By guest writer Atlanta Jackson
To write a great book one must be able to write well, but the highest quality writing in the world is still susceptible to business failure. For all the writing talent in the world, selling books is a business and a certain business skill is needed. Marketing, distribution and publicity all need to be considered. This series of articles entitled ‘the Business of Books’ will explore the ways in which independent authors are entrepreneurs, shifting stock and making profits (hopefully).
What one might call their readership is in fact their target market group: every author has a particular demographic in mind when writing or marketing their books. Understanding your TMG is vital to succeeding in any business. It will influence every aspect of your novel. In fact, it should influence every aspect. It’s very easy to disregard the business side of things. ‘Good writing always rises above the rest.’ It can be true, but to minimise the risk of failure (the main goal of any start-up business), an author can’t rely on their writing alone.
Marketing and establishing a brand is a subtle art. It is important to be specific but not to exclude potential customers from your TMG: rather like walking a tightrope. As with many things, a good balance is important to success. Unfortunately a ‘perfect’ balance doesn’t exist. There is no ready-made formula or checklist to decide on your TMG. Instead, one must consider their main demographic: who do you imagine reading your books? Age, gender, race, religion, even income and socio-economic status makes up a demographic. It sounds a lot like discrimination, and in a way it sort of is. But all these factors must be considered to decide on a target market, which will in turn form the basis of all business-related decisions in the future.
Cover design, genre, advertising, even your choice of vocabulary are influenced by your TMG. The readers of a gritty crime novel are more likely to appreciate concise vocabulary, whereas a voyeur of the classics will value a more descriptive lexis. The market you enter is a constantly evolving and changing place. Reader wants and needs change and the supply and demand of certain products will vary. The wants of your readership are ignored at your peril. After all, the readers are the ones paying and they will only pay for a product they consider quality for the price. Get it right and you will make some loyal customers. These are the ones who buy the next novel in your series, or check for your next books.
Over time, consumer habits change – much like fashion. Nowadays one wouldn’t dream of wearing a shell suit for a quick cup of coffee in Costa. But in the 90’s it was the trend! Almost every reader appreciates a fashionable novel. A new product can enter the market in one of the following two ways: it can be product-orientated, or market-orientated. A product-orientated product enters the market a bit like Bruce Willis: full of swagger, you either take him or leave him. These products sometimes enter the market with no market research done; the entrepreneurs pin their chances of success on the quality of the item. A market-orientated product is well-studied and sensible – the entrepreneur has extensively researched the market and consumer needs and has created a product that the consumers will want. One certainly seems more likely to succeed than the other. You could see product-orientation as rash or even naïve. However, what if I told you that Apple was product-orientated? Yes, the now-billionaire entrepreneurs behind the pioneering Apple sent their brand into the market and simply willed it to sell. One can see the importance of a high-quality and innovative product. But, as usual, you can’t simply decide to product or market orientate your novel. It is hugely important to write what you want to write, but it is also important to incorporate what your potential consumers want. Another example of why knowing your TMG inside and out pays dividends.
Not only does an entrepreneur need to understand their customers… they need to know their competitors too! Armed with a cup of coffee and a computer the author must transform into a modern day Sherlock Holmes, shamelessly Googling their competitor’s websites until their eyes slam shut. From this, one can glean all sorts of marketing information, including how much their product can sell for. A market full of other competitors is saturated. Much like the slightly-overweight referee of a Sunday-league football game on a waterlogged pitch, an entrepreneur can’t get anywhere in a saturated market. With so many already established competitors, how can one small author jostle for market share? It’s almost impossible. It is important to find firm ground where one can eventually compete with market leaders. Right now, I don’t fancy myself getting famous with another Twilight spin-off when a few teen-paranormal-romance novels are commanding total market share. It’s just another way in which the humble author must struggle for the survival of their precious book-baby.
So, we’ve scratched the surface of the entrepreneurial iceberg. It’s true: authors have published their hobby-novel one night and woken up bestsellers, but it’s mostly pure luck. To minimise risk and maximise one’s potential for success, a writer has to unleash their inner entrepreneur: considering their consumers, competitors and market. After all, being a writer is not just sitting at a computer and bashing out words.