Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Switching Genres

I've had several conversations lately with others at Drake Valley Press about authors who want to write in multiple genres - and of course, be successful in each.

An old point of view is that an author should select one and only one genre and stick with that. The more modern point of view is that a good author can write in multiple genres. But to be successful, there is a right way to go about it.

I observed an author last year who wrote in multiple genres and could not figure out why she wasn't selling more books. An analysis revealed that the audience for her children's books were vastly different than the audience for her non-fiction and both were vastly different than her erotica. Yes, readers often have eclectic tastes but I'd venture to say the readers who devour the erotica aren't automatically going to rush out and buy her books for their two-year-olds.

It all boils down to one thing: the author's target market.

Only the author truly knows who their fans are; who they are writing for; their image of their readers. And even if you're switching genres, you have to keep in mind who your audience is already and seek to write something that will interest them.

For example, several years ago we had a very successful suspense author who wanted to write an historical book. The subject was textbook material. Had she written it as a textbook, that genre would have started from ground zero; we could not automatically assume her suspense readers would automatically want her textbook.

She opted instead to write the historical book as suspense. It was still factual; but by getting into the head of the main character and writing her adventure as suspenseful as she'd written her other books, it ensured that her fans would follow along. They did - and she broadened her audience by also appealing to fans of history. As a result, her historical book is still her bestselling book, even years later.

The author needs to pay attention to who their fans are and seek to keep those fans even while broadening their fanbase.

We often hear authors lament that their publishers (whether large or small) need to know more about their fanbase than the author does. This always piques my curiosity. We may be working with dozens of authors at once; some publishers work with hundreds over the span of each year. Yet the author only has one person to track: themselves. While we can identify a broad market - romance readers, suspense readers, adventure readers, etc., if the author can't drill down to their fans, it means they are not connecting with them. That connection could be through personal appearances, through blogs and comments, through social networking, or any number of ways.

When writing in multiple genres, the author first needs to identify who is purchasing the books they've already had published. Then they have to ask themselves how they can write the new genre in such a way that it will appeal to their established fanbase.

If the genre is so vastly different that it would not appeal to their current fanbase, they might as well publish it under a completely different name, because it's the same thing as starting completely over with the very first published book.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Making a Bestseller

I've heard a lot of new authors recently compare themselves with bestselling authors, expecting to see their first books skyrocket to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

It might come as a surprise to some but reaching the top of the bestseller lists doesn't mean your book is the greatest one published that week or that millions of people are buying it.

Book lists, like the Oscars, are often the result of networking, politicking, and a whole lot of money.

Recently a blogger posted an expose of how an author reached the New York Times bestseller list. It involved hiring a publicity firm at a cost close to a quarter of a million dollars. The strategy included mailing copies of books to book stores throughout the country who report their sales figures on a weekly basis to the New York Times.

Now before you rush out and start stuffing envelopes with your books, consider that the list of stores is a closely guarded secret. Some of them are in areas with populations of 5,000. Two book sales of one title in one week constitutes a bestseller in their market. It isn't all about selling millions of books, contrary to what the typical reader believes. It's about understanding the system and manipulating it.

A look at the national bestseller lists will show imprints from the largest New York publishers - because they are typically the only ones who will be able to spend so much money on making a book a bestseller. They determine which books will reach that list before the book is even produced. Their decision typically revolves around those who already have a massive platform - politicians, celebrities, and authors who have previously made the list. They allocate a huge budget to that book, often to the detriment of other books by other authors who are just as good or better than the ones selected.

They push that book to the wholesalers and the book stores, stacking the scales in their favor. Money, advertising, review copies, and more money is needed, along with a dedicated set of staffers whose jobs are to ensure that book makes all the lists.

If you're a new author and you believe with your first book's release, you're going to skyrocket to the top of the lists, I hope you have one of the New York Big Five pushing you. If you don't, your success may be in other ways: mid-list authors often make great incomes; or success can be found in other ways such as self-satisfaction, giving something you believe is valuable to the world, connecting with fans and readers, and simply fulfilling your dream.

Will this change in the future? Undoubtedly. With eBooks selling more briskly every year, it levels the playing field. Anyone can publish these days; even self-published authors can earn good and steady incomes. But by and large, the system of reporting brisk sellers will have to change for anyone other than authors with the largest publishers to expect to reach the top of the charts.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

How Much to Reveal

I recently had an author ask me how much she should reveal of herself and her personal life to fans and readers. The question is an intriguing one and one that requires more than a simple answer.

It all goes back to your author image.

I know many authors who prefer to keep their private lives private. However, sometimes fans want to know something personal about their favorite authors; perhaps after reading their work, they see themselves as connected in some way. Authors who prefer a more private existence often respond with something they wouldn't care if the world knew about, such as their love of animals or children or their favorite charities.

Other authors let it all hang out. This can be dangerous, depending on the type of books they write. For example, talking politics, especially in a controversial manner, is great for those whose careers are built on it. But controversy doesn't always sell. We all have heard stories of authors, musicians or others in various fields who put their political agendas in front of the public only to have it backfire.

So I advise authors to ask themselves: how much of your personal life will help you sell books? How much of it could harm your career?

I am (in case you haven't noticed) a slow blogger. I write a blog when I believe I have something to say. I've seen others who will blog seven days a week even if it's only to describe what they had for breakfast. Unless you're a chef and your breakfast recipes are in your latest book, you have to ask yourself whether that post will help your career - or if it's just clogging up someone's inbox with minutia.

In the end, everything you put out in public - particularly on the Internet - should be something you wouldn't mind seeing repeated on the front pages of national newspapers and it would help, not hurt, your career.

Only the individual author can determine what they want their legacy to be, and how they want to be remembered.