Write/Right for the Market
Originally published in The Book Designer June 22, 2020
Many writers, especially first-timers, wait until they have finished writing the entire book before they give any thought to the marketing of it. I argue this is backwards—the time to think through the marketing aspect of your book is before you begin writing.
Writing a novel is no different than building a widget—you want to make sure that you build into it only those features that customers want, and obviously the best time to understand this is before you start building it. If you don’t take into consideration user needs, you’ll end up either rebuilding it or selling very few of them. The same goes for writing a novel.
It’s not easy for most of us right-brained people to be good at both creative writing and marketing, but if we consider writing books to be a business—which we must do if we want to be financially successful at it—then we have to step out of our artistic comfort zone and think about the business side of things, especially if we plan on making a living from our writing.
How successful you are marketing your book and building your fan base will depend largely on the content you create. If you include the following three considerations into your overall game plan of becoming a successful author, you will have an easier time marketing your book when the time comes. My experience comes from writing novels, but much of this discussion relates to other genres as well.
1. Know Your Audience
Many articles have been written about how to demographically identify the target audience for your book—determining the age, gender, education, and/or race of your most likely readers can be helpful in getting your book into the right hands.
Since a book that appeals to a small audience is generally more marketable than a book broadly written and only marginally appealing to many, knowing who your likely readers are before you begin writing can help you to focus on appealing to a specific group of people. But there are other factors to consider when writing for a niche audience.
You cannot create the perfect content for your book if you don’t know who is going to read it.
Whether consciously or subconsciously, emotions are central to a person’s book reading experience, and even sometimes when they recall the story long after the last page is read.
As they read, most people won’t be satisfied merely observing what the characters are doing in the story. They want and expect to be emotionally involved in it.
Romance novel readers want to feel the love, the heartache, and the joy.
Mystery readers want to feel anxious and surprised as they immerse themselves in a book.
Readers of horror stories want to experience the same panic as the book’s characters.
So why not market directly to your ideal reader while you write? Know what makes them feel fear, for example, before you start writing, and then make sure each chapter is filled with the right:
to evoke that emotion. If you focus on the emotions of the people you envision reading your book, selling the story to them later will become easier.
If you write in the same genre that you prefer to read, don’t overlook using yourself as a model for your perfect reader.
If you’re not enthralled with what you’ve written, if it doesn’t meet the same level of quality of the books you have read and loved, maybe you’re writing the wrong thing.
Comparing your own work to the work of others is not as simple as it sounds, as we writers are often too close to our work to be that objective. To get around this, it helps to have an editor or someone in your support group who can give you that level of feedback.
Theme—the underlying concept that flows through a narrative—can also play an important role in your marketing strategies. Let’s say you’re writing a coming-of-age story where the main character learns about freedom and his right to freely think, speak, and act on his own. If you skillfully weave this theme into your story, you can market to groups of readers who can/will connect with it. The better you are at doing this, the more deeply readers will get into the story, relate to it, and write better reviews. Good reviews sell books.
2. Understand the Basics
Prolific readers are savvy individuals—they can spot unsophisticated writing right away. So if you are writing a novel, and you plan to market it to diehard readers, be sure to understand and practice the basic elements of good writing. Know the best way to:
Develop a plot—the skeleton or framework that holds the story together—that is structurally sound.
Create characters that are interesting, emotional, unique, believable, and capable of change by what happens to them in the story.
Use setting to its fullest advantage by having it add life to the story, establish mood, and supplement characters’ motivations and feelings in the moment.
Create scenes that grab readers’ attention and keep the story moving forward.
Relay a message, lesson, key idea, or moral to your readers by weaving a central theme into the story.
Include the right amount of conflict, crisis, drama, and tension to help define characters and set them in motion to make choices and act in ways that reveal things about themselves.
Without a good understanding of these writing elements, your story becomes nothing but words on a page and stick figures moving around on a flat stage, and it’s hard to market that kind of book. Throw in:
an understanding of story structure
point of view
active versus passive voice
showing versus telling
and scene development
and you are on your way to writing a marketable novel.
I’d be remiss to address an understanding of the basics of good writing without mentioning the importance of hiring a good editor before you publish. All the marketing in the world won’t sell a badly written book. (Okay, so I kinda just lied as I am thinking about a certain very badly written book that sold millions. But it’s so rare that this happens, it’s hardly worth mentioning.)
If you can’t afford an editor, at least hire a professional proofreader, as it is challenging to tout a book that contains technical errors.
3. Emulate Others
When I first started writing (before I knew very much about what I was doing), I purposely didn’t read any books in my genre because I didn’t want to sound like anyone else. I wanted my writing to be a true reflection of me, untainted by any outside influences. What a huge mistake that was! I should have listened to this man.
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. —Stephen King
You can learn so much by reading books authored by successful writers in your genre—it opens you up to a broader approach in your own writing and makes your writing more marketable. Keep in mind that successful authors got there because they did things right.
If you find yourself unable to put someone else’s book down, pinpoint the reason and learn from it. If you resonate with a certain character, decide what it is that the author did to create him or her that caused you to feel this way. Read the book for pleasure, then read it a second time and dissect it. Know what the author did to make it a successful book. Implement their techniques into your own writing and you’ll find marketing your book a lot easier.
Whether you are a “planner” (you prepare an outline and develop the characters and major plot points before you start writing) or a “pantser” (you do no up-front planning but write by the seat of your pants), whether you write love stories or dark fantasy sagas, having a marketing mindset as you write—appealing to whom you think are your ideal readers—will pay off in the end.
The number of interested readers you will be able to find when you first start marketing your book may start out small, but if you write a good quality book, your fan base has a good chance of becoming large.
Think of marketing your book as you would dropping a pebble into water. The circle it creates in the water is small at first—these are your core fans. But as time goes on and the word gets out about how great your book is, the circle gradually grows.