Are You Living In A Little Pink, Cocktail Umbrella Heaven? Doing Market Research
Have you ever entertained the fantasy of sitting on the beach, your laptop on your knees, a cocktail in your hand with a little pink umbrella and a crowd of excited fans around you requesting you sign their dog eared copy of your novel? Have you even entertained the idea of living in a cardboard box under a bridge? We may as well be realistic here; the later is probably a more realistic if less compelling image of most of our literary prospects.
I know many of us picture the future of our writing career as a little pink, cocktail umbrella heaven (myself included; fantasy writer = vivid imagination), but the cold, hard, mouldy cardboard smelling truth is not everyone is going to like what you write. Leaving your market research at, “Oh, everyone is going to love my book,” is just plain suicidal, with your self-indulgence and arrogance being the knife that makes the cut. We all need to find our selling point; another generic synopsis of a vampire novel just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Now if it’s a space opera vampire novel you may stand a chance…. Let me explain.
First and foremost you have to determine, what is your aim? In writing and in publishing this novel what do you hope to achieve? Do you feel compelled, feel you’re talented, have an imagination that wants out, want to share your experiences, your opinions? If those are your reasons for writing you may find you audience more of a Shih Tzu size than a Great Dane size. My favourite reason is always writing for fame and fortune. Do me a favour and on a piece of paper write the name of every author you like to read. Now search online for a list of author names at say a major writers festival. Compare the number of people on the festival’s program to the number of people you actually know the names of, and the people on your list. The number of authors you don’t know far outweighs the number you do. Have all of them been published? Yes, several times generally. Are all of them famous? They’d like to think so.
If you are writing to make money, then you better make sure that you are writing in a genre or on a topic that people want to buy, need to buy. Just because you have a great idea, does not mean that people are looking for it, or feel that they want it or need it in any way when they see it. I am an advocate of writing what you love and what you are passionate about. But if you are writing to make money, you need to go about it differently. A great place to discover the things people are talking about is newspapers. Another fantastic site that shows you the current trends is trendwatch.com, if you feel that way inclined.
For the rest of you, who have written what you love, and have the philosophy that while you can maximise your sales, you may not be the next J.K. Rowling let’s talk about market research. This is going to involve you asking a lot of questions.
Who will read your book? What age group? What gender? What interests? What side interests? What demographic (religion, single mothers, gay etc)? You need to think about where would your novel be advertised/publicised and how you might reach that group. For example if you write comic fantasy your target readership may be young adults between 14 and 18, who like reading Terry Pratchett, school libraries and readers of certain kids magazines, comics or video games. Then you need to find out how many of these readers/magazines there are. Look online, type in key words (eg Terry Pratchett, fantasy, comedy etc) and find out where these people congregate. Are there Facebook pages on how to still each chocolate and not gain weight? How many people like these pages? Are there online forums on mountain bike riding down ski slopes? How many people have visited the site (see the visitor counter at the bottom)? What is the readership of the magazine Soaps Not Gropes? Also look at your local government statistics websites. How many people attend university? School? Declare Jedi as their official religion? Find out how many searches are being done per month on your topic, on a book similar to yours, in Google. To do this you can just type in ‘free keyword tool’ or ‘free keyword search’ into Google. This will give you an indication of how many people are looking for what you are selling. Better still, it is going to give you an indication on the potential size of your readership so you are under no illusions as you set forth.
Now that you have found these odd (yet wonderful) people, why would they want to buy your book? Is your book as good as, superior to, similar to other books on the market? What can you do that is different or better? What are they NOT offering? Research similar books on Amazon, research their content, reviews on them, what are their weaknesses (this is particularly relevant for non-fiction). How does your book provide what theirs does not? Is it easier to understand? Is it the first of its kind? Is there a unique theme? For example your vampire novel takes place in a space opera setting. Or you have a unique narrative voice, a different angle, cover something in more depth. There are millions of cook books out there but, how many are specifically designed to use foods that help people with Alzheimer’s? Find an angle that makes it unique. Please, whatever you do, do not promise your book is unique and not deliver. It’s like taking a toy away from a sumo wrestler at Christmas, it’s not advised…. or beneficial to your health (human pancake anyone?).
During your researching adventures you may come across a topic that is very similar to the one you are writing about, however, it has thousands more enthusiasts than the market you are aiming at. One thing you may what to consider is, can you tailor what you are writing, to what people want? Can you include an extra chapter in your novel, or an extra character or concept that works well with your current work? If so, you may find that you can also capture readers from this similar yet more popular branch of your genre.
For an author who wishes to approach a publisher, you also need to consider the question, why publish my book? What will convince them to spend thousands of dollars on it? There needs to be enough of a market to see them a monetary return. Are there no similar books in the market? Does it deal with a current trend? Is there a similar book that has been favourably reviewed recently? Whatever you angle is you need to make it clear and concise.
One final thing is to research where your competition is aiming their campaigns. What websites are they advertising on? How much are they paying for their ads, what is their unique selling point? This is one of the most powerful parts of this research. Competition is fantastic; they have already set the stage for you. Then it’s up to you to use your unique selling point to make their readers, your readers.
Now that you know who your readers are, where they congregate and what they like, maybe, just maybe, you can allow yourself one cocktail, with a strawberry on the rim, at your local bar. You can work your way up to the umbrella.
TOMORROW: How to create a proposal for a publisher, agent, or online reader.
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