As a marketing student, I am fascinated by the idea of what influences people to buy things. As a novelist, I am selfishly interested by what influences people to buy the things I write. Fortunately, these two areas of interest go together very well for me – and hopefully will lead to research findings that will be helpful to others as well.
I’m actually at a conference this weekend, so this blog post will be shorter than usual. However, I wanted to share an example of how thinking about marketing one’s book ahead of time, and identifying the benefits that your book brings to readers, can result in success (i.e. sales to interested people).
This past week, I personally sold copies of The Quest of the Unaligned to two people who are pretty much as different as possible – and who seem equally excited about the prospect of reading it. The first of these was a conservative, homeschool mother (purchased for her daughter who’s interested in reading and writing), and the second was a liberal PhD student with a background in sociology. In marketing speak, these people are in two of the target markets that I identified for my book, and I developed differentiated marketing strategies for reaching out to them.
One target market that I’ve had some success with is the “homeschool crowd.” Since I was homeschooled, I was able to write The Quest of the Unaligned to have elements that homeschooling parents would look for: a tie to curriculum (social science), discussion and essay questions, and a high school reading level and age-appropriate content. When I spoke with the homeschooled girl and her mother, we talked about writing stories and publishing, and ended up planning to have me hold a small writing seminar for homeschool students in the early summer. The student is excited to read my book because she likes stories and wants to be a writer, and the mother is excited to have her read my book because it has educational content (and will inspire her daughter to keep writing!).
Another (smaller) target market for me is the academic sociology crowd. This is a bit trickier to sell to, since most professors and students of sociology aren’t used to reading novels that incorporate their area of study, and they certainly aren’t used to using novels in their classes as teaching tools. It’s even rarer to find a sociologist who’s interested in reading a fantasy novel for its own sake. This weekend, however – at the conference I’m at, actually – I was conversing with a PhD student from another program, and it turned out that his master’s degree was in sociology. We started talking about doing research from a sociological bent, and he made the observation that what we do really comes down to storytelling. I agreed. A while later, I asked if he liked reading fiction. It turned out he did, and that further, he liked fantasy books. Needless to say, I brought up my novel.
I have to admit, it was fun explaining The Quest of the Unaligned as a sociology-fantasy, using sociological jargon, to someone who was interested and knowledgeable about both topic areas. He, for his part, is excited about reading a book that is written for people exactly like him.
And that’s the trick. People want to buy products that are made for people exactly like them. When someone’s reaction to hearing about a product is to say, “You know exactly what I’m looking for! Please, take my money!” marketers know they’ve done their work well. In my case, there is one large main group of people that The Quest of the Unaligned is designed for (people who like well-written fantasy adventures), but there are a number of books that fall into this category that would compete with mine. By targeting two smaller groups of people – niche markets – who are looking for something far more specific, I can do a better job of finding, talking to, and selling my book to people who will actually like it.
The goal is that even though I sold them the book for completely different reasons, both the homeschooled student and the sociologist will like the novel equally well and recommend it to others. They will likely never know that I position the book differently based on who I’m talking to, but they don’t need to. All they need to know is that the book is designed for people exactly like them. And it is. That’s the power of marketing.