In today’s fiction market, you either need a sizable backlist, a ready-to-go fan base, or a traditional publishing deal to come out of the gate bursting with sales. Your Twitter following of 800 other authors doesn’t count as a launching pad, either. The most common problem for new authors, is the search for readership. Unless you’re writing to fill your own bookshelf, you share the same dilemma. I know…we all have an incredibly interesting, unique novel, ready to unleash upon the unsuspecting world…but so does every other writer reading this essay. And this is just the tip of the iceberg! The key term here, is “unsuspecting world.” I’m fairly confident the world will push onward in blissful ignorance of your book, if you don’t find a way to start a small fire. You need to find a niche, and expand it.
I’ll be blunt with my story. I published The Jakarta Pandemic in October of 2010, and had no clue what to do with it. I was just glad to have finished it. Three years of disorganized part time writing, and now what? I had no marketing plan…or concept. I had started research into the traditional publishing world, but quickly came to the conclusion that this would be a long process. Fine, except it bothered me that friends and family couldn’t read the culmination of three years’ effort, and might never read it, if I waited for a New York deal. So, I uploaded my book to Kindle, Nook and CreateSpace…and made the big announcement to friends and family.
I had a modest burst of sales in October and November, which tapered off as I exhausted my supply of friends and family (thank you for the support!). A few reviews on Amazon followed (I recognized the names…thank you again!), and then it all fizzled. To be honest, I didn’t expect anything different. I started writing query letters to literary agents, but felt dirty each time I wrote that little personal note in there…you know, the one that lets the agent know that you did about two minutes of “in-depth” research into their background. I wrote seven queries (5 e-mail and 2 paper) before I read Joe Konrath’s blog, and said “screw this.”
Something very fortuitous occurred around the same time. Previously, I had decided to classify my book as a thriller (accurate), and weakly pursued the thriller market on a few web forums. If you haven’t figured it out, there are a lot of thrillers out there. Labeling your book a thriller is like selling grass seed and advertising the color. No shit, it’s green. No shit, you wrote a “thriller.” But I was a first time author, new to the writing world, and thrillers always top the best seller lists. Dominate the lists, actually. My wife showed me an article that proved it.
So, what knocked me out of this “thriller” silo? I received a 5-Star review from someone that lauded the survivalist aspect of my novel. He liked the thriller aspect of the book too, and said “move over Robert Ludlum.” Over the top for sure, but I could tell that the survivalist aspects struck home the most with this reader. My book does have a strong survivalist and prepper theme, so I started to wonder what I could do with this. I did a little research into the survivalist community.
I found one particular forum that dealt exclusively with survival prepping and related topics. They had a lively fiction/story-telling thread, so I joined the forum, introduced myself, and committed to releasing my entire novel (one chapter at a time). I was warmly welcomed, and kept my word over the next four to five months. Many readers couldn’t wait for the next installment, and purchased hard copies or e-books. Reviews poured in, and the book started picking up steam on Amazon. Of course, I made sure that the search terms reflected survival, so other like-minded readers could easily find it. I had found my first niche. My book’s thread is still in the top ten viewed story threads on this site.
As my Amazon ranking climbed (modestly), I started to pick up more readers, from a wider spectrum. Out of nowhere, I was contacted by another author, to participate in a Post-Apocalyptic (PA) blog tour. Uh…I suppose so…never really thought of my book in this genre. Really? A book about a devastating pandemic? WTF was I thinking. I eagerly agreed, and started joining PA forums everywhere. Unbelievable. These were truly my people, for this book. A dedicated crew, like the survivalist/prepper group, Post-Apocalyptic readers devour everything written in the genre. I started this in mid-February, and pushed heavy through March. It is no coincidence that my sales jumped from 160 in January, to 645 in February…to 1400 in March. My Amazon ranking (overall Kindle store) dipped into the 800’s. The good old days. I had really found my true niche, and a supportive group of hard core readers.
I have a new book launching in late October, and I can’t wait to see how the two will synergistically work together. I don’t have thousands of readers eagerly waiting by their Kindles for this book, but I do have a sizable core of ready readers that will immediately buy it, and probably review it. There are also over 9000 people (total downloads) out there, who have read my work, and might look me up again, when they’re searching for something to read this fall. Now I just need to work on a niche to go with my “backlist,” and give prospective readers a reason to gravitate toward the Black Flagged series.