book promotion, book sales, Writers Co-op

FROM NICHE TO SCRATCH

(OR HOW TO MAKE A SIX-FIGURE INCOME WITHOUT LEAVING YOUR CHAIR)

I get these ads in my Facebook feed from time to time (all right, every day) suggesting that my lackluster book sales are the result of my unimaginative marketing plan and my lack of vision. There are fortunes to be made on the internet and, with their guidance, I too can board that boat I keep missing, grab the brass ring, quit my day job, start drinking the good stuff and enjoying wafer-thin after dinner chocolates whenever I damn well like.

I am, in case you haven’t guessed, skeptical. I have seen so many of these pitches—and yes, even done a seminar or two—and I always, ALWAYS find the same thing: tired platitudes about perseverance and “giving the people what they want.” Find out who your core audience is, they tell me, and then market directly to them. Grow your mailing list (they love to use grow as a transitive* verb, it’s market-speak doncha know?) Offer free stuff! Find your niche! Become a brand! Write a blog with a cute and catchy name! People will WANT to buy whatever you sell because they will want to buy YOU!

Or, something like that. Maybe it all sounds so unlikely to me because I really don’t find being marketed to at all appealing. You want me to buy your stuff. I get it. Don’t try to razzle-dazzle me with bling or tchotchkes or other crap I didn’t want in the first place, and don’t try and tell me that I’m part of some special club now, and I should hashtag you every time I twit. All you’ll end up doing is making me feel insulted. I don’t want to be critical of the general population (gen pop in eerily-appropriate prison parlance) but if this approach really works with a sizable number of them, well, then, I guess it’s not much wonder that I can’t connect.

Do I sound old and irritable? Check. And check.

A musician I’ve never heard of pitched my feed this morning. She makes six figures working from home (homeschooling mother of four!) selling her CD’s on the internet. She doesn’t perform live or do personal appearances (homeschooling mother of four!) It’s all internet-based marketing. And yet—six figures.

Okay. So sell me. Tell me one new thing in your pitch and I’ll sign up for your marketing course.

Probably my inner skeptic automatically prevents me from approaching this sort of thing with an open mind, but honestly? She’s got nothing. As far as I can tell, her big reveal (and yes, they love to use reveal as a noun) can be summed up in one sentence: “Why be a little fish in a big pond when you can be a big fish in a small pond?” In other words, find a niche.

Niche marketing isn’t a particularly new idea. Back in the days when brick-and-mortar bookstores (remember those?) were still a thing, there was a lot of handwringing about the big chain stores—Barnes and Noble, Borders, Waldens—driving the independents out of business. As it turned out, they had all underestimated the white whale lurking beneath the swells, a little thing called Amazon.com, but I digress. A lot of independent bookstores did go out of business, especially the be-everything-to-everyone-get-your-bestsellers-for-thirty-percent-off-but-we-also-have-a-great-backlist-and-you-can-get-a-cup-of-coffee type of bookstores. Curiously, it was often the small niche stores that survived. The New Age Salon in Santa Fe. The Knitting Book Nook in Seattle. Cats Are People, Too in Minneapolis (plus Cats Are People, Two in St. Paul.) I made all of those up, of course, but it was a real phenomenon. Providing a specialized list of books to a very specific audience can be a successful enterprise, if you’re not too fussy about your definition of success.

And with the internet at our twitchy fingertips, such specialized stores should be even more viable. Now you don’t even need a store, and you can reach millions of potential customers. Our Homeschooling Mother of Four’s niche? Celtic Heavy Metal. Christian Celtic Heavy Metal, as it happens. I admit, it’s hard for me to write those words without feeling my eyes roll, but hey, everybody likes something. I’d plug her website, but I don’t want to get curmudgeon all over her nice, shiny, heavy Celtic Christian vibe. Frankly, it was all a little slick and predictable for my tastes. She can play, and it’s a very professional production for a homemade disk, but—six figures? Really? Is she counting the ones after the decimal point?

(Yeah. That did sound bitter. I withdraw the question, your honor.)

And besides. If she’s making a hundred thousand dollars doing what she loves best, following her calling, etc, then why is she wasting her time hawking some by-the-numbers marketing program to wannabes like me? Wait. Is it because she wants to share her innovative strategies with others? Cuz she’s been so fortunate and now she wants to give something back? It’s amazing how many marketing gurus have tried that line on me. And every time they do, I feel my brain getting a little bit smaller, atrophying in its bony shell.

So niche marketing, yes or no? It certainly has many proponents. There was a guy the other day telling me that selling books on Amazon wasn’t necessarily good, because you might be selling to the wrong people. Amazon’s search-and-sell algorithms are keyed to recognize patterns. Did consumer A purchase your book? Okay. What else has she purchased? Is there a pattern? What else might she want? How can we steer her to those things? It’s all about your target audience, and selling books to people outside of your target audience only confuses the algorithms. It gums up the works, dilutes the information stream. Better to sell fewer books but to the right audience. That way, the marketing machinery will recognize your audience members and find more of them for you.

I think that’s what he was saying. I glazed over a bit around paragraph three but that was the gist. You need to focus on your target audience. Also, write a LOT of books. One a month if possible. (And no, I’m not making that part up.)

I can’t do that, but maybe I could do something like it. I have two thirds of a YA historical trilogy about the Minoan civilization. It’s fun, and has lots of magic and adventure. Plus, did I mention the Minoan civilization? You can’t get much more niche-y than that. By the time I finish book three, it’ll be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1300 pages, but I can break it up into fragments, 200 pages here, 150 pages there. That’s gotta be good for at seven or eight books. I can saturate all the pre-Hellenic Greece websites, twitter-blitz every website about ancient matrifocal cultures, haunt the linear-A chatrooms. Who knows what could happen? I could catch on, and soon a whole herd of bookish kids and history geeks will be hanging on my next installment. And then, the movie deal. Maybe Miyazaki. It’s ready made for Studio Ghibli.

And then, while plotting out this strategy, I see this quote from, of all people, Hayao Miyazaki. ”In order to grow your audience,” he says, “you must betray their expectations.”

Yeah. I don’t know whether that’s really true in the age of the instant entertainment, but it should be. It really should. Otherwise, what tipping point have we gone past where people only want more of the same? Only want what worked for them before? Cuz, wow! Culture-wise? That’s an ocean that’s barely knee-deep.

 

*Yes, I know grow can be a transitive verb when we’re talking about string beans or snapdragons, but the modern fixation with “growing your business” or “growing your client base” is definitely market-speak.

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19 thoughts on “FROM NICHE TO SCRATCH

  1. GD Deckard says:

    Ha! Ha! Well put!
    There’s always been market-speak from shamans, scammers & snake oil salesmen. Add politicians & climate warmers and the list remains quite truncated. My lifetime favorite was the old magazine ad for a bug killer guaranteed to kill any insect. For your $1.99 you received two blocks of wood with instructions to place the insect on one block and …. 🙂

    Thanks, Atthys. We writers are not immune to the lure that if we just pay some money and behave a certain way, we’ll be successful.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. mimispeike says:

    I have to pay more attention to what pops up when, see if I see a pattern. Last night I was looking at Lemony Snicket on Amazon, I’m going to buy some of his books.

    This morning, on one of my news sites, a huge Lemony Snicket ad popped up, a banner the full width of the screen. I would like to understand the mechanics of how that happens. I also get, but never that big, the ads for the sites that want to help me publish my book. I get a real lot of them. We probably all do.

    Somehow I have gotten on the mailing list of one Tom Corson-Knowles, who wants to give me his marketing tips for free. He knows all kinds of experts. Who want to help me also. Lucky me.

    Wow! Lemony’s still there, at the very top of Daily Beast, full width. What do you have at the top of your Daily Beast screen? Do you think Lemony’s publisher is paying big for that to happen, if you show interest on Amazon? I went over there and hit other books at random, to see if any of them popped up. Nope, it’s still Lemony.

    Huffington Post is trying to sell me hummus. Salon has, looks like, a movie trailer (I don’t have the sound on), Daily Beast is all in for Lemony.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. There’s a sucker born every minute.

    You are not one of them.

    But I feel your pain, Atthys: between the incessant babble of multi-level marketers, evangelists preaching the “Prosperity Gospel”, election season’s baritone-voiced narrators intoning the political sins and transgressions of their opponents in the most ominous this-is-the-way-the-world-ends voices–to say nothing of the relentless and unending come-ons, pitches and exhortations of ad men, con men (but I repeat myself) and assorted pitch-people everywhere–one is tempted to tune everything out.

    It’s amazing art survives at all in this inferno of manic marketing idiocy. Perhaps, in part, that is why Italo Calvino advises (Invisible Cities):
    …………………..

    “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

    …………………..

    PS. This was a great read, my friend. Nicely done.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. mimispeike says:

    We all mostly ignore these emails and ads. But something about this may work for us. I am not displeased to find Lemony staring me in the face, I showed interest and the all-knowing web-gods responded. And it’s much more fun to see his covers than an ad for hummus.

    I do not write off niche marketing. Cats are a sizable niche. And, as Steve Jobs said (more or less): “People don’t know what they want until I give it to them.”

    I wonder how many children’s book agents/publishers Lemony was turned down by until someone decided to take a chance on his sophisticated snark?

    Hey, there is a site called snark.com – not much there, but the logo is really great. I’m going to contact that guy and see if I can, when I’m ready, get myself listed there. For now, I’m posting the screen shot on my Facebook page. Of course there’s a snark.com. How could there not be? How many people say to themselves (like I just did), is there possibly a snark.com? Let me just go and see.

    Whoa! Lemony is now on my Facebook page. He’s stalking me! And I love it. Better than hummus any day.

    Liked by 3 people

    • But Sly! is so much more than mere snark: at turns whimsical, acerbic, mock-heroic, sesquipedalian, its satire is both savage and sagacious. Thou needs must finish it. Then rewrite under editorial guidance (of someone who appreciates what you’ve accomplished here), publish and bask in glory. Huzzah!

      Liked by 3 people

      • mimispeike says:

        I’m sure trying. My new strategy: get the novella in final shape (it’s close), plain-e-publish it (no illustrations), work on completing the full book one (also fairly close) while I get the website done, with images.

        Unfortunately, my experience with an editor is that she disliked my intrusive structure. And that was before the footnotes.

        Liked by 3 people

          • mimispeike says:

            Sigh. That’s why I am inclined to do the final edit myself. I’ve had plenty of input to accept or reject.

            I’m not convinced that, not advising on it, just reading it recreationally, that editor wouldn’t enjoy my antics.

            Liked by 2 people

            • mimispeike says:

              In preparation for a final line-in-the-sand edit, I am going to order the boxed set of the first three books of Lemony Snicket, who, from the bits I’ve read of him, is as smart-mouth-intrusive as I am. My goal: to be ready to publish my novella a month from now.

              Like

              • atthysgage says:

                His books were fun. My daughter liked them a lot, and I found the over-the-top wickedness of Count Olaf (not to mention the subversive world twisting of the author) both funny and playful. I didn’t read them all, but liked what he was doing.

                Liked by 1 person

  5. atthysgage says:

    I know the feeling all too well. I remember a while back when the wife and I were sitting around on a Saturday morning, both fooling with computers. She ordered some flowers or fruit or something as a gift, and within a minute (truly) an add popped up on my Facebook feed for the same product. Coincidence? I think not.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Perry Palin says:

    I knew a woman once who told me that she would soon be quitting her day job and making six figures as a writer, working part time from home. She had written two novels that didn’t sell, and now she was ready to write business letters, advertising copy, speeches, just about anything; the sky was the limit; people pay very well, she said, for a talented writer. She had fallen for the online ad, shelled out quite a bit of money for a crash copywriting course, and was promised access to the lucrative markets that were just waiting for her written words. Six weeks later she stopped talking about the riches she would realize in her new writing life. She stayed in her day job until retirement age. I still see her from time to time offering her novels at community art fairs. She’s driving the same car she had when she retired years ago.

    Some people must succeed with these strategies. But I haven’t met any.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. mimispeike says:

    I emailed snark.com to ask if they would consider promoting fiction. It seems to be a mixed bag of not-much, interesting, what there is of it, but suffering from considerable benign neglect. Some links connect to ‘page-not-found’. But I do love the logo (fabulous logo) and the name snark.com must catch many an eye. I think it’s quite inspired. That guy ought to do more with his site.

    We need to build our networks. I’m trying. I wonder if there’s a screwball.com?

    Man! There’s a haha.com, and a hahaha.com. No screwball.com but I’m sure someone owns it and is willing to sell it to me for a thousand dollars.

    There’s more than one way to skin a niche.

    __________________________________________

    Not a peep out of snark. Is anybody home there? Maybe not a useful place after all. But, that name! And that logo! On a bumper sticker, it’s got to gin look-sees.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Atthys, that’s a wonderful rant, which you managed to make superbly funny too. And it resonates so well with so many of us. I get this stuff all the time – partly my fault for clicking on links out of sheer curiosity to see the vacuity of what lies behind it. I have actually gleaned the occasional useful titbit, after sifting through the dross. What amazes me most is the number of people who have apparently vanquished all scepticism – or who never had any in the first place.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. mimispeike says:

    Oh brother! Go over and look at what they’ve done to Book Country. I read a week ago that they are going to be a subscription site, $9.95 +/- a month, and you get classes, advice, etc.

    Like

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