Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Want To Sell More Books? Target A Niche

For those who don't know, my "day job" is ghost writing blogs. And though I've got a deep pool of topics I can draw on, a lot of the clients I work with want content that's all about marketing. One of the biggest topics in marketing that keeps coming across my desk is how to corner a niche. So I thought I'd cover that for my fellow writers.

Because, counterintuitively, you can sell more books by narrowing the number of readers you're actually trying to reach.

It's kind of like how a sniper rifle has a bigger impact than a shotgun on a given target.

How The Hell Does That Work?

Right, so, let's say you were running a blog. Ideally, you want the content on your blog to be so popular that it appeals to everyone. People of all religions, all political leanings, all ages will come to your site, read your content, view your ads, and make you money. However, the only way you can do that is by creating something that's bland, thinly-spread, and inoffensive. Which, ironically, is more likely to bore your potential readers so they don't come to your blog at all.

Think of your site as if it was a pizza. Because even if everyone likes pizza, not everyone likes the same kind of pizza. So it's pointless to try to appeal to every possible pizza customer out there. So what you need to do is ask what kind of pizza you specialize in. Do you do kickass veggie pizzas, appealing both to the vegetarian demographic, and people who like your unique flavor? Maybe you want to do a meat lover's pizza, and get all the carnivores in your corner? Maybe you want to sway the organic and all-natural crowd by using fresh, local ingredients in your pies? Perhaps you're offering cheap and tasty pizza to get the demographics who can't afford more, but who still want what you're making?

And what does this have to do with books?
You're writing books instead of cooking pizza, but the thinking is the same. You cannot make a single product that appeals to everyone. So instead of driving yourself mad (and possibly taking down your overall quality), you need to pick a niche to appeal to. Ask who is going to read your story, and then establish yourself within that community.

It sounds simple, but too many times authors will try to appeal to the broadest possible demographic, instead of appealing to the entirety of a single, smaller niche. And that second one is where you can get better, more reliable returns.

Have You Ever Heard of Dark Souls?

If you're plugged-in to video games, or geek culture at all, you're probably heard of Dark Souls. It's a video game series that is punishing, unforgiving, but most unusual it caters to those who love a mixture of fantasy and horror. If you know anything at all about video games, you'd know that horror is generally considered a minor niche, and it's one that publishers either ignore, or only fill partially. Particularly with series like Dead Space, which is less of a sci-fi horror shooter, and more of a shooter with weird enemies that occasionally jump out of cupboards.

So... when does the scary part show up?
Dark Souls, as one might expect, did not become a massive blockbuster overnight. It was hard, scary, confusing for a lot of players, and it was different from safer, mainstream genres. A lot of players tried it, and walked away. However, a surprising number of players said it was the greatest thing since ice cream orgies, and would not shut up about how fresh and unique it was. This led to word of mouth spreading, and it started to get a cult following.

Catering to that niche, and giving a specific group of fans what they wanted, was enough to make the sales the company needed to bring out sequels in the same vein. Dark Souls II, Bloodborne, and now Dark Souls III all had bigger and bigger sales as the fan base grew. The sales increased, not because the games adapted to appeal to bigger, broader audiences, but because they served a specific niche. No one else was doing anything like them, and even when imitators did step onto the field, the fans kept coming back to this company because they had a reputation.

In short, you get better results by making something everyone in a certain niche wants, rather than trying to appeal to the mass market and rolling the dice.

You Still Might Need To Take Multiple Shots At It

Zeroing in on a more potent target is a smart move, marketing wise, but there's still no guarantee it will work the first time. My other blog, Improved Initiative, is a gaming blog that focuses on tabletop gaming in general, but on the Pathfinder RPG in particular. So, while I have something for the broader niche of people who like tabletop RPGs, I have very specific content for people who play Pathfinder.

And last Monday I put up a post that got me over 37k hits over the weekend. Though that is far and away my most widely-read post at the moment, even my unpopular pieces consistently hit the 4-figure range now. When I first started writing that blog? I was lucky to get 500 hits on a new piece, and that was if it was popular.

Roll enough dice, and you'll eventually get a 20.
Part of my success with Improved Initiative has been that it's been running for several years, and I built up a backlog of content. I've gotten known in the community as a writer who provides quality content, and I've lucked into some formats and topics that always get readers to tune-in to see what I'm talking about. One of the most important factors in my success in that blog, though, (limited as it is) is that I appealed to the market who wanted what I was producing.

Find a base, and get their attention by giving them stuff they want. Do that, and you've got the makings of an audience, a paycheck, and if you're lucky, a career.

That's all for this week's installment of Business of Writing. Next week we'll get back to technique, and I should have something interesting for you. If you want to stay tuned-in to everything I'm putting out, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter so you never miss an update. Lastly, if you want to help support my work as a blogger, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! $1 a month is all I ask, and it buys you my everlasting gratitude along with some sweet swag to call your own.

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