The Book Marketing Tip for January 13, 2013:
Know who your readers are, and what they want you to write. Then write it.
Many aspiring authors make the mistake of writing what they want to write, without regard for what the reader wants. Professional writers, however, write to the assignment, and when it comes to writing books, the reader is the one that creates the assignment.
I started out in the writing business much the same as most other aspiring writers. I wrote science fiction stories, and I wrote some neat stuff. But I never sold any. Instead, I discovered that magazines are hungry for material, and I had a knack for magazine articles. The trick, you see, was to find what an editor needed, preferably on an impossible deadline, and then to supply exactly what the editor needed. Once I was known as the writer that could fill the hole in their publication without worries or regrets, I received assignment after assignment.
Like any business, publishing is about giving the reader what they want to read, not something you think is neat, and not something you think they need to read.
Readers—all consumers, in fact—will not buy something they do not want to buy; at least, not without generating sales-killing negative buzz. Trust me, you want to avoid negative buzz, like the plague.
Writing is a strange business, though. Writers don’t actually meet with readers on a regular basis, and they certainly don’t mix it up with readers during the writing process. Most aspiring writers get lazy and simply assume the readers want the same thing that the writer wants. Not so.
It can be a challenge for an author to write what the fans want. First, the writer must determine who the fans are. A good mailing list, a solid social-media platform, and a fan club are ways around this.
Next, the writer must then learn what these particular readers are looking for, and specifically, what they are looking for in that writer’s work.
Here are two illustrations of this process in play:
Here’s a quick quiz question: Isaac Asimov wrote what type of books?
If you said “Science Fiction,” you’d only be half right. Isaac Asimov wrote science nonfiction, mysteries, history, and—perhaps ironic for a devoutly atheistic Jew—Bible commentary. He wrote literature critique, he was a humorist, and he wrote trivia quiz books.
Isaac Asimov wrote more than 500 books in his lifetime.
But of course, he was one of the Grand Masters of Science Fiction. With capitals. Never mind that for a twenty-year stretch, Asimov did not write any science fiction. That’s right, twenty years.
When Asimov was writing during the Golden Age of Science Fiction, he did well. While he was on Science-Fiction hiatus, his fame as a science fiction writer still grew. He was most noted for his Foundation trilogy and his Robot novels and short stories. But Asimov’s other books at that time were not doing as well as his old science fiction.
Then, one day, he was moved by his fans to put out some more of what they wanted. Namely, Foundation and Robots. In fact, he merged the two series.
A remarkable thing happened. As soon as he began to fill the appetite of his readers, his books jumped farther up the bestseller lists than ever before. Only when he served the readers did the readers reward him with sales and continued fame and glory.
And back to the question, again. What did Isaac Asimov write? According to his fans, he wrote Science Fiction. He wrote the Laws of Robotics. He mapped out the fate of the human race forever. Regardless of what Isaac Asimov may have thought he wrote, his readers will tell you he wrote Science Fiction.
Sherlock Holmes appeared in four novels. Miss Marple found herself in an even dozen. But Stephanie Plum, the irreverent and somewhat accidental bounty hunter of Trenton, New Jersey, has hit nineteen novels, notoriously.
Janet Evanovich has made quite a career out of Stephanie Plum, In so doing, she has become the highest advance-earning author in the world, without an agent nonetheless. While it’s no secret that Evanovich employs ghostwriters to keep up the pace, one cannot doubt that Evanovich knows exactly what her readers want and when they want it. It’s easy to see that she keeps giving the readers their very desire.
Heck, my wife is one of those readers. She gobbles up every Plum novel on publication date— her sole reason for owning our Nook.
I might point out that Stephanie Plum has less exposure than, say, Nancy Drew, who stars in a whopping 175 titles. However, Nancy Drew has changed repeatedly over the years, with an untold number of authors and ghostwriters, and the girl sleuth’s fans have not always gotten what they want. Thus, Plum outpaces Drew in dollars and readers. Even the venerable Hardy Boys can’t keep up with Plum.
As a pleaser of readers, Evanovich has followed in the footsteps of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Burroughs made an artform out of Character Licensing. He pushed Tarzan in every way conceivable, and he formed his own publishing company to put out Tarzan books. His family still controls Tarzan to this day, and Tarzana, California, is named for the character. It’s no accident that Janet Evanovich’s son Peter, her daughter Alex and her husband Pete are all deeply involved in running the family business, Evanovich Inc. And they are all focused on learning more about the readers and then paying attention to what those readers want to read.
What do you want to read in the books I’m writing?