How to Make Money as a Writer Part Two: Customers
Having hopefully overcome a certain barrier of prejudice when it comes to looking at one’s writing career as a business in Part One, I also introduced you to the four factors involved in making any business work: leads, customers, profit margins and frequency of purchase.
Leads, as we saw last time, are important. A writer cannot and should not expect any book to instantly become a best-seller as soon as it is released largely because of the mechanical unlikelihood that everyone whose needs that book would fulfil would find it on Day One, or even Day Thirty One. Books sell at first because they are placed in hot-beds of potential sales - they are advertised where the people most likely to buy them will see them.
The first thing to do then, as mentioned last time, is to find the leads - discover where certain publics ‘hang out’.
But let’s say you’ve written a YA vampire love story (many of you may have) and discovered a ‘YA Vampire Love Story’ fan group on social media. You join, and manage to get your book mentioned. Can you expect an avalanche of sales? Well, you can certainly expect some interest. Some of the people there may click on your book, some will say they will read it, some will even comment on a thread or something of that magnitude. A few may go so far as to purchase it. That’s fantastic, and shows that you have found one of those ‘hot-beds’ of leads. It’s probably not going to go much further though, unless other things are in place.
What is it exactly that turns a ‘lead’ into a ‘customer’? What is the precise nature of the step between being a ‘potential’ buyer and an actual buyer?
In its simplicity, it’s the awareness of need, and the demand for that need to be fulfilled.
The casual members of the ‘lead’ group, the ones who have a general interest in a book, need to be prompted to a greater awareness of their need - that interest must be heightened, in other words. There are several precise tools that you have to heighten that interest, or deepen that need, including a book’s cover, its blurb, its positioning, and what is called its ‘social proof’.
The cover and the blurb work on the same principle, as covered in my Marketing Handbook for Writers: both should be based on the biggest ‘vacuum’ in a book. What is meant by that? Well, my other book How Stories Really Work, explains it in detail, but in brief, a vacuum is the hole or gap or void or ‘missingness’ which is at the heart of the story: the unsolved problem, the hero’s biggest loss of fear, the core of what makes the story work. The cover and the blurb must, in as intense a way as possible, evoke that vacuum.
If you need more of a visual idea of how that works, go and check out the top five best-selling books on Amazon right now. You’ll find covers that conjure a sense of anticipation, mystery, moral ambiguity or failure, and deep uncertainty of some kind, even when the story itself is a light-hearted romantic comedy. Similarly, the blurbs will dive right for the centre of the story, outline the chief differences or gaps or unfulfilled voids in the tale in a few concentrated words.
What do I mean by positioning? I mean where is the book placed; what is its context? Is a thriller about modern business positioned with other similar thrillers, or has it been miscategorised as a romance or worse? Remember, a group of ‘leads’ are leads because they have similar interests to what is in a particular book. Drift too far away from that general interest and a book will become invisible to them.
Social proof is more obvious: this is testimonial evidence, reviews, comments, advocacies, which support that the book is worthwhile and that it fits into the lead group’s categories of need.
Add these things together - cover, blurb, positioning and social proof - and a book will increase its chances of igniting motion in a member of the lead group. These days, all that has to be are the finger twitches needed to ‘Add to Cart’ and then ‘Proceed to Checkout’. The general interest of a lead - a potential customer - has become the specific interest needed to produce a customer.
Do this over and over again, and sales will climb.
But that’s only two of the four factors involved in growing a ‘writing business’. What of the next factor, margins?