Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Do You Know Who Your Audience Is? Do You Know What They Want?

There are two schools of thought on the approach writers should take with their writing. One says "Screw that whole 'market research says this is what I should write' and just deal with the fact that I am going to write what I want and the world should follow." The second school of thought says to write what the public wants." O.K. maybe some of you will blend these two ideas but work with me on this one. 

I started thinking about this yesterday when NPR was doing a story on Readers Digest going bankrupt again for a second time in 4 years. Here is the link to the story NPR Article. Part of the discussion here was determining what it was that caused this to happen to the company. What was noted is that they simply were not meeting the needs of the current population. 

Now, I bring this up because, regardless of how you approach your writing, if you want to be successful, you have to, know who your audience is and find a way to meet their needs. This does mean to keep track of trends and find a way to work with those trends in your writing. No, this does not mean to copy storylines and to lose your personal voice. What this means is to keep track of the things that are working in successful stories and to tap into those ideas for your own writing. 

Look, whether or not you liked 50 Shades of Grey, this book did create a ripple in the romance and women's fiction market. Books now, to be competitive in this tough climate, need to be a bit steamer than you might have written that book in the first draft. Does it mean your writing is not good. Absolutely not. It simply means that it may not sell to the people you had targeted the first time in the present state; or that you might find that selling the project will take a bit more work and time. 

The same idea can also expand to the genres that are selling. This market is constantly shifting back and forth. There will be times a certain genre is selling like crazy and other times when no one would ever buy that book. Again, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't write that book or to finish the one you are in the middle of. It simply means that your book might end up sitting on a shelf for a while until the market is ready for it. 

Now, let's go back to that first group of writers that are going to write that book of their dreams. There is nothing wrong with this. Go for it! The story is in you and it would be a shame if you kept it locked up inside. But, you also have to think about the market for the book. Again, this goes back to basic Business 101 concepts and doing that market research. Is there a large enough market for that book right now. How many people would likely purchase this book?

Here's an example. A good friend of mine works a lot with the homeless population and an organization called Freezing Nights. Essentially, the local churches open up their doors to the homeless on those evenings when things get really cold and nasty. It's a great concept! In any case, he  put together a book that was a series of vignettes about some of the people that passed through the doors. These were people that caught his eye and he wanted to write about it. He came to me to ask about the potential of this book being sold and marketed. I did begin with telling him this isn't exactly my area of expertise but I did want him to do some thinking about the project. He had to ask himself how many people out there would be interested in knowing about this small group of people in this single program? Is this really something that a publisher would be able to market to individuals? 

Here is another example. I was talking to a sports promoter and he wanted to put together a book written by the authors he represented. He knew who he would sell the book through, and which outlets he would tap into to get that project into the hands of the younger athletes and parents. In this case, the concepts he wanted to go into the book were simply a repetition of what he was already doing when he took the athletes out to work with the youth. This project wasn't an extension to what he was currently doing. It was simply a carbon copy of what he was doing face to face. I had to ask him, would people really buy a book that repeated all of the things they had just paid for in the workshop? What he realized was that the book, in this case, would become a competition to his current work. 

The thing is that the stories he wanted to tell here might be interesting. The stories might have an impact on some people, but for the book to be successful, it has to SELL! The question is not so much whether or not the story is good, interesting or well written; the question is whether or not there really is a market for the book.

I do think a lot of authors out there have that story of their dreams and start writing it. Heck, they spend hours finishing up that project, paying for editors, doing their research on craft and all of the other skills necessary to make the writing good. Unfortunately, the one thing they seem to miss is that  quick reality check of determining if this book would even sell.

Take the time to think about the marketing side of you book? Do you know who your audience is? If you do know, is this something they would buy and read?

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