Niche marketing – part 3: What not to pitch…

Just for fun, mostly…

Following part one and part two from last week, here’s a small insight on the gatekeeping job regarding quality control in your niche marketing strategy. In other words, the pitch for your product.

Remember, you are not targeting ‘everyone’. You must target ‘someone’. But that ‘someone’ must also pass stringent quality control tests.

If you were to market yourself as an author suggesting that your work is for any of the following, try reconsidering your pitch. Or maybe, reconsidering your actual writing:

  • Dear HarperCollins, please find attached my 380,000 word crime novel, aimed at parolees attempting the world speed record for re-arrest by providing them with some ideas.
  • Dear Mr. R. House, enclosed is my 25,000 word novella, it is aimed at teetotal virgins and window-lickers with short attention spans.
  • Dear Harlequin, would you be interested in considering my medium-length romantic comedy about an everyday girl who meets an Average Joe over a wilting cup of tea and a nice hot potted plant? I think it would be just perfect for 59-year-old cat-lady spinsters hoarding M&S carrier-bags under the stairs to make them look like they don’t shop at Lidl’s.
  • Dear Messrs Simon & Schuster, I have written a pop-up book aimed solely at Walmartians. Help me cure them.
  • Dear PacMan Millan, I am a huge fan of your video game. Would you like to purchase an idea for a book? I have not yet given it a title as I am aware that a publisher is likely to choose it for me, as well as choosing my pen-name, but I was thinking of targeting existing fans of the ‘Apple Lisa’ computer to cash in on product placements.
  • Dear Little Brown Company, I have run out of paper to write on, so please excuse the turnip. It was quite heavy to mail, so I have not included return postage. I would love to send you my book of sonnets written with Paraguayan male youth fraternity members of Opus Dei in mind who have lost a limb or a head to frostbite. Please rush me 25 sheets of unmarked A4 paper and a Hewlett Packard ink cartridge so that I can print it out for you.

Remember – you can do better than that. Don’t be so specific that your entire potential readership could be contained in a small igloo, Pop-Tent, or holding cell. Be smart. Don’t describe real people, they will scare the crap out of the publishers (and the public). Use your imagination – you know, that thing you used when writing your book in the first place while endless dollar, Euro and pound signs (or turnips) floated before your eyes… 🙂

Aphex Twin ‘Window Licker’

Nick Holmes from Paradise Lost recommends the video to this track, allegedly… search for it if you dare…

Niche marketing – part 2…

Following yesterday’s post Niche marketing – the psychology behind success I’ll give you an example from my back catalogue, where I really was writing for a perceived ‘niche market’ as I saw it.

When designing your perfect reader, you have to realise that there is an element of caricature in the concept. Like for romance writers, their perfect reader might be the single city girl commuting, with her dog-eared, much-loved paperback copy of their book (not ebook, so that everyone can see what she’s reading) in permanent residence at the bottom of her Chloé.

Have you noticed that bags and shoes aren’t referred to as bags and shoes in chick lit anymore? It’s all label this and designer that. Shopping-channel porn. Unfortunately, it also tends to date books quickly, due to fashion’s fickle nature – you’ll see what I mean in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho novel, where Patrick launches into a loving and verbose description of the contents of his man-tastic living room.

Christian Bale in American Psycho

As such, lurid technology envy should probably also be avoided, now everyone and their two-year-old owns an iPad. As for cars, they go out of style faster than shoes – quite literally…

Digression alert! What I was saying, is that your planned ‘niche market’ is ‘a character’ as much as the people in your novel are also characters. So for the traditional romance/chick lit author, her ideal reader is the city girl commuting on the train, enjoying her favourite books en route, and usually sneaking them out under the desk and in her lunch hour too. She probably gets wobbly on a gin and tonic, and leaves parties early to curl up in her PJs and watch Bridget Jones for the umpteenth time rather than embarrassing herself instead. She’d never ask a guy out because she’s too shy, but secretly would like to dance on a table just once in her life. Abroad. Where nobody knows who she is.

Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones

That’s a caricature. It’s a perception of a potentially real person or reader, but doesn’t define or specify a completely real person or reader.

The romance author only needs to write their own book with his/her particular reader in mind. She/he doesn’t need to try and target ‘everyone’ and include members of the House of Lords, prisoners on Death Row, Guatemala, Greenpeace activists, people who work on whaling ships, and the creepy guy that never talks but licks the library windows. Even though they can all read as well, most likely. What I’m saying is, don’t announce that your book is for ‘everyone’ – try being specific, and see how your story, its cover, and the way you promote it stands up to your concept of who in the worldwide ‘market’ you are considering would appreciate this sort of book.

Here’s my own example – chick lit/crime, ‘self-help’ fiction, Death & The City:

DATC hd cover

Other editions and covers available – see ‘eBooks’. Also in paperback print and hardcover.

Now I had only one reader in mind at first: Me.

But as I wrote, I realised there was an existing concept of women out there who might also enjoy it.

The ones who hadn’t always managed to pick the right guy – or any guy. The ones who clung to the rails but spent most of the time off them, while they struggled with growing up, daily life, work and peer pressure.

Lindsay Lohan Daily Mail UK September 2013

The ones who saw everyone else’s mistakes, but still couldn’t make their own life work out perfectly…

Angelina - Girl, Interrupted

Somewhere inside them is always a seed of strength, whether it’s that they know better, they know what’s best for them deep down but other people always seem to get it wrong, or that they have already been through the ‘worst case scenarios’ on a number of occasions, and have come out the other side…

Britney at MTV Awards

They’re a bit feisty on the surface, and never seem to take any crap, and are occasionally better survivors single than in a relationship – but that’s only because they’re protecting themselves, their sanity and their children first…

britney-spears

They don’t ‘need a man’ but the right one will find them – eventually.

Katie Price 'Jordan'

And you know that the minute she picks up the ball and runs with it, she’ll kick everyone’s ass…

Angelina Jolie - Lara Croft

…So that’s my caricature of a potential ‘niche market’ audience. It sounds quite specific. But when you read into it, and expand on it, you’ll find that some of the characteristics you’ve given your ‘specific reader’ speak to a much wider audience than you first realised. Lots of people will identify with elements of it.

But you don’t advertise that fact.

You stick to communicating your idea of ‘one perfect reader’ who will get the most from your work, take the best message it contains on board, feel it speaks to the best version of themselves, and leads them to further insights of their own.

Sounds idealistic, doesn’t it? But niche marketing is all about selling idealism, that others will then want to be a part of. How or what you write is up to you, whether your intentions are good and it comes from the heart, or you only want to find the fastest route to making money. Either way, you still then have to promote it, whether it’s to a publisher or directly to the public – and you need to say who you are writing for, not just why.

It’s funny. I’ve never put together an actual pinboard of my ideal reader as above, and here it is. I carried the concept of my ‘reader’ and the various representations of that reader around in my head. But looking at them, and looking at my various covers, I think this is the best one so far:

Death & The City - Heavy Duty Edition hardcover

Cover for the Smashwords/Kobo/Sony/Diesel Ebooks/iTunes Bookstore version and Lulu hardback

The pink is more appropriate – but I still think it’s not quite there yet. I’ll need to make a bigger ‘niche marketing’ pinboard and see where that leads me…

Make your ‘ideal reader pinboard’ – it might surprise you 🙂

L xxx

Niche marketing – the psychology behind success

Yesterday, I caught a few minutes of Real Housewives of Vancouver, where business-minded Mom ‘Ronnie’ was in a design planning meeting, regarding her idea for a new wine brand that she proposed to call ‘Rehab’.

The ad agency were asking all the right questions, which Ronnie really didn’t seem to understand. Who was the product aimed at? What was the story behind it? What image or personality did it have? What occasion would it be suited to?

Ronnie, like many first-time writers I’ve spoken to, didn’t want to tie herself down to a ‘niche market’. She wanted an instant, across-the-board success. “It’s for everyone” she said. “People drinking at home, or during the day, or getting ready to go out…”

Nothing starts out aimed at ‘everyone’ unless it’s toilet paper.

389331_10151499447745427_1342178212_n

No comment… 🙂

The problem isn’t the concept of ‘niche marketing’. The problem is the widely-held misconception of how niche marketing works. The intent and purpose of ‘niche marketing’.

The misconception is that you ‘find your niche market’ and only target them as your consumers. This is only correct if your product has age restrictions, usually enforced by law.

Let’s say you are a science fiction author who wants to break into the crossover sci-fi romance market. You have penned the equivalent of Star Wars. You immediately want to reach “everyone” as Ronnie stated.

You don’t start with everyone. You start with the design concept for your one perfect reader in the whole world. Just one.

And then you make everyone else in the world want to be that reader.

Your one perfect reader is the hottest guy (or girl) on the science campus. They wear designer loafers bought on eBay and own an epic collection of zombie t-shirts from online artists. They’ve met Stephen Hawking. They drink cherry brandy and Coke because it tastes awesome. They prefer DeviantArt to Pinterest, listen to Calvin Harris, and their ideal party weekend would be a trip to Vegas to see Britney Spears live in residence. They own at least one of the original Star Wars branded pieces of merchandise. You never see them play or hear them bragging, but you just know they’d thrash you at pool or poker. They’re an expert on the moon of Enceladus, and will tell you all about it while making you the best vegan Pad Thai noodles that you’ve ever eaten in your life.

Does that reader sound appealing to a sci-fi author? Damn right it does. And probably to some other potential readers as well. Who are Googling Pad Thai recipes as we speak.

Vegan Black Metal Chef: Pad Thai

Here’s another example. Cristal champagne. Originally commissioned for Russian royalty in the 1800s, with a bottle designed to defy assassination attempts, it wasn’t available to the public until 1945. It was so exclusive and its potential market so tiny, that to drink it became a badge of honour. And by the turn of the 21st century it was starting to be sloshed over mixing decks by high-profile DJs and poured all over hip-hop girls in hot tubs by rap musicians. Its niche market went from ‘virtually no-one’ to ‘virtually everyone’.

Tupac Shakur ‘Thug Passion’ – also the name of his Cristal/Alize cocktail

But that took 60 years, I hear you wail!

It doesn’t always take that long. If the design for your perfect reader is enviable enough that everyone wants to become that reader, then reading your book – like drinking that wine – will by proxy make them that reader. In their minds, at least.

With alcohol, very few people want to see themselves as the lonely idle bastard sitting at home in a string vest and one shoe on, watching Homes Under the Hammer while their cat slowly expires of mange and unpaid bills drop onto the mat. That’s someone who primarily (frequently) wants and needs toilet paper. That’s ‘everyone’.

They want to see themselves at the front row on the Strip surrounded by Cristal and close friends who never throw up on them screaming themselves hoarse watching Britney Spears live, while she announces mid-performance that there’s a really hot guy right in front of her and she likes his zombie t-shirt. In fact, she’d like him to take it off so she can wear it home.

Britney Spears live, Las Vegas, in a jazz club stylee… niiiiice…  🙂

See? The niche market is not your enemy. It’s your consumer’s aspiration and future adventures. You’re just there to hold the door open a tiny chink, and allow everyone else a brief glimpse of where they could be.

The Dos Equis beer commercials spell it out for you 😉

London Book Fair 2013: After it has all sunk in…

Kobo at Clapham Junction

Kobo reader at Clapham Junction, awaiting train home after LBF13, 15th April

There’s not much I can say about this year’s London Book Fair that hasn’t been said already. Authors ruled. Early in the day on Monday, you could see the tumbleweeds blowing through EC1 – while in EC2, at the Author Lounge, it was an ants’ nest of inquisitive and industrious minds around Mark Lefebvre‘s talk ‘From E to Eternity’.

Mark Lefebvre of Kobo speaking at the London Book Fair 2013

Mark Lefebvre discussing the Zombies Run app as an example of progressing interactive e-reading experiences

The authonomy blog shared a mind-blowing fact afterwards – that around 25,000 new titles are currently being released to a worldwide audience every week (April 2013). With more and more folk picking up on how easy it is to self-publish using free ebook and POD platforms, this number looks set to continue growing exponentially.

Standing room only inside and outside the LBF13 Author Lounge

The outcome of this year’s Book Fair was that there was some traditional publishing buzz afterwards, but even the high bidders, staking claims to their meaningful contribution in the industry, couldn’t contend with the sheer overwhelming presence of (and interest in) the independent authors at this year’s event.

Photo by Kobo Writing Life

To me, the most daunting thing facing a writer today is the sheer number of people doing it. The same thing has happened with the indie music industry and indie film industry over the past 15 years.

Suddenly everyone is producing work, and putting it online, and trying to reach people with a taste for their style using the promotional platforms available – and while the creative market is exploding, the audience is progressively shrinking. As consumers, we don’t have enough hours to see, hear and read everything out there (even less so if we’re also the creators, and need most of that time to be creative ourselves), and the chances of finding our perfect entertainment to fill our small amount of spare time, although it may be out there, is tiny – like hunting for our own personal needle in a haystack full of needles.

Which is why it’s important to ensure that your creative hobby is fulfilling you, before you even conceive of who else might appreciate it. You are your primary audience.

The major concern that I’ve heard other authors voice recently, is that their one fear about publishing their work is “being judged on the content” which suggests they’re not writing for themselves, or from personal experience, but for some seedy underbelly kind of voyeuristic audience that they wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, let alone at a book signing.

If you wouldn’t want to be judged on the content of your writing, why are you writing for that particular perceived audience? For the potential money? For the notoriety? Are you simply in denial of a fetish for that specific genre yourself? Writers who enjoy their work, and are writing in a way that reflects them accurately, aren’t suffering from that fear. Anyone meeting them will find their personality consistent with the writing. They’ll leave them feeling that they were indeed the only person qualified to have written that particular work, and that if it was to their taste, that they’d happily want to learn more – in effect, to spend time with that author getting to know them better through their writing.

Sometimes, as a reader, there’s nothing more disappointing than an author who doesn’t live up to their stories. The author is supposed to be ‘the authority’ on their individual writing. Not a collector of ideas applied to writing, in order to make a fast buck.

Sometimes, that’s the reason true life stories are more interesting than fiction. You already know that it really happened to the author, which makes them an interesting person – one with a story to spend time on.

An author whose only personal story is that they churn out ideas, like a machine, in the best tried-and-tested manner to generate income, may be running an effective business, but are they living a life worth sharing with lessons worth learning? Are they inspiring people to live differently or explore life by being the best example of that lifestyle that there is?

By accident, I found out that parody sells. I enjoy parody, as a consumer – fantasy and sci-fi parody is my favourite genre, alongside graphic novels. I wrote my first parody as a test of publishing platforms, once I’d taught myself the technical know-how to format and publish for free – which led me to publish other original works I’d written years earlier. But ironically, it’s the parody that keeps selling. Is it because it’s my favourite genre as a customer? Or just that it fits a mainstream contemporary audience?

But here’s what I wanted to write. When I was about fourteen, I read an interview with a Mills & Boon author at the time, Mary Wibberly. She had been writing romances for years and submitting them to Mills & Boon for about a decade before finally getting published (she’d even been submitting them under different author names, in imaginary fear of having been blacklisted by the editors). It made me want to write romances one day. I still do. But although I can satirize and produce parody of it, I feel like a fraud whenever I attempt more traditional ‘romance’ with a straight face, because I don’t have any romantic experience. Ideas aren’t the same as having experience. I can read all the advice books around, from writing advice by Sue Moorcroft to relationship advice by Greg and Amiira Behrendt – but in the real world where nothing remotely like romance is happening and the only nudity I see is dead and trussed up in the frozen meat counter at the supermarket, I have to kick the daydream of writing romance aside and stick to comedy and fantasy for now (and sometimes zombies, see above). I’m one of those writers that has to be identifiable to myself first, and if I tried to write something that could only be comfortably and authoritatively written by a happily married housewife or a happily dating city girl, it wouldn’t seem real to me and most likely wouldn’t seem real to anyone else.

I guess we all have dreams of creative and professional success, the same way we have dreams of achievement in our personal lives. The internet makes it possible for everyone to compete in the same playing field. Meaning that the potential for anyone to rise head and shoulders above the rest, where everyone has the same level of electronically-supported social skills at their disposal – subject to time and budget – is slim.

If you picture the internet as such a playing field, with the population of the world strolling around on it trying to get noticed with their business cards and check-lists saying ‘reviews’ and ‘advertising’ (or ‘dating profile’ and ‘has genuine recent photo’) – what would stand out to you, as a potential customer? It’s not Dragon’s Den, where you get five minutes to pitch individually. Everyone selling themselves online, is online at the same time as you. You have, at most, about 0.4 seconds to catch someone’s eye and make them look again. (If they’re an RAF pilot, about 0.1 seconds).

And your budget doesn’t stretch to getting them all sociably drunk and conveniently impressionable – and that’s even if you could fit them all into Groucho’s.

As a customer, for me, it’s in regular high street bookshops and the supermarket where I look for books, so the dream is probably still to reach one of those publishers who can distribute to those places. I’m a proud reader. I think people being able to see what I’m enjoying reading on the train is better than writing a review any day.

Although perhaps not this book… I was laughing, but I don’t think that’s what the intention behind it is…

IMG-20130904-00296

Weirdest thing I’ve ever read on a train… didn’t make me want to try it out, let alone read past page 45…

So, besides misrepresenting myself as a person occasionally by picking up weird cult books to read, my philosophy of ‘write what you know’ is about as flexible as it is to continually increase what I know, to a valid and confident level where I know I won’t be misrepresenting or misleading anyone else.

That way, the fear of being ‘judged on the subject/content’ as a writer doesn’t sabotage my enjoyment of writing. After all, I may be the only person who ever reads it for more than 0.4 seconds, and I wouldn’t try and delude myself with artificial knowledge and lack of experience, so why try it out on anyone else?

So like I found with parody – what you think you want from writing early on may turn into something else, leading you down other creative pathways.

How writing affects you as a person – whether it defines you or misrepresents you – is probably more important, particularly for your sanity and whether it affects how comfortable you are around other people, talking about your work. If you’re considering pushing for a career in a certain genre, or as a certain kind of writer, and want to reach those upper echelons of success obtained by JK Rowling, James Patterson and Sir Terry Pratchett – try recording yourself in an imaginary interview, answering all the most awkward questions you can imagine being thrown at you, or write down your answers. Watching it or reading it back, you’ve only got to convince yourself that you’re the star for this job.

If you don’t seem convincing as the star candidate for this subject or this story – maybe try interviewing yourself about a different genre or story. Because if your passion doesn’t come across and your personality doesn’t sparkle as you talk about your work, how are you going to convince others that it’s a story worth selling?

The real challenge is, how to stand out from the 25,000 other books being released the same week as yours… never mind in the weeks following, under the increasing deluge 😉

IMG-20130415-00135

Mark Lefebvre of Kobo Writing Life Author Relations at London Book Fair 2013

Zombies Run 2 app trailer

Busted – Here’s what I did this summer…

DIY brace for broken sternum

DIY nylon webbing and elastic brace for fractured sternum and disrupted sternomanubrial joint, August 2013 🙂

This injury was back in the middle of June, and I was reassured it was only bruised and that fractures to this part of the body are very unusual and would require a massive impact (I’m not going to describe it, your heads will spin). Six weeks later after starting to sustain some unusual muscle tears while practising tumbling, I realised my posture must be slightly out due to this original injury, and got a second X-ray. It turned out the first X-ray might as well have been taken from the surface of Mars, as it missed the break by miles.

Luckily it’s not something they operate on immediately, as it takes a long time to heal and they like to give it a chance to settle down by itself. So no training or practising over the summer holiday for me! Never mind that I was still training for the six weeks before it was diagnosed. It was probably good for me. I’m not very good at ‘resting’ whatever that means.

But the summer’s been good to me. I went to my first festival as an adult! Last time I went to festivals was the Polgooth Fair and Elephant Fayre in Cornwall in the 1970s and 80s, as a small kiddie, where you ate a jam sandwich and spent all day on the bouncy castles, as I remember. This year I was invited to Beautiful Days near Honiton, and it was amazing.

The Fold live in the Bimble Inn tent

The Fold performing live at Beautiful Days in the Bimble Inn tent

Curious Evenings with the Ogden Sisters in the Theatre Tent

The Ogden Sisters present a Night of Trance in the comedy Theatre Tent

Primal Scream on the Main Stage

A very blurry Primal Scream on the Main Stage

There’s too much to tell you, you’ll just have to go next year. Highlights for me, as well as the above, were the Cowboy comedy stage play, stand-up by Robin Ince, Tony Cowards and Tom Price among others, The Levellers (who came out to play football with the youngsters one afternoon as well as performing) and animal-costume theme day, which ran on into the night, with some very creative illuminated butterflies and jellyfish.

IMG-20130818-00256

LED Mr Men costumes

IMG-20130818-00236

Fire-stick twirling and juggling

It’s definitely a family festival, with no branding or sponsorship, and I hope they keep it this good, and clean and with such a great atmosphere, for many years to come. You could tell the class of folk who attended by the Airstream caravans and Hunter wellies, and the fact that the comedians couldn’t find any traditional festival crusties to pick on in the audience…

TOM PRICE: Anyone here from Wales, like me? Ah, you’re from Wales. What’s your name?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Lucien…

TOM PRICE: Lucien??! (laughs) Of course it is! I can see you practising your golf swing from here!

Lovely stuff! 🙂

Earlier, I had a few days away with family in Exmoor, and also dropped in to see the lovely Jane Alexander for tea and cake and writerly gossip while I was there. Before that, there was Hastings Pirate Day, with all the Captain Jack Sparrows you can shake a stick at… but if you want to see those, I’m going to be mean and ask you to check out their Facebook page, SPARROWS UK in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital – because it’s all in a good cause. Savvy? 🙂

L xxxxx