Imagine that you were a farmer who had just acquired a farm. One of the first things you would do would be to survey the land to see just what kinds of crops would grow best there, or what type of animals would thrive in those fields, or what kinds of patterns of growth, tying in with the seasons, would work to your advantage. You probably wouldn’t — unless you were an unwise or untrained farmer — plunge into growing crops or raising animals totally unsuited to the kind of land on the farm; nor would you sow random seeds and then expect to reap a harvest within a few days.
In the last part of the series, we examined your first steps as a writer: working out if your writing output was healthy, discovering the strengths and weaknesses of your work, establishing a ‘brand’ or voice, working out in what ways your writing might be superior in its own way to other similar pieces of work, and taking a look at the specific market for your writing. This parallels the initial work of the farmer above — basically, it’s an exercise in observation, of yourself, your writing and the market in which you want to operate.
Like the farmer, if you want to achieve commercial success, you can go about it in two ways: you can plant a crop that you like, nurture it to full growth over time by overcoming the barriers that arise, and then find a market for it; or you can find the market for a particular crop and then try and grow enough of that exact crop to meet the demands of that market. Both crops have to be suited to your farm, or they'll likely fail.
Writers take these two tacks all the time, either writing for their own pleasure and then hoping others will like what they’ve produced, or penning more formulaic works to satisfy existing tastes. It’s probably inarguable that the second way — starting with an existing market and writing for it in particular — is a more direct way to commercial success, as you already know there are potential buyers there and you just have to work to attract them away from the competition. However, there lies the rub: where there is a market, there will be competitors. In a lively market, where there is money to be made, there will be many, often ferocious competitors. To succeed, you would need to really know your stuff, analyse your readers, and write material which precisely pushes the buttons that they want pushed. And you would have to do so in a way which was slightly different — different enough to capture attention, but similar enough to all the other material to press those exact buttons.
It’s a game that many writers play — a kind of ‘do or die’ commercial challenge, which a few succeed at. You see this in the romance field, as well as in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. ‘Comparable to Tolkien at his best’ is a tagline that sometimes appears, with varied wording, atop the latest fantasy blockbuster series: the publisher wants the reading public to have a comparison to something that is known to be great, while retaining the sense that there is something intriguingly different about this particular book.
Most of the writers I encounter — including the majority of the 200 or so whom I have helped to get published over the last couple of years — are of the first kind: i.e. they write for their own pleasure — or simply because they feel they must write — and then hope others will like what they’ve produced. This is the group of writers for whom organic marketing comes into play.
The other group — the more commercially orientated group, who write directly to please known readers — usually engage in the conventional marketing tactics of trying to grab attention aggressively using ads, interrupting news feeds, and ‘spamming’ as many people as they can. That’s perfectly understandable, in the race to get more readers — it’s encouraged by the latest marketing techniques, and is all about trying to prise attention away from existing authors and onto the particular author in question.
The other group — the ‘write for pleasure and then hope’ group — need a different approach. If they want to retain the integrity of what they are writing, they need to take a longer term view, and to seek out those potential readers who might like exactly what they are writing, rather than the other way round.
Understanding your target audience is a key aspect of organic marketing. The questions writers need to ask themselves, if they are going down this much slower, more careful and quieter route towards success, include the following:
What type of reader are you trying to reach?
What is the size of the genre preferred by this ideal reader?
Where is this ideal reader located (both geographically and online)?
What are they missing in the material they read already that you provide in your fiction?
How will you know if they are missing it?
What is the demographic of the ideal reader? For example, consider age, gender, income range, and hobbies.
Is your ideal reader going to be a more ‘traditional’ kind of person? Or are they going to lean towards being ‘unconventional’?
How often do they buy books? And how many books do they buy?
If you can answer these questions, you will be able to create a sound foundation for your organic marketing strategy.
If you cannot answer them, or feel that you shouldn’t have to even ask them, please consider this: Who would be interested in handing over their hard-earned money for a piece of fiction that you have created from your head?
Just because you might have slaved over a novel for years does not mean that the world owes you a living from it. It might feel that way — it probably does feel that way, and feels unjust if no commercial return comes in to you for your work — but the mechanics are that a) no one knows that you have created anything or how hard you’ve worked on it and b) even if they found out, they might not like it enough to pay cash for it — they might not like it at all.
It’s a bitter pill. But there is hope. That hope comes through organic marketing. Chances are that there is a market for your work, unless it’s utterly atrocious in quality terms. The primary task of an organic marketing campaign is to find YOUR readers. And the secondary task is to find enough of them to build a viable career around you.
Stay tuned, and we’ll take a closer look at the questions above in the next in this series.