact, for many successful authors, the best time to think about potential markets for a book isn't when the final touches are being put on it in editing, or when the book has been sent to the printer, or even while the book is being written. No, the best time to think about the marketing potential for a book is before you start writing the book in the first place.
When you write a book, you are essentially starting a new business. The author is the brand, and the book is the product. Like when starting any good, viable business, a bit of research has to go into it first before just deciding the launch. Not every business idea is a good business idea, and not every book idea is a good book idea. If 80 percent of all businesses fail in the first year, the same holds true if not more so for books.
Does that mean you shouldn't bother writing the book in the first place? Before you can answer that question, you have to answer a few questions first, just like you would when starting a business.
Does a market exist for the business (book)?
How much competition is there in the marketplace?
Does the book solve a problem or appeal to particular niche?
Who is the audience for the book?
How would I reach that audience?
Many authors mistakenly believe that these are questions a publisher should primarily be concerned about, and while they are, the author has to be able to easily answer these questions because even if they have a publisher, much of the promotional activity is going to fall squarely on their shoulders. The publisher may offer some marketing assistance, but that is usually short-lived until they move on to the next project, especially if the book doesn't ring up a significant amount of sales within a short period of time after the book's release date. If the book is self-published, then the answers to these questions become even more important.
So, how does an author go about finding out if their idea for a book is one which will ultimately be profitable? This will require a bit of market research. Of course, if you query a publisher and they jump at the chance to publish your manuscript, then you have a pretty good idea that your book is one that they are confident they can sell. However, if you can confidently answer the questions above, that makes your chances of your book being picked up even better, and if you self-publish, you'll be saving yourself a lot of time down the road when it's time to market your book.
Does a market exist for the book? Check out online booksellers and physical bookstores. Do they carry many other titles that fit in the genre of the book you want to write? How are they selling? Are they featured prominently on the site or in the store, or are they sitting in the bargain bin or being made available as free or cheap downloads? Can you find other titles that are similar to the book you are thinking of writing that have done very well, or are even current bestselling titles?
How much competition is there in the marketplace? If you are finding other titles similar to the book you are thinking of writing, or that you have already started writing, and they are selling very well, then you probably have a viable project on your hands. Look a the Young Adult book marketing, for example. Once the Twilight series of book become very successful, similar titles (and movies) followed, all featuring young people facing extraordinary circumstances: Divergent, The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, etc. All were developed into a book series, and all were targeted to the same demographic (audience). Some view competition as a bad thing, because that might indicated a crowded marketplace, but publishers...and the book-buying public...like to gravitated toward a familiar, proven concept. If your book idea is utterly alone and there are literally no other books like it in the marketplace, it could mean you are a trendsetter, but it could also mean no market exists for your book.
Does the book solve a problem or appeal to a particular niche? To determine if you are the trendsetter or the author facing the prospect of having no audience for your book, you'll have to dig a bit deeper than looking for titles similar to yours? Do some creative Googling online for topics related to your book idea or book-in-progress. If you are writing a reference book for 19th Century watch repair and there are no other books like it around, but you see there are blogs, message boards, Facebook groups and Twitter pages dedicated to the topic and these resources serve tens of thousand of people, you might be on to something. That's an under-served audience that would probably jump at the chance to read a book like yours (and those would be great places to start building an audience for your book). If, on the other hand, there is the equivalent of electronic tumbleweeds blowing across the screen when you look up these topics, you might be trying to serve a need where none exists, and no amount of book publicity is going to overcome that problem.
Who is the audience for the book? When I worked in the publishing industry, this was always one of the first questions I asked authors once it was time for me to start working with them on marketing and promoting their books. If the author wasn't sure who the audience for their book was, it didn't make my job impossible, but it made it much more difficult. An author has to be clear on the audience they are trying to serve, and that clarity should probably be present when they are writing their book. Authors write because they love to write, but they don't just write for themselves, they write for readers. For non-fiction authors, answering this question is probably easier than it is for novelists, but most successful writers know who their following is. Mary Higgins Clark appeals primarily to women, James Patterson writes books for mystery lovers, Stephen King writes books for those who love horror stories. Sometimes, writers will stray from their genre and write a completely different type of book and may even write under a different pen name, but they typically write with a particular kind of reader in mind.
How would I reach that audience? We touched on this a bit above, but during your market research on your book idea, you are going to come across many groups, message boards, social media pages, web sites, and organizations that are dedicated to the topic or genre of your book. Take note of these, because this is where you are going to find members of your audience, even if you already have your own following as a writer. You don't want to join a Facebook page and just start blasting “buy my upcoming book” all over it, but you can certainly join and engage the audience, answer questions, provide value and be an active member of the community. If you find several blogs dedicated to your book's topic, offer to write guest posts, or host guest posts from those bloggers on your blog, but make these folks your friends, because when it comes time to release your book, these folks will be your biggest champions and cheerleaders. If you wait until your book is released before you start putting in the work of audience-building, you'll be starting from scratch. If you have a strategy for reaching this audience and you can detail the type and size of the potential audience, as well as how you would reach that audience, to a publisher or potential publisher, then you'll not only increase your chances of getting published but you'll have a pretty good target to hit when it's time to plan the launch of your book.
Of course, it's not always about book sales, and I'm not trying to discourage anyone from writing that novel they have always wanted to finish. However, if you are trying to make your writing a career, and not just a hobby, never forget that publishing is a business. It's easier than ever to get published, but more difficult to sell books in large quantities, especially if you aren't clear on your audience and how you will reach them.
If you have already finished your book and need help determining your audience and the best way to reach them, fill out the contact form at the bottom of this site and we can help you launch (or re-launch) your book to eager and waiting readers!