Finding audience, Finding Niche

Fell asleep last night reading John Locke’s How I Sold 1 million eBooks in 5 Months. John is the 9th author in the world–and the first self-published author in history– to have sold 1 million eBooks on Kindle … achieved part time, without an agent, publicist, and at virtually no marketing expense.

Since I’m preparing to launch my book, Adrift in the Sound about June 15th (watch for details), I’m keenly interested in how to find an audience for my book and want to know what steps to take (on a shoestring) to sell it. Falling asleep is not a critique of John’s writing style or the book’s content. Like lots of people working two jobs, I get tired.

I’m not alone in my desire to sell a few books and connect with readers. He says there are about 700,000 writers in America independently publishing their writing — many working as hard as I do and, like me, doing it because they love words and have a drive to sell stories. A former insurance salesman, John takes a decidedly business-like approach to writing and selling books: have a plan before you start your book. That includes knowing your audience and how to find them.

I’m one of the writers Locke talks about — a writer who creates a book first and then tries to figure out how to sell it. He sort of says, “Good luck with that,” and recommends knowing your audience and what they want before wasting your time writing a book no one wants to read.

I fell asleep under the weight of what Locke, whose success can’t be argued with, sees as a serious marketing mistake. But, thankfully, he says that while I’ve made a mistake and have chosen to sell my book the hard way, all is not lost. (TG) He says I need to profile my audience like the FBI–tracking down the perps and hauling them into my prison of story. Then, I need to find out what the detainees who LOVE my book have in common, herd them into one cage, and sell the crap out of them. Piece of cake, right?

I’m what some have called a “midnight novelist,” a writer who toils in the wee-dark hours. During the past 4 or 5 years, I’ve gotten up everyday, seven days a week at about 3 a.m. to write my novel, short stories, poems and blog posts. I’ve taken creative writing classes at night and sat through my share of bottom-numbing writer’s workshops. On weekends and vacations, I put in an 8 to 10 hour day on my writing. Then I go do my day job, which, bye the way, I LOVE. This schedule is tiring, but my friends, editors, fellow writers and readers keep me going. Also, my goal of writing a meaningful piece of literature stokes the coals of commitment to craft and art that I’ve been learning when I’d rather be outside playing.

I suppose people like John, who recognize books as commodity, as product, as lite entertainment for the stressed out, as mind candy, would scoff at such a naive goal. Even James Joyce, perhaps one of the world’s greatest writers, acknowledging his limitations, said: “I am not a literary Jesus Christ!” Today, folks would probably, tell me: “Get over yourself!” But, more politely, and I’d point out that initially, Ulysses was self-published. I’d remind them this was at a time when far fewer books were being produced, perhaps making it easier for Joyce to find his audience and niche, even though it took decades to catch on, but I digress.

Although I fell asleep before the punchline, the secret to success John offers, he says in his how-to book that the “best way to find your target audience is write something original! When you’re truly original, he says, the mainstream readers of that genre will often consider your work outrageous . . . or weird, but that’s okay.” What I should be looking for, he says, is the die-hard fan who honestly loves my work. This piece of advice seems to undercut his advice earlier in the same that recommends knowing your audience before you start. Seems like a chicken-and-egg proposition.

John’s book, based on his phenomenal success, is just one of the marketing books I’m reading. On my nightstand I also have: The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine (highly recommended, if you’re thinking of publishing independently); Guerrilla Marketing for Writers, Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman & Michael Larsen; and The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry. I took a publishing workshop from Arielle and David at Stanford University and recommend their workshop. You can find where they’ll be teaching in coming months at www.thebookdoctors.com.

Among the many things John Locke recommends is this: Love your audience, every last one of them. That makes sense and it’s how I feel about you. Thanks for showing up in the Word Garden, for sending notes of encouragement, for telling your friends about Adrift in the Sound, for supporting my work by investing your valuable time, interest and hard-earned dollars. I’ll keep writing with gratitude and hope you’ll keep reading. But, right now, gotta get back to work.

See you in the garden, bring your favorite book. 

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