Do You Know Your “Right Reader?”

*Note: this is a reprint of the earlier article from my “imploded” version of the blog.

When you write a novel, who do you see as your perfect audience?

Most writers balk at this question.  You’ll see that when someone (like an agent) asks: “who do you see your book appealing to?”  Most writers will hem and haw, and say “I think everyone would enjoy this book, if they gave it a chance!”  They don’t want to say “I think that this book would appeal to women in their twenties and thirties who live in cities.” (And honestly, most agents aren’t looking for a full demographic flesh-out, they’re just trying to figure out where the editor should categorize it.)

So why do writers balk?

Because they think that if they target too narrow an audience, there’s no way they are going to make the sales necessary to sustain themselves as an author… especially as a full time writer.  They’re thinking “I need lots of sales” so they don’t want to pin themselves down.

The funny thing is, the less focused you are about who your audience is, the more diluted your actual writing becomes.

When we start out, honestly, most of us have a perfect audience of one: ourselves.  I think that’s not a bad thing, especially when you start.  But as you grow as an author, especially as a published author, you need to have a sense of who your core audience is, what they like, what they don’t like.  Why they like it.

Why do you need to know this?

Because these are what I call your Right Readers.  These are going to be your raving fans.  They’re going to follow you on twitter.  They’re going to auto-buy your ass, and if you disappoint them, they’re going to be super pissed.

That’s not to say you’re going to need to write slavishly, always in fear of pissing off your Right Readers.  But it is something you need to think about if you’re going to look at this as a business.  You want to keep your Right Readers happy.  Technically, everyone else can go to hell.

Which Brings Up The Bitches

I love the site Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  They’re the romance website par excellance: they’re intelligent, they’re funny, they pull no punches.  They quite often give books D- and F reviews, with hilarious, eviscerating write ups.

These D- and F books don’t fail, strangely enough.  Or at least, not always.  Why?

Because Smart Bitches ARE NOT THEIR RIGHT READERS.  Their right readers don’t care about a bad review.  Their right readers don’t care whether or not a suspense plot is perfect, for example — they read it because they love the witty banter between the hero and heroine, or the lyrical description of the prairie, or whatever it is that rings their chimes.  And those authors know that.

When agents and editors recommend that you stick to one genre, it’s with your Right Reader in mind.  Building an audience is tough.  When you genre-jump, only the truly faithful, the ones who adore your voice and the through-line of your career, are going to stick.  I can speak with some experience on this one. (And to you loyal guys… mwah.  You are the reason I still have some semblance of sanity.)

So, how do you figure out your Right Reader?

By figuring out your Hedgehog.  When you know what you do best, what you love, and what the market wants, you’re going to find out what readers want from you.  More importantly, you’re going to know who they are and how to target your marketing to them.  That’s key: know your market so you can give them what they want.  Which means they’ll keep buying you.  Which means you’ll have a career.

Find your Right Reader. Figure out who else she reads, where she hangs out, how she decides what to buy.  Then you’ll know how to find her — and how to help her find you.  And once you’re together?  Magic.

 

A CHARACTER SKETCH FOR YOUR RIGHT READER:

What gender is your right reader?  It will usually, predominantly, be one or the other.

About what age?  Think about your own age – that will usually influence your references.  Also, think about the age of your protagonist.  If you’re writing YA, think a bit younger than your protagonist.

What genres does your reader enjoy?  Who are some of her favorite authors?

What does your reader do for fun?  What does she enjoy?

What is her life like?  Is she using reading to relax?  Does she have a stressful job?  A family?  Is she looking for a quick, breezy read, or something that transports her and is totally engrossing?

Is she social?

How does she spend time online?  Does she read blogs?  Does she post on Facebook?  Is she tech savvy?

What magazines does she read?

What TV does she watch?  What movies?

What music does she enjoy?

What are her hobbies?  Does she enjoy crafts?  Cooking?  Going out to restaurants?  Watching movies in a theater, or at home?  Playing an instrument?  Hanging out with friends?  Exercising?

Your right reader is not your only reader.

You will have lots of readers that don’t fit this profile.  However, the reader that fits this profile is the one most likely to connect with your books.  She is also the most likely to:

  • Post reviews.
  • Send you fan mail.
  • Tell friends about your books and encourage them to try your books.
  • Get on your newsletter list to make sure she knows when your new releases come out.

Your right reader is going to be your life blood.  You want to nurture your relationship with your right reader by keeping her in mind at all times as you go through your “branding” process.

 

 

Forget Promotion. Think Contribution.

*Note: this is a reprint of the earlier article from my “imploded” version of the blog.  I’ll be posting the ones I’ve been able to recover.  Thanks for your patience!

 

As writers, we of all people should know that words have power. The words “promotion” and “marketing” hold a connotation that we are trying to, paraphrasing the words of Fight Club : “Sell shit you don’t need to people who don’t want it.” The conundrum we then have is: We need sales to write full time, or make some sort of side income, or to connect with readers. We have trouble making sales without marketing and promotion . We grit our teeth and do the marketing and promotion , wearing as cheerful a face as we can while doing something we hate. Or, conversely, we’re pushing because we think we’re supposed to: this is where the asymmetrical mass favor comes in. We’re also causing people to avoid us, because they’d rather covertly unfriend/ignore/block us than actively say “hey, would you stop telling me about your damned blogs? I don’t even really know you. You’re driving me nuts.”

How do you feel about “sharing and contribution?”

I haven’t hit on the perfect metaphor yet, but I’m triangulating and getting closer. Instead of thinking “how can I build my platform?” and building a strategy, I think: How can I give my tribe something it wants? How can I be a member with a valuable contribution ?

What does a contribution look like?

This could be telling someone you’re thinking of her when her husband is in surgery. It could mean recommending a new author that you enjoy to a reader group. Sharing something embarrassing, personal, and funny on your blog. Retweeting a great blog post on Twitter. Liking someone’s comment on Facebook. Answering questions. Asking questions, for that matter. Genuinely listening. Those that think, “well, that won’t make you a bestseller” will agree: there’s no loss and nothing wrong with connecting. I’ll bet it actually creates more ripples than you’d believe. Call it starting a karmotion, if you like.

What about the “sharing” bit?

That’s where your books specifically come in. You’re not trying to be a one-sale stand, as I’ve said. You want to recommend your books to people who would most likely enjoy them. That means identifying your right reader, knowing where she hangs out, and connecting with the hubs that connect with the readers. You’re not selling: you’re connecting. You’re not pushing your ego onto an indifferent crowd. You’re sharing a gift with friends. There. Now doesn’t that feel better?’,

Forget Platform. Think Tribe.

*Note: this is a reprint of the earlier article from my “imploded” version of the blog.  I’ll be posting the ones I’ve been able to recover.  Thanks for your patience!

I’ve been researching, working on a simple plan book for how to build a platform. And as I’ve given questionnaires, read business books and blogs, and delved into the pros, cons, and conflicting tips on how to build a platform, I’m slowly triangulating on one thing that keeps surfacing:

Platform building doesn’t work.

A different way to think about promotion

Here’s an illustration. I get two emails. One is from an author I am loosely acquainted with on Facebook, telling me she’s added a Facebook page to promote her new book that’s being released on Tuesday, and asking me to please “like” it… and hey, maybe buy the book while I”m at it, because it’s a great read. The other is from a dear friend of mine, someone I’ve been in a critique group with for a few years. Her book is being released on Friday, and she’s thrilled.

Guess whose book I’m picking up on Friday?

That seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? I am thrilled for my friend. I’ve watched her grow. She’s listened to me rant. She’s lent me books and recommended new authors. She’s been there for a quick beta read when I’ve needed her. I want to support her. Of course I’m picking up her book. And I’m announcing it on my blog, Facebook status and Twitter account. Not because she asked me to, although I wouldn’t mind if she did. Because I like her and I want her to succeed.
I don’t know the other author. While she seems like a nice enough person, I don’t necessarily trust her. Why should I “like” her page, just on her say-so? What incentive do I have? Who is this person, anyway? I’d like to help, but it’s like a casual acquaintance asking to borrow your car. My friend, I’d hand over the keys in a heartbeat. But I don’t know you, Facebook author… and I get requests just like it by the dozens every day. Sorry to be blunt, but what makes you special, random author?

What does this mean for you?

This doesn’t mean you throw in the towel, write what you can, and hope for the best. I still think promotion is important. I think that there have been two camps: the Militant Introverts, artistic purists who think self promotion is “shameless” and who will live or die by their draft; and the Aggressive Promoters, who strategize, implement, and “promo-whore” as best they can.

There is a third band of refugees who cycle from one camp to the other, randomly blogging like mad when a release is out then retreating to a cave for months at a time.

At one time or another, I’ve been all three. And I’m starting to see that there’s another, better way.

Promotion Karma

I’m still developing this theory, but I think that the important thing is to make friends. I’ve seen comments from readers saying they are more likely to buy a book from someone that they “know” even if their only interaction has been online. So the key is to become a friend to people.

I’m sure there are nay-sayers that will point out you need to sell about 100,000 books, at least, to become a bestseller… and you have enough problems keeping track of your family, much less “being a friend” to a cast of thousands. But that’s not what needs to happen.

Remember the Right Reader post? Find your target audience. Then pick one or two groups, and become a friend. A real friend, not just someone hanging out for promo. Listen to what they have to say. Authentically care when there are birthdays, or sicknesses, ups and downs. Participate for at least a month without mentioning your books at all.

Listen. Help. Connect.

Find a few authors who are in the mid-list in the same genre that you’re targeting — discover ones whose writing you enjoy. Then promote them . Do a review on your blog, comment on their blogs, mention them on social media.
Who knows? Maybe they’ll blurb your book when the time comes, or mention your releases. Maybe they won’t. It’s not quid pro quo… it’s karma.

Maybe it’s a crazy dream, but I think that this is the promotion “strategy” I’ve been stumbling around, searching for, for years.

It feels right. After all, your brand is how others perceive you — the way you interact with your readers on a consistent basis, every day. What could be a better brand builder than simply putting yourself out there as a good friend, and mean it?

If this sounds right to you… if this sounds like something that is just crazy enough to work, please re-tweet this, “like” it, tell your friends. And if you know of other writers who are already clued into this, who have written about it or taught it, please email me. I think we’re onto something here.

Just. Keep. Moving.

SnailI’ve had two crippling bouts of writers’ block in my career.

The first was for a year and a half, right after my first book was published.

My editor said, “we loved the book!  What else do you have?”  I replied confidently, “I’ll get you a proposal as soon as I can!”

Then I promptly stared at a blank screen until drops of blood formed at my temples.  (Okay, it wasn’t quite that bad.  But sure felt like it.)

It’s not that you can’t type.  It’s that you don’t.  Or you do… and then you look at the words that you’ve been spewing, and you recoil with an almost physical revulsion.

The latest was when a serious of tumultuous events were pounding through my life, to the point where a typhoon would’ve seemed like a tropical vacation.  Lots of external stuff, lots of deadlines.

Even though I knew what the story should be, I developed keyboard-o-phobia.  I would clean my kitchen floor with a toothbrush before I’d drag myself to my desktop.

Blog Block.

You guys know that my website imploded.  Rather, I stupidly decided to try to install an add-on that had no earthly business being on my WordPress site, and it spanked me for my impertinence.  In my non-techie way, I did everything I could to resuscitate the thing, before finally deciding to start over.

I finally decided to start over.  But the process has been both heartbreaking and, it felt to me, impossibly slow.

The similarities.

As I was gearing up to start posting again, I noticed some similarities between all these blocks… or, more specifically, how to get out of these blocks.

1.  I was unable to let go.

I don’t know about you, but I get this “perfect idea” in my head.  Of the novel I want to write.  Or how my writing career ought to go.  Or how much I loved what I had on my blog.

I couldn’t let it go.  Not any of it.  Even though letting go of my preconceptions — for plot ideas, for example, or the old blog posts — was exactly what I needed to do to move forward.

2.  I “wasn’t quite sure” what I ought to do next.

This is one of my all time favorite Stephen King quotes, from his novel Misery (which, if you write genre fiction, I think you absolutely have to read):

“…not being sure of things, he knew, was a charmless corner of purgatory reserved for writers who were driving fast with no idea at all where they were going.”

I’m a plotter.  Not because I think that once I’ve got the outline, things are going to go swimmingly and I’m going to skip through a meadow of happiness from the opening to THE END.

I write a plot outline so I narrow my choices.  If I’m presented with too many options, I find myself vacillating, getting overwhelmed… getting paralyzed.  It doesn’t matter if, when I’m in the scene, things turn out differently.  The plot outline is there to make sure I make a choice.

3.  Inertia.

“An object at rest… CANNOT BE STOPPED!”

Ah.  Words of wisdom from The Tick.

It takes just a minute to say, “I think I’m going to play Angry Birds instead of writing today.”  And then before you know it, an hour vanishes.

If you need to take a day to recharge, there’s no harm in that.  It’s when that day stretches out into a week that you realize you’re in trouble.  And it sneaks up on you.  Suddenly, you’re not quite sure how to start up.

An object at rest tends to stay at rest.

As it happens, there’s only one solution to all of these.

Just.  Keep. Moving.

One page.  One paragraph.  One sentence.  This sounds very facile, but at the end of the day, the only thing that’s going to get you out of it is little steps, one after the other.

There are plenty of other things that help.  I’m a big fan of support groups, accountability, mind tricks like Write or Die.  I am a huge fan of bribes (as I stare at the chocolate cake on the counter, which I’ve promised myself I can eat when I’m done with this.)

But at the end of the day, you’ve got to just keep moving.

Why Do You Write Your Novels?

Note:  This is a re-post of an earlier article, before I destroyed my database in a horrible, fiery conflagration.  More posts coming soon. 🙂

Writing is a tough business. There are going to be days when you get rejections… sometimes several, back to back.  You’re going to feel blocked.  Everything you type is going to look like crap.  You’re going to get a rough critique – deserved or undeserved.  You’re going to hear about someone who started just a few months ago getting a seven figure book deal; you’re going to hear about how the book industry is going down the toilet and NYT bestsellers are getting jobs as greeters at Walmart to make ends meet.

You’re going to wonder why the hell you’re even trying.

This is where a mission statement comes in.

For those of you coming from the corporate world, a mission statement usually seems like a pointless piece of bureaucratese, created during some expensive retreat where executives sit around and spitball high-minded platitudes to put on their yearly brochure.  Or it’s a rah-rah sounding thing that you learned in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” where people like Gandhi and Churchill talk about wanting to save the world.  (That’s not all the book covers, and I’m not knocking the habits, but having been through the training, I also know that it’s hard to read about Gandhi and then put “I really want to make a bunch of money” without feeling like a complete tool.)

What’s your “mission” as a fiction writer?

Your mission is the fuel in your engine.  When you have those craptacular days where you think about throwing in the towel and ignoring the voices in your head, you’re going to look at this little paragraph and remember… oh, yeah.  That’s why I’m doing this.

Maybe it’s a little description of the first novel you read that made you cry, that you re-read about a thousand times before thinking “you know, I want to do this.”  Maybe it’s the first story you ever finished.  Maybe it’s the first positive rejection letter you ever got, where someone said your writing style was fresh and interesting and they’d like to see more from you.  Whatever it is, it’s got to inspire you.  It’s got to remind you why you’ll keep going on against all odds.

What if my mission is to quit my day job?

If your mission is to quit your day job… well, there are a bunch of ways to quit your day job that don’t involve the soul-crushing beat downs that our chosen profession dishes out on a regular basis.  In a way, it’s like taking a job as a mine-sweeper just so you can get out of the tedium of being a clerk.  If your only motivation is being an entrepreneur, or no longer being “held down by the Man,” then maybe you need to look at some other ways of generating income and save writing for a hobby.  Writing is a tough business, and it takes a certain mindset and a certain determination to pull it off.  Be careful what you wish for.

That said, if thinking about how you’re going to quit your job keeps you typing the keys, if it keeps you inspired thinking of how much you’re going to love being creative every day, then write that down.  Nobody needs to look at this thing but you.

What if my mission is to be famous, a big, well-paid New York Times Bestseller?

Then be honest with yourself.  If you want to be famous, it’s pointless to write that you want to “touch the lives of millions” altruistically because it sounds better.  This is for you, not for anyone else.  If this is going to keep you tapping the keys, do what you have to do.

What if I don’t know my mission?

This might be a good thing to kick around with your critique group or your cheerleaders.  Meditate on it, if that works for you.  Take time, but not too much time.  Ask yourself: why did I start doing this?  In a perfect world, what do I want my writing career to look like?  What’s going to keep me typing?  When was I happiest writing?  What’s my best writing moment?

Then write something.  Re-visit it every year.  Keep it somewhere you can look at it when you’re feeling stuck – maybe near your keyboard.  It sounds simple, but it’s a very powerful, very effective tool.

So… what’s your mission?