Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Finding Your Market

In my last post I wrote about customer's needs and wants, and how this relates to writing. In that post I listed three key elements to a successful business. To recap:

  1. Identifying customer needs 
  2. Creating a product/service that meets these needs
  3. Delivering this product to your customer

(this is really, really simple. There are other requirements, such as management of cashflow. But as a start-up, these are things you must have.)

Lots of people write books. A few write great books. But all the great words in the world won't matter a dime if readers can't get their hands on your writing! So this post offers ideas on how to deliver your book to your customer. This post discusses distribution options.

Distribution Channels? What are they?

Basically, distribution is getting a product to the customer.  It's getting your book out to the market.

These days, writers are spoilt for choice.  You can sell your book online, through a store, or direct. A publisher may do it for you; you can do it for yourself. You can hire a third party. And your book can be available in a number of formats: digital, print, audio.

Okay, then, you say - I'll do everything! I'll sell everywhere, using every available format. Um. No. I wouldn't.

Be Strategic - Know Your Market

Distribution costs. Formatting for multiple platforms costs, print is expensive and the time spent navigating software is time you're not writing. In business-speak, unless you've got a massive team behind you and a known customer base, adopting a mass-distribution strategy is unlikely to offer an effective return on investment.

Rather than rushing out and putting your book on every available platform, it's more efficient to be strategic. And the key to being strategic is really, really basic. It's called KNOWING YOUR MARKET.

From Marketoonist

Identifying Your Market

You might already know your market. You've got a couple of books written. You've got a Facebook following, people email you begging for your next book. Readers ask for your newsletter. You will know the approximate age, sex, location and interests of your readers.

But what if this is your first book? How do you find your audience then?

Most writers of fiction write for one person - themselves. So, if you're trying to discover who on earth could possibly interested in reading what you've written, consider what other, recently published, books are similar in style and content to yours.

Think about your interests, age, sex, education. Where is your book set? Is the location likely to be appealing to a particular audience. Does the genre you're writing in have a broad appeal or are there a few niche groups that will be interested? Which groups do you belong to?

Philip Temple, a retired mountaineer, writes fiction and non-fiction about the New Zealand wilderness. He is passionate about the environment and deeply worried about climate change. His books appeal to mountaineers, environmentalists, travel readers. He reported that people have approached him from the UK, asking to put his recent book on a climate change blog.

Audience Characteristics

  • Look on Goodreads, see who's been reading this genre. What books do they recommend? Are the readers of these books male/female? What age? What do they say in their reviews? Do these readers prefer reading in e or in p? (usually, there are long threads on this very subject!). Do they say how they found this book?
  • Social media is a great way of finding potential readers. I've followed a few book instagrammers. (Booklovers on instagram are great, because they always post a picture of the book cover, which makes the book much more memorable than just the title. I've found heaps of new, amazing books through instagram.)
  • Often the discussion threads on social media sites are a good way of finding out about your potential readers. 
  • Quick Note on social media etiquette: If you really liked the book under discussion, join in; be social. Don't be a closet stalker, don't do the hard-sell. Just be friendly and interesting. Readers love to talk about books.
  • Follow the writers of similar books on twitter. Often, they'll post links to reviews mentioning their book. 
  • If you don't like social media, read print reviews of these similar books. Often these reviewers say who they'd recommend this book to. These people are your audience.
  • Think laterally. If you write books involving cupcakes and murders, your audience might include not only readers of detective fiction; it might also include people who enjoy baking.

The Importance of Influencers

Most of the time, there's only two ways I discover a new writer.

  • random selection - at the library or on the sales shelf
  • recommendation through a trusted third party (a reviewer, a librarian, a friend, a media article)

When considering your market, consider who their influencers are.

This is really, really important if you're writing for children. Children don't always select their own books; adults do it for them. If you write for children, you MUST consider their parents, and the school librarian. Basically, if you win over a good librarian (Hi there, Bridget!), they'll act as an advocate for you.

The Importance of Word of Mouth

Related to this last point - books are sold through recommendation. Your book must be as good as possible. I can't stress this enough. There's no point in ensuring your book is in all the right places if its no good. Therefore, before embarking on the final steps of getting your book to market (including how you will do that), pause for a moment.

Is your book good enough? Because, in the end, that's really what your audience needs - a good book, written well.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Needs and Wants

What do Customers Need?

Most businesses rely on three key factors:
  1. Customer needs
  2. Product creation
  3. Distribution
So today I'm going to look the needs of a reader. And over the next few weeks/months, I'll review these other points. So stay tuned!

Why do people read fiction? 

Here's a few reasons - you may be able to think of others. 
  • Escapism
  • Entertainment
  • Relaxation
  • Learn new things
  • To become someone else
  • To indulge a hobby
  • To satisfy a teacher
You can see from this list that reading isn't about words on a page at all - words are just tools to satisfy a deeper requirement. 

Needs vs Wants

This highlights the difference between Needs and Wants. A customer's need is the fundamental reason they purchase a product, or use a service. The want is often the way this need is expressed. The classic example of this is the iPod, a device for data storage. Steve Jobs realised actually what people needed was portability. If he could offer a device (and a store) that satisfied this deeper need, he would have an instant customer base.

This means that even if a reader says they want entertainment, they may in fact not. Why? Because there are such easily available substitutes for entertainment. This is why kids tend to gravitate away from books and towards their screens - reading is different to playing a computer game; it's more demanding. It's also much more immersive. And reading doesn't require hand-eye co-ordination, internet connection or (often) a battery operated device.

From InkyGirl

Some needs can only be met through fiction. Novels are, I think, the only way one can truly see the world through another person's point of view. Novels offer intellectual stimulation at the same time as providing entertainment. A good novel, written well, stimulates thought and discussion. A novel may change society. And of course, fiction uses the most durable of technologies; words on paper. 

Through this combination of low-cost technology and limited substitutes, fiction becomes an incredibly powerful long-term business proposition. The ultimate test of good fiction is time.

This means (and I'm writing to myself here), I should not look at the sales over the first month as an indication of success or failure. Probably not even in the first year. 

What do customers of fiction need? 

I think the list above can be simplified much, much further. 
  • Innovation
  • Entertainment
  • Stimulation

If you don't want your books to be easily replaced by gadgets, write your stories well. If you write kids books, make them more fun than an iPad.
Have an interesting story-line, something that's different, that stands out.
And - I think this is the differentiator that leads to long term writing success - your books should make people think.

Calvin and Hobbs, downloaded from the Image Kid