The Unlocked Secret of the Niche Market.

So what is Niche Marketing? Wickepedia says, “A niche market is the subset of the market on which a specific product is focusing.” Really, Wickie? Who wrote that? Is that the best you’ve got? Of course they go on to explain further with words like demographics, market shares, and some other marketing terms and examples that didn’t do much to help me figure out how to define where my books might land on the book shelves.

The first question a professional marketer asks is, “Who is your target audience?” Truly understanding this question is probably the number one best marketing tool a writer can have. We’d all like to say, “everyone, of course.” And while that may be sort of true that many different demographics might enjoy your book, it’s more likely and infinitely easier to reach a smaller group of readers specifically interested in your genre, subject matter, and characters. Think “low lying fruit.”

Targeting “your” readers may be easier if your book falls into a specific genre. If you’ve written a cozy mystery about a librarian who is a quilter turned amateur sleuth, you might consider marketing your book to librarians and quilters, a pretty small “niche” market that might be easier than trying to reach “everyone.” This is why agents and editors want to know what “genre” you are writing. So they can determine the marketability of your book based on their experience with that particular readership and their understanding of where the market is currently trending. Women 30-55 years old are the greatest book-buying demographic that marketers are competing for. Publishing houses are trying to meet that supply. So sending a query for your “Sci-fi/ Historical, Inspirational/ Regency might be a tough sell.

The problem for many authors is that our stories don’t always fall into one genre. Diana Gabaldon had difficulty getting OUTLANDER published at first because she couldn’t clearly define it as a romance, a historical, a science fiction/fantasy, or a time travel novel. Of course it’s all of those, but it was so fabulously written that some smarty-pants publisher decided that they would take a chance and market the book to readers across multiple genres, essentially including “everyone,” and the series took off.

It worked out well for her, but most of us aren’t so lucky. In most cases, if your book falls outside of a specific proven market, agents and editors don’t want to touch it. Most of my rejection letters a few years back were because my manuscripts didn’t “fit the market.”

Now that I’m self-publishing, I see their dilemma. When I put my books up on Amazon, BN, and Smashwords, I have to pick categories that best describe them so that they are listed where my target audience would find them (good old search engine optimization-SEO). The frustrating part is that the choices are limited to the old model of publishing and haven’t caught up with new trends. “Teen/YA fiction” refers to books with protagonists ages 14-17 and are a subcategory of “children’s fiction”. But the books coming out these days for teens are arguably for a much more mature audience, and the demographic isn’t so clear-cut. Ideally, they should be much more delineated. There should be choices that would target older teens and adults who enjoy reading about that all-important transition from teen life to adult experiences. I had no idea when I chose my categories that some sites would lump my books into “Children’s fiction” because I labeled it a YA. They aren’t likely to find a readership there!

So what’s a writer to do? Well, you can choose to write for a particular market, ie; cozy mystery, romantic suspense, thriller, or romantic comedy. This is a very viable approach and is the most likely road to becoming traditionally published if you do your research and watch what’s selling and who’s selling it, and target your agent/editor query appropriately. But if you consistently find your stories falling into “genre no-man’s land,” you can join the new age of genre-bending authors who have literally created new markets by taking risks and writing what they want to write, self-publishing, and then finding their readers by focusing on certain niche markets and using that SEO to their advantage.

Whether traditional or indie-published, when it comes time to market your books and find your readership, look at who your target audience really is. Be creative and look at it from all angles and try different approaches. If you aren’t reaching readers by promoting the book to one segment of the population, try another. My book ON THIN ICE could be marketed to ice skaters, teens who become pregnant, sufferers of eating disorders, or teens experiencing the grief of losing a parent. Over time, I can market this book to several different niche markets, keeping it relevant as long as I can keep reaching new readers and targeting new niche audiences who might not otherwise have found the book. That’s why SEO is so important. And why creating whole new genres may be the best way for your target audience to find you.

Heaven is for Heroes 72 dpi 600x900 WEBSITE USEFor instance, I’ve been promoting HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES as a “Contemporary YA Romance.” But the story deals with the tragedies of war, overcoming loss, and the determination of one seventeen year old girl to find the truth—pretty mature themes that 14-17 year-old readers wouldn’t necessarily be looking to read about. Because of the protagonist’s age, the book falls into the YA market, but our hero is a nineteen-year-old Marine Veteran struggling with a difficult recovery, which changes the demographic for this story. Because the focus of the book is a tenuous teen romance with the underlying plot of a family’s search for peace in time of war, HIFH will appeal to adult readers as well as older young adults, but listed as a YA, it may never reach those adults who might enjoy the book.

The hero’s age and the subject matter make it fit more appropriately into the New Adult genre—a relatively new niche market targeting 19-23 year-old readers previously forced to read “teen” novels or jump right into “adult” romances. This segment of readers wants more than the typical high school experience, but they may not be ready for the white-picket-fence-via-total-abandonment-to-love-and-sex that rules the adult romance world. They are looking for relatable characters faced with real life issues that they themselves might be facing; such as leaving home, going off to college, or dealing with friends coming back from war.

Filled with moments of poignant reality, hard lessons, and the angst and sexual tension of first love, HIFH combines family drama and the relationship between childhood sweethearts, Jordie Dunn and Alex Cooper, who must overcome some pretty “grown-up” obstacles to find their way to a hopefully ever after ending.In Savage Cinderella, Brinn is eighteen and Justin is twenty-three. Add the subject matter and this book clearly falls into the New Adult category rather than YA. I might have tried marketing my books as Mainstream fiction and put them up against books from authors like Nicolas Sparks and Jodi Piccoult, but that would again put me in a very large pool with some very big fish, and without publisher backing, it’s tough to swim in that pond. Literary fiction is an even tougher sell than genre fiction.

With many of today’s YA books fitting more appropriately into the New Adult category, this niche market is catching on. Entangled Publishing, St. Martin’s Press and I believe even Harlequin Teen are adding New Adult titles to their acquisitions. Publishers are finally willing to recognize that yes, college students do read for pleasure in their limited time, and that they want more of what the New YA market has to offer. There are loads of twenty-something’s looking for books that go beyond the teen dramas focused on high school but who still want stories that deal with all of those wonderful (and hideous) firsts. Many of my readers fit into this category. If I had to guess, my average reader is between 19 and 33. That’s a pretty big demographic, but by listing my books as YA, I’m potentially focusing on the wrong group of readers. I don’t want to misrepresent the books by having them listed in the “Contemporary Romance” section either, since they definitely have a younger voice and reader expectation is important to consider.

Re-branding my work might take a bit of time and effort, but if it means reaching my target audience, I owe it to my books…and my readers to give it a shot.

Have you thought about who your target audience is, and what niche markets you might be missing?


30 thoughts on “The Unlocked Secret of the Niche Market.”

  1. I think it’s a great idea to slice and dice genre’s and the New Adult is a long awaited one. However, knowing the marketing potential of a book is very important and marketing it over several genres is common for me as an author that crosses several genres.

    1. Thanks for commenting LM. I’m fairly new to this marketing thing and always learning. I don’t know if it’s harder to keep up with the market or if the market is having a hard time keeping up with us writers:-)

  2. I can remember when Young Adult was the “new genre.” I believe it was Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” that forced publishers to recognize the new genre and market it as something besides Children’s Fiction. Sadly, as you mentioned, the choices are limited when placing your own book on the various selling sites. Some only allow two choices. Every few months, I go in and change the categories to see if that bumps sales. Otherwise, in my description I specifically state this is for older teens as it deals with adult issues, etc. My books definitely fall under the “New Adult” niche and I hope that category becomes a viable choice soon. Thanks PJ. Another great post.

    1. Exactly the dilemma, Harley. I know we aren’t alone and that some really great books are not being marketed to the “right” demographic. Some publishers call this a “cross-over” market and are starting to target the adult readers of YA lit that leans toward mature themes and has come about due to the popularity of the Twilight Saga and the Hunger Games Trilogy.

      The problem I see is that they get into this funk about age requirements of characters. YA is the 14-17 yo, while New Adult is the 18-23 yo protagonist. If I tried to sell OTI or HIFH to a traditional publisher who is looking for New Adult, they would likely “require” me to change the age of my heroines to 18, which would totally change the dynamic of the story IMO. When I tried to sell Savage Cinderella, it was like I was breaking some kind of law by calling it a YA and having my main characters be 18 and 23. In my mind, that’s how old they needed to be to have the story work, but it’s definitely a story that is written in a YA voice because of the main character’s life experience.

      I wouldn’t budge, and agents and editors wouldn’t either. Now, I think it would fit into the New Adult category that I was trying to break into a few years ago that no one wanted to take a chance on. Timing is everything:-)

  3. Hmm….It might be time to get one of my manuscripts out from under the bed–I wrote it ten years ago, and was told that a book with a college aged protagonist wouldn’t sell. It wasn’t YA, for sure, but it wasn’t quite something that many adults would go for.

    I’m having issues with target market for a story idea I have now, as well. I would call it NA Urban Fantasy, but it is somewhat different from other Urban Fantasy…it has kind of a dark comic book voice. But i will say, I was very happy when I heard about NA, because it’s an age range that seems to come naturally to me.

    1. Many of us identify with this age group as well, Melanie. I think there are tons of YA books that are better suited for the New Adult market. Good luck with the dusting:-)

  4. Great article PJ. It’s very hard to narrow down New Adult but when my YA editor suggested that for my edgy upper YA it was solely defined on age – 19+. I would totally agree with you that your books tend to be very mature (I love that about them) and feel while the characters are young the realistic situations and how they deal with them are what to me should be New Adult. Can I just say once again how much I love your books!

  5. Interesting article.
    I’m thinking my “YA” would be more along the New Adult market too. Heroine is 17, and just lost her father, She’s starting her first big adventure, and discovers a secret clan of were-tigers. Hero is the newly appointed King of the were-tiger clan.
    Very little HS drama, and only in the beginning.
    The rest is about discovering who she is meant to be, dealing with her grief, and forgiving her parents for keeping her heritage secret from her. She also learns how to accept her own flaws. The romance is about puppy love vs real love.
    Until now I’ve marketed it as YA, despite that the 17 years old is rather mature for her age because of life circumstances. From a young age she’s had to be responsible mainly for herself, but also for care-taking of her deceased mother.
    You’ve given me a lot to think about. Thanks. 🙂

    1. There are so many unusual stories coming out these days, it’s really difficult to put them into a such a narrow box. It can’t hurt if we’re just trying to find our target audience.

    1. Thanks Carole. The nuts and bolts of SEO is that you need to come up with a list of key words that describe you or your books. Then make sure that you use those key words in blog posts, advertising, promotions and even in your descriptions. Anything that goes out on the internet should make you and your books more visible and easy to find. The categories and keywords we use when we create blog posts or add our books to Amazon and the like, should lead your target audience to find you. If you don’t have an idea of who your target audience is, you won’t know what keywords to use and vice-versa. Look at how you want to “brand” your self and your work and them make a list of key words and put them up where you will be reminded to use them often.

  6. Great post, PJ. And I will say readers want to know what they are reading. I got a “poor” review from a reader who didn’t know my Romantic Suspense was an Inspirational. They read the whole thing and said the story was good, but because they weren’t expecting an inspirational, they marked it down. ;/

    1. I’ve had similar reviews, Katy. Readers know what they want and are quick to voice their disappointment when they feel cheated or misled. I think the closer we can get in our advertising to put our books into the hands of our target audience, the better it is for everyone.

      1. Good to know, Suze. Now, if I could only write fast enough to keep up with the demands of self-publishing and still seek traditional means of getting my stories into the hands of readers:-) I would love to be one of those “hybrid” authors who do both, but alas, my poor typing skills are a hindrance!

  7. Another great post, PJ. Find the right audience for a between the categories work is definitely a challenge. I, like you, believe the effort to find that “niche” is definitely worth the time and trouble. Here’s wishing you the perfect niche for your perfect work 🙂

    1. You’re so welcome, Donna. When I finally figured out what SEO really does and how it works, it really opened up a new view of marketing for me. I’m learning so much about this industry. Marketing really is kind of interesting once you get past the hating it part:-)

  8. Paula, another great post. In all marketing, the first part of the process is to find your target audience. Then you have basic guidelines for advertising. I have been reading about the man that changed the world’s technology, Steve Jobs, his life, and how he approached his business. “Make the best damn machine, they will follow.” His audience found him.

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