Find a Niche, and Expand It

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.

28 Comments

Filed under fiction writing, self publishing, Writing niche

28 responses to “Find a Niche, and Expand It

  1. Bernie

    Yup, waiting here. The niche thing is interesting. Some writers move out of it and some writers seem to grow within it. I always loved that expression “it’s the singer, not just the song.” Recently, I’ve been reading about Arthur Conan Doyle and how amazingly angry people were when he killed off Sherlock Holmes. Some lady hit him with her umbrella. Obviously, writing can be dangerous business.

  2. Felicia

    Ok, and I do wish you well with Black Flagged, but I require another PA-ish book from you. Be happy to discuss particulars with you. :-)))))))

  3. That is rather fascinating. My sales have tapered off to zilch, but I thought that was mostly because I’ve been devoting all my time toward finishing my latest novel (completed it last night) and haven’t had time for promotion. But even when I was actively promoting, it wasn’t doing all that well.

    May have to consider this niche thing.

    • Congrats on finishing your latest novel. If there’s one constant I’ve heard from other authors, it’s that continuing to write…and not getting bogged down in the marketing/promo machine is the best use of a writer’s time. I may have very well stumbled upon some luck with this niche thing. It certainly wasn’t a strategy in my marketing book, but it is something I will consider in the future. Even with a novel under my belt. I truly don’t know how writers get noticed. I’ve heard your story, over and over again on KindleBoards, but there are also a surprising share of writers having success generating sales. The successful authors all seem to have several titles, which leads me to believe that the author gig is a marathon, not a sprint…unless you wedge your book in there somehow.

      I agree with you that active promoting appears to have little effect. At this point, I think Amazon’s own marketing and advertising is keeping my book going. Having 95 reviews doesn’t hurt either. Readers know what they are getting.

      Best of luck to you with the next book, and please keep us posted.

  4. Hi, I’m the author of “The Nuclear Catastrophe” a fiction “thriller”. I had tried to contact the survival sites through their web pages but got little response. I do not have “survival” in my tags. Your article is like a breath of spring – I do have a large number of author followers – and lagging sales. Thanks so much for taking the time to share. We are all looking for “what makes it work”. If there is anything I can do for you – tweets, blog exposure, etc. please let me know. And thanks again for sharing.
    Barbara Griffin Billig
    Author: The Nuclear Catastrophe (a fiction novel of suspense) also published as:
    THE DISQUIET SURVIVORS of The Nuclear Catastrophe
    Follow on Twitter: @ barbarabillig
    Blog: http://www.thenuclearcatastrophe.blogspot.com
    Web page: http://mysite.verizon.net/resrrmof/
    Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Nuclear-Catastrophe/187754411274067
    Available for Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004WDRWXY
    Available as THE DISQUIET SURVIVORS of The Nuclear Catastrophe in Paperback
    Read an excerpt now: http://bit.ly/pY8HxX

    • Thanks, Barbara. The survival sites were very hit or miss. More like ONE HIT, mostly misses. I even got banned from one of them, for spamming my story. Somehow, committing to sharing your story free, over installments, didn’t work for that group. Have you delved into the post-apocalyptic groups, like Apocalypse Whenever on Goodreads. As an author you have to tread lightly, but it’s well worth the time. Thank you for the offer of support and solidarity. I’ll check out your book. I’m always looking for another PA read. Best, Steve

      • I have been banned from several groups – what do they think this is about?- we share what we do, just like they write about their lives. One site called me “suspicious”. I asked them if they had forgotten their meds for the day. So, it is life with a laugh. I will follow your recommendations and also get your book! Thanks for the help. Barbara Billig

      • I hit the jackpot with the one I initially contacted. Most of the others turned out to be non responsive or hostile. It’s a suspicious group of people by nature. Glad I could help, a little at least.

  5. Thank you for sharing your experiences. When you were marketing your book did you develop a log line or one sentence about your book. As a screenwriter I’ve done a lot of pitching for my work and part of that is finding the hook that will interest your audience. Thanks again! Currently I’m rewriting A Voice I Heard, my psychological thriller novel about a man who’s trying to stop a blackmailer who should be dead.
    I hope you have a great day!
    Lance
    @lanceliot

    • The quick pitch is my big weakness. The elevator pitch is important, but online, it can be a little longer. I think the one line pitch is nonsense, honestly, but that’s probably an opinion more based on my stubbornness than reality. There are still plenty of industry professionals who cling to this as a way to weed out the spam, but I can’t imagine anyone truly distilling their work into one line. It can be done, but every line I’ve created for my novels sounds horrible and boring. If an agent or producer isn’t willing to listen to more than one line…they must be important 🙂

  6. Great article for new and aspiring authors. Sometimes you think you’ll just write the thing and flocks of readers will come. The whole “marketing” thing is new to me, but something I obviously need to consider as I finish my first novel. Appreciate the tips and glimpse into what’s worked.
    –Clayton
    @claytonbehrg

    • More than welcome, Clayton. You’re getting a great jump on the game just thinking about this stuff before your book hits the streets. I started thinking about it afterward, and still managed to find readers. You’re right that they won’t flock to your book in droves unless you give them a reason.

  7. Chazz

    Reblogged this on Chazz Writes and commented:
    Good post on find a niche, sending up a search engine flare so you can be found and the power of forums. Enjoy! ~ Chazz

  8. Loved this about the niche and the creative marketing angle of releasing a chapter at a time. Congrats and look forward to reading your next one.

    • You’ll see a recurring theme in my responses. Looking back at how I released a chapter at a time does fill me with a sense of accomplishment in terms of marketing, but at the time, I was trying not to overload their forum and get kicked out. As forum readers went ahead a purchased the book instead of waiting, I started to scratch my head in a bit of an “aha” moment. A number of indie authors have made their name this way, releasing a few chapters at a time for free, eventually putting their entire book out at no cost to early readers. It’s a viable strategy, and an honest one as long as your honor your the commitment to release as much as you promised.

  9. Great article! I enjoy witty writing and especially loved your grass seed analogy. I totally get it that I’ve been marketing for green grass when the shade isn’t quite right. I think I’m still trying to find my niche. It’s sort of a romance, sort of a thriller (stretching it here!), sort of a mystery, sort of a ghost story…see my dilemma? The romance and thriller lists are long…I can see many books getting lost on them. So, if I can figure out where to place it, I might actually get somewhere interesting! You’ve given me some fuel for thought and Lord knows we writers don’t think enough (yeah, I’m being facetious here!).

    Marketing is not my forte but it needs to be or my book is going to rusticate and disappear. I wrote it to be read and finding articles like yours just may ensure it moves along just enough not to gather cobwebs. Thanks!!

    • Deborah, I wish I could say this technique was part of a genius marketing strategy, but it wasn’t. Still, it breathed initial life into my reading, which has made it possible for my subsequent novels to be noticed. Even the smallest niche is better than “thriller” or “romance.” I think romance is even more crowded than the thriller list. Good luck dusting off the cobwebs.

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  11. Oh I still feel lost with the whole niche market thing.. I think one of the main irrational “reasons” for me not finishing my book is who the heck wants to read it, and how would they ever find it?

    Interesting thoughts here though.

    • Lila,

      It’s a daunting task, depending on the genre. Regardless, don’t despair. You’d be surprised by the number of people that “want to read your book,” but just don’t know it—yet. I’ve just barely tapped into the niche described above. Still trying to figure out how to unlock the rest. Good luck! Oh…looks like you have plenty of fans at your blog. That’s a fantastic start.

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  14. Reblogged this on Thoughts by Mello-Elo and commented:
    Have you found your market niche for your book yet? I definitely have to work on mine! Read on to find out how Steven broke into the market to sell his incredible book.

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