Who is My Reader?

Marketing Your Debut Novel Part III

I’ve been doing a series on marketing your debut novel. You can find Part I and Part II by clicking the links.

Briefly, Part I focused on growing your tribe/social media and Part II was about the comparable books section of your book proposal.

In this installment, I’m going to continue on the pre-contract phase of the writer’s life by focusing on another troublesome aspect of the book proposal–the AUDIENCE SECTION. (Cue your choice of scary music.) This section goes before the overall marketing plan that you will design to help the publisher get the word out about your book.

A publisher wants to see that you know who your potential reader is. Are you savvy enough to figure it out? This audience section will help your publisher know how to market your book and how to best reach the reader you’ve identified.

For instance, a novice book proposal writer would say something like: “Proof will be loved by ALL people ages 18-102.”

Really? Everyone? That’s not very discerning. You may not understand your potential readers very well and this will be troubling for the publisher.

EVERYONE is not going to like your book. That’s just fact. And you will waste time trying to market the book to everyone. Did you know the largest group of Christian fiction buyers is women, mostly between the ages of 30-50? In fact, this morsel of truth may translate to the general fiction market as well which are those books published by the ABA. You can watch this fascinating interview with CJ Lyons and Lee Child as they discuss that women purchase most books.

So, when you’re working on this section of your book proposal, think hard about who will be attracted to buying your book. Are they men or women? College educated? What age are they? What do they watch on TV? How popular are those TV shows?

What follows in quotes is my audience section in the book proposal for Proof. For those of you who are not aware, Proof is a medical thriller/police procedural. Equal parts of both. Some romance but not 50/50 romance like a true romantic suspense novel should be.

“Those likely to buy Proof are career men and women age 25-45 who are fans of medical/police procedural television shows and novels. ER ran for 15 seasons and during its first ten years was consistently a top ten show. House, currently in its seventh season, averages 10 million viewers. The DNA mystery in Proof will attract people who watch CSI, as well. CSI has three television shows in its franchise.

Suspense novels with a heavy medical edge do well in fiction markets. Mainstream writers like Robin Cook, Tess Gerritsen, Michael Palmer, and Kathy Reichs consistently hit the New York Times bestseller list. Furthermore, Lethal Harvest by Cutrer and Glahn was a Christy Award finalist. Candace Calvert’s Critical Care was a 2010 Carol Award Finalist. Proof will appeal to these readers.”

What’s been interesting in hindsight is that Library Journal suggested my novel to those who were fans of Robin Cook. Several reviews have specifically mentioned the show CSI as well as Law and Order SVU and Grey’s Anatomy. I carefully marketed the book to those I thought it would appeal to, and ultimately they are indeed the ones who’ve loved the book.

What do you think? Have you tried to write an audience section of a book proposal? How easy or hard was it? What advice helped you write this section?

What Food Network Star Taught Me About Author Branding

Marketing your Debut Novel: Part Two

Last month, I started this series on how to market your debut novel. You can find Part One here. We’re going to stick with the same time period of the writer’s life–the pre-contract phase.

In brief, I discussed those things an author should be doing pre-contract phase, which is identifying and building your brand through social media. You are working to build a well-defined tribe. (You are reading Seth’s book by now, right?)

The issue of branding became very apparent to me while watching The Next Food Network Star. Yes, hand straight up in the air, I like reality TV. If you’re not familiar with the series, earnest chefs attempt to win their own show on Food Network by doing next to impossible cooking tasks for a panel of feisty food judges they may work for someday.

The judges want to know what their POV is. This season one contestant, Malcolm, was often heard saying, “I don’t need a POV. I just need to cook great food. That will speak for itself.”

I’d like to indulge a few different words. “I don’t need a brand. I just need to write a great novel! The words will speak for themselves.”

The problem is where do said judges, or in our world, publishers, place you?

If you’re seeking publication and you’ve not been published before (particularly in fiction) you are going to have to 1. finish your novel and 2. write a book proposal.

A book proposal is essentially a marketing tool for your book. It’s the sales plan. It’s the blueprint of how your tribe (again, reading it?!?) will purchase your product.

One section of the book proposal is the dreaded “comparison” section. It can be called other things. Market analysis. Comparable books. In this section, you list books that are like yours (and what sets yours apart in a nice, professional way.) The purpose of this section is to help a publisher identify what type of audience you’re trying to reach. Is there consistency amongst the authors you picked and what type of novels they write? This helps a publisher know that you know yourself pretty well. You have brand awareness and can plug into the group of people who also like those authors.

But say I have little brand awareness. My novel is a Steampunk, alien invasion set during Roman times with a population of Amish quilters–and if a book like this makes it big, you heard it here first! My website looks like a Steampunk machine tossed out a Roman gladiator who just tousled with an alien on the prairie–and throw in a couple of Amish looking bonnets for good measure since those books sell really well.

In your comparable books section, you list these books: Proof by Jordyn Redwood (a medical thriller), The Half-Stitched Amish Quilting Club by Wanda Brunstetter (Amish gives a clue there), Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman (this is Christian non-fiction), and Francine Rivers’s A Voice in the Wind (which is historical fiction).

A publisher is going to be scratching their collective head. How can one fiction book possibly be placed by each of these novels? They’re so different. Not even in the same section.

But, you say, my book will satisfy all of those readers. A publisher shakes their head. No, it won’t. The books above represent very diverse readers. I’ve personally read two: my own and Not a Fan. Not to say the other two by Wanda and Francine are not excellent novels– but they don’t appeal to me and what I like to read.

Don’t be Malcolm. Discover your brand. BE the BRAND (think Miss Congeniality– BE the CROWN!)

So, you may ask, what happened to Malcolm? Voted off midway through the season. Great chef but “we don’t know who he is.” They didn’t know how to brand him.

What about you? How did you like writing your book proposal? How easy or hard was it to write the comparable books section?