Sell or Write? The Author’s Question

One of the things we writers are asked to do is determine who our audience is.  Well, that’s simple.  People who read.

Ah, but apparently there are categories of said people.  Young, old, middle grade, young adult, senior citizen, male, female, divorced, widowed, married, married for the umpteenth time, educated, not-so-well educated, the categories stretch on and on; in fact, if you type out all the categories in 12-point, Times Roman font, the line will stretch approximately three-quarters of the way from Washington D.C. to Toronto, Ontario.  Yes, well…

My three-book series is historical fiction and, faced with describing my audience, I thought I’d check out the Internet for some help.  I asked it how to find my target audience and I found lots of things, some of them even close to what I needed.  But I didn’t really find exactly what I wanted. At Do Something U, I found a marketing post which promised to help and parts of it, I’ve used below.

Branding, a big buzz word these days, is apparently necessary for us writers.  Become known for what you do and, if you are really clever, choose a word or phrase that becomes synonymous with your product (book).  Most important, that brand should appeal to the people that you want to reach. Well, who are they?  Who are the people who read historical fiction?  What are their characteristics?

These 5 questions will help me determine just who might buy my historical fiction books.  (Substitute your genre here if you like.)

  1. Age: What is the age range of the population who read historical fiction?   My guess is 18-98.
  2. Gender: Which gender would be most interested in historical fiction?  I’ve heard that females are most interested.
  3. Income: What is the income level of my potential readers? Well, they have to be able to afford books, don’t they?  Guess I’ll have to look up some numbers here.
  4. Education: What level of education do they have?  Oh, I’m sure they are at least high school grads but most should be college or university graduates. Then I’ll be sure they can read. (Oh, that is too snarky! Sorry.)
  5. Marital Status: What is their marital or family status?  I guess I have to go looking for the answer to this one.  Single women might want to live vicariously through my heroes, but then they’ll probably be reading romance.  Married women might want to escape, too.  I really need to research here.

Okay, before I get a whole lot of angry comments, I’m just kidding.  Well, not about the research and its necessity, but about my answers.

You might now wonder why I chose the title I did.  I was just feeling a little frustrated about the whole marketing thing and wondered which I’d rather be doing:  selling my books or writing them.

What is your view?  Consider leaving a comment, tongue-in-cheek or not, expressing it.

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15 thoughts on “Sell or Write? The Author’s Question

  1. It looks like we have been thinking along the same lines lately. The joy of writing and the even greater joy of trying to get published. Initially, it was difficult for me to categorize my novel much less predict the audience. I assumed only women would really appreciate my novel but after several men (and two published authors) read my ms, I learned that it should be categorized as mainstream fiction. I have said it before, and I will say it again, WRITING is the easy part of the equation.

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  2. My brain just gets fogged, sometimes,with all the social media and self-marketing to do as well as research, rewrites, writing first draft, and reading/critiquing others’ works. For the last month I’ve been refocusing on writing and keeping the rest to a minimum and it has energized me, and, therefore, my writing. Thanks for your wise words, Phyllis.

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  3. Balancing the marketing with the writing is difficult, but writing comes first. I have trouble with that concept sometimes. You would have fun taking a class like I did last year from Carolyn Cooper on marketing your book. She had us use some google tools that really pinned down those questions, fast (they’re free too). It was a great class and I still have so much information from it that I would love to tackle, but guess what? Writing comes first. Surprise!

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  4. I actually got yelled at by two supposed professional authors when, during a workshop about genre, I asked if their methods wasn’t the same as formulaic writing. I wasn’t trying to be mean or snarky. It was an innocent question. I want to know the difference.

    Their platform was, to look at the manuscript and add this and that to make it marketable.

    I’m with you. Finding out who’s going to read my book is a daunting task. It would be easier to figure out who isn’t going to read it. Good on you for taking the stance that writing the story is first and foremost. If it is a good story and is well written, it is my opinion that it will find readers, mabye even make it’s own market.

    Oh, and men like historical fiction as well 😉

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    • I knew I’d get into trouble for that, Dale! But apparently more women read it than men although my brother-in-law absolutely loves his Bernard Cornwell.

      And I’ve asked a few innocent questions myself and got laughed at. The worst was in my grade eight class when the teacher talked about fertilizing eggs. I was from the farm and my dad put fertilizer on the fields so I just didn’t understand. I’m not sure who was more embarrassed. My male teacher’s face turned beet red and, from the snickers all around, I realized my blunder and tried to slide under my desk. Ah, the joys of puberty!

      Hope your writing is going well.

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  5. These are all great questions. I started changing some of my marketing strategies based on what I saw in my audience. My 2012 goals are to initiate strategies that expose a younger crowd to my writing. So far, I’m doing things that seem to be working. I now have some new questions (you’ve listed) that I should investigate. Thanks!

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    • Aha! And my question for you is how did you know who your audience was? Did you do a survey? Employ a marketing company? Whatever strategy you chose, I’m glad it’s working on the sales end. Awesome, Brinda!

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  6. Good points, Elaine. I had the same issue as Phyllis in deciphering which genre my books fell into. The historical one was easy, but I also write paranormal, or do I? At one point, I thought I wrote fantasy, but have since learned my books are paranormal, but they’re light not dark. Then, there’s the whole issue of sensuality. How sensual are my books? I think they’re pretty hot, but learned recently they’re not really erotic fiction and there’s a difference between erotic and erotica which they are not either.
    Jessica said it, though, we can spend so much time on marketing strategies, but foremost writing has to be a priority. With a day job, even more so for me!

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    • Wow! Does that ever point out the problem with agents and editors wanting to categorize! Keep writing, Sharon, and make your own road. Once you get published, everyone will tell you how original your work is, won’t they? It’s just all too funny.

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  7. Much rather be writing; marketing is a pain in the patootie. BUT, we have to do it and we need to know to whom we are marketing. If we don’t know, our publishers won’t either. It’s that first quick read of our query letters that tells them that we know who we want to read our books, that we’ve given it some thought.

    It’s dry, hard work and no fun, but really, when you put all that research into ONE sentence in the query letter, you feel much better and the editors go, “Okay, she knows what she’s doing. We can market this to women, ages 21-65 who like historical novels set in —” Whatever the time period is. At least you have a better chance of being read than if you say, “This is a historical novel but I don’t know who my target audience is.”

    I think we all have a target audience in mind, just maybe not all the demographics, age, education, marital status (that’s a new one on me), etc.

    Good luck and don’t let this discourage you. Hopefully you don’t have to write the back cover blurb in 50 words or less! I did; it was one of the hardest things I ever wrote.

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