I use Bookfunnel and StoryOrigin to arrange group promotions. Because I get lots of applicants to my promos (and I always verify share/click stats from applicants) I get to look at a lot of data and metrics. Minutes ago I looked at one author who had a good swap history with good clicks on her promos, except every other month she had certain promos returning 0 clicks. 30-50 clicks on everything else, and then goose-eggs.
Her subscribers didn’t want to click on certain kinds of promos. Which ones? Each of those promos were advertised as “All Genre” or “multi-genre” bundles. I know I never join these kinds of promotions. The targeting is all wrong. Authors think they are going to tap into some major lists of whale readers by putting their Urban Fantasy or Science Fiction in bundles alongside Reverse Harem and Christian Bible Study books.
But zero clicks. 0. Nada. Nothing. And that result is common. Readers know what they like and what they are looking for. Not all “cross-pollination” is worth spending your time on.
There’s a deep marketing principle to be learned here: don’t expect to harvest turnips in a bean field. It sounds super Zen, right? (I just made that up… but it’s totally true.) Readers aren’t known for making great leaps across genre lines. They cross when it’s convenient, interesting, or by fractional degrees. They also dislike endless scrolling to see if there is something that they do like in a giant mix of things. Ask yourself this, if you want to eat M&Ms do you buy a bag of trail mix and then spend the next fifteen minutes sorting out all the M&Ms or would you rather just buy a damn bag of M&Ms? I know… very Zen of me. Readers feel the same way, and so do paperback buyers.
Today, we’re talking about relevance and targeting your audience properly and why it’s important to know your audience. If you can nail this, two things will happen. 1) You’ll meet the needs of your readers and better connect with them. 2) You’ll make that glorious cheddar.
One of the reasons that amazon ads are so successful for so many people is that it provides tools for authors who are marketing their books to zero in on a niche and drill down into it. The closer you can hit your niche (and therefore your strongest demographic for sales) the best performance your ad will have (which translates to better sales margins and profits.)
Selling more books at live events (hey! I’ve got a book by that title!) is always a tricky prospect. But it’s only guaranteed to fail if you don’t do your homework and show up to the wrong event. It would be insanely unwise to show up at a shoe seller’s convention and try to sell your brand of thriller novels next to the Reebok booth. The audience did not come for that, and only a small fraction will have the specific interest in reading, let alone in your genre, and even then it’ll be a tough sell since they didn’t likely come intending to spend time skimming paperbacks.
Likewise, if you attend a Christian Romance Literary event and try to sell your man on man spicy erotica books with covers so sizzling ab-a-licious that the nuns in the back are blushing you better believe you’re going to get Live, Love, Laughed right out of the building and are then forcibly baptized in essential oils.
“But it’s romance,” one might argue. “No. It’s smut,” that audience is likely to say. But likewise, the star book of the Christian Romance Literary event might not sell even a single copy at a Romance Writers Book Sale if it is more geared to the steamy side of things.
Regardless of the quality your product, you must also be keenly aware of your audience, its desires and expectations, and who the readers are as individuals. If you ignore it, any of those prerequisites, no amount of quality will let you reach the success you have envisioned. Your book must be relevant to the people you are showing it to.
Ironically, as I was writing this, I got an email from Mark Dawson (one of the Kings of Amazon Ads.) He writes about this same exact thing. He says about his earlier marketing approach on amazon: “I found it impossible to get clicks. I used a ‘scattergun’ approach: I would hoover up as many keywords as I could find and dump them into an ad with the hope that at least some of them would start to trigger and, hopefully, sell books… My initial forays were unsuccessful.”
Dawson notes he went back to Facebook ads because he was more familiar with it at that time. But with FB, “you need to take a potential reader from whatever it was they were doing and then deliver them to a store where they can then purchase the book that they’ve just seen. They almost certainly were not looking for a book when they saw the ad…” But with Amazon, “readers are actively looking for the kind of book that you’re advertising and all you need to do is show it to them.”
The online selling platform is different from a digital one, but there are a lot of principles that crossover, such as keeping your targeting relevant. Relevance, as far as live sales are concerned, is searching for as many of the “warm doors” as you can. It is easiest to sell books to people who love to read and prefer physical copies; being able to meet the author and get a paperback/hardcover autographed creates an added bonus by creating a meet & greet experience. But as cool as that is, people won’t care if it is not relevant to them. I would have zero inclination to read either of the example romance books. It doesn’t check any boxes for me, and so I wouldn’t likely stop and chat about anything book related. Even if some moment of curiosity did make me stop, there would be a zero percent chance of me buying.
The relevance factor is why you have to know your audience. Not just the market, but the people in it. I’ve wondered in the past about my ability to do a “cash grab” and write a romance book under a pen name. But I don’t think I would be successful. I simply don’t know the market, or the people of the market, well enough to accomplish this. Could I write a good romance book? I think I absolutely could, but it would hit the niche for things I like and would not necessarily hit the right mix of readers’ expectations… and I’d stand out like Eddie Murphy at a KKK rally if I tried to fake it at a Romance Lit Conference.
If you’re going to attend an event and set up a table/booth to sell your books at, here are some of the key things to bear in mind about relevance:
- Genre expectations
- Cross over markets
- Likely outcomes.
- Know the event
- Know who your audience is
Having a good story is a must, regardless of genre. It should be edited and entertaining if its fiction or meet critical needs of your audience if it is nonfiction. But aside from those, which are matters of craft, there are some matters of form and function that are also expectations that vary by genre: everything from your cover design (even whether you use glossy or matte lamination) to trim size and the number of pages (here is a link to an article about expected word-count listed by genre). While indies are known for often coloring outside the lines, if you attempt to get too far outside of genre expectations, it will come back and cost you book sales.
Cross Over Markets:
If your book is a couple degrees outside of the expected genres, it might still do very well. Understand where there is crossover appeal. Sci-fi readers often also like fantasy. I sell a lot of both when I do targeted events. This does not always work in the online world, however. Craig Martelle (founder of the 20booksto50k group) is well known as a military SF author. When he rolled out his sword and sorcery novel, Black Heart of the Dragon God, it did not perform as he’d hoped with his digital readership—his military SF readers would not cross over that far from genre distinctions. But at live events? He sold out of it at his Alaska comic-con appearance.
Regarding crossover markets, Craig notes: “those people [at comic-con]are the target audience… but it’s different from my main audience, which is into both sci-fi and thrillers. I get more crossover there, a lot more crossover. Just understand the demographics of your readership.” He suggests the wisdom of conducting a poll of your readership, something that is easily done through your newsletter subscribers. He also notes that he could absolutely sell more books like that online, but not without building a new reader base, something that would mean rebuilding/starting from the ground up.
You should have an idea of what your likely sales outcomes are based on the show. In Sell More Books at Live Events, I break down live events based on size and what kind of numbers and expectations I can build around the attendance expectations. If I market well, have a good booth appearance, and if the show is well run, I know with a pretty good accuracy rating how many books I will sell compared to the number of event visitors.
A little research goes a long way. I have looked into different events that looked like great opportunities and then bypassed them, seeing red flags that steer me away. Some look better than they are and some I know would simply not translate as sales. Some are the equivalent to the introductory story (all-genre book sales.)
Know the Event
You want to estimate how many you can reasonably sell so that you can best prepare for the event. Key is knowing the expected attendance, kind of event, genres that attendees might read, and knowing if attendees are geared toward spending money or simply taking in the events experiences. The best metric is to have visited the event before, or pick the brain of a previous vendor or guest. You can also make some helpful assumptions with a little online research and asking questions to the event organizers.
This is tied closely to the event outcomes point mentioned above and is the gray area bleeding into the next field, knowing your audience. All the data and metrics in the world won’t help you if you don’t understand who the people are that you’re trying to sell books to.
Know your Audience: The RPG Method
I was at a book marketing meet-up several years back when I heard another author suggest we look at our market as a single, ideal person. Distill your readership into a person, create a dossier for him or her. More than their likes and dislikes, though what is their marital status, how many kids do they have, do they rent or own, urban or rural?
The exercise is great because in thinking through those details, you are asking for character information, a fleshed out and usable backstory, as if that character could be written into a fiction world. For me, this seems easiest to do as a Character Sheet from a role-playing game.
Don’t just make a type of person. Create an actual person. Imagine your ideal reader and tell us about him or her. You can feel free to be even more descriptive than what you see here:
A blank version if this character form is available as a free download in my “Author Services” tab on my website.
Feel free to make your characters even more detailed. You may find that you enjoy the process, and in doing so, you’ll begin to understand your potential book buyers all the more for it. The more niched your books are, and the more you lean into a specific genre, the more relevant creating these fictitious readers will be for you.
The trick is not in creating hypothetical characters. There is no special magic in doing that. It would be like writing up a hundred character sheets for your favorite role playing game, but then never playing them. The exercise is pointless if you never meet the characters… if you never play the game.
What this exercise does do, however, is allow you to understand your buyers more by having hypothetical interactions with them. It builds mental pathways to understanding them by degrees. Come up with widely varied personas who might be potential customers, but put them as far ideologically as can be, and then look for the things that tie them together. In those areas of similarity is the world you should exist within when you are selling that book. Build three characters—make one a Trump supporter, make one an anti-Trumper, and make a third who votes only third party… all three would love to buy your book… now look at what they have in common and why all three of those might be at the particular event you are selling books at. If you can find the areas where their personal lives intersect and live inside the network of commonality, you’ll be able to sell books like no one else.
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