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.
For 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?