We established earlier that isolating exactly who one’s audience is and where they are located geographically and online are vital components to an organic marketing strategy. Your readers are probably going to be people who already like to read stories similar to yours. If you think that there are no stories similar to yours, you may want to step back and take a look at the market, or conversely, plunge deep into your own work so that you can find the core things in it that will be similar to other works. Either way, an adjustment of vision is needed.
I know that I outlined earlier the two different kinds of writers: those who pursue commercial gain by copying others' success, and those who strive for a unique voice. Organic marketing tends to work better for the latter, as they need to find their public. But even the most original and unique of works have other works with which they can be connected. In fact, nothing exists in isolation; there is no such thing as ‘originality’, only different viewpoints of the same thing.
It’s that different viewpoint — the viewpoint that only you can give — which is your most precious asset, your unique voice.
Powerful assertions? Maybe so — but a pragmatic study of the literature of the last two and a half thousand years shows them to be true. We read the same stories, over and over again, blind to their similarities, precisely because the particular writer is showing us something different, something inimitable: their own viewpoint. You can submerge that viewpoint and set out blatantly to copy another's, or you can sing your own song loudly and seek out listeners.
Having outlined who your public are and where they reside or linger, we now get to the crux of the matter.
‘What are those readers missing in the material they read already that you provide in your fiction? And how will you know if they are missing it?’
There’s one thing that we know for sure that they are missing. We know it immediately, without even having to think. They are missing YOUR take on whatever the subject matter is, per the above. They might have heard lots of music; they haven't heard YOUR voice.
As I have described, there are two main writer groups: there are writers who write for their own pleasure then hope to find a market, and there are writers who find a market and write for it specifically. The latter group can get commercial results quicker, because they are imitating material which has already proven to be successful. That can happen in just about any genre, any field, any form. Like a tribute band, if you approximate the masters closely enough, you’ll get some recognition - but it will be very much based on how closely you have imitated someone else. Like the Abba tribute group, you will be judged on how much you look and sound like Abba, rather than for any merits of your own.
Recognition usually comes more slowly for the former group. That’s because they have to find the audience which doesn’t even realise that they are looking for something.
No one knew — for example — that a light-hearted tale for children set in a school for wizards and involving all kinds of mystery and pranking and colourful creatures would become an international bestseller many times over. It wasn’t as though people were wandering through libraries muttering ‘If only there was a school story based around fun magic…’ Then J. K. Rowling appeared, having striven for years to gain recognition, having battled many rejections, and having refused to compromise with her vision, her unique take on magic and wizards. Bang. Multi-million pound success.
If Rowling had been an imitator, who knows what might have happened?
What worked about Harry Potter was not that it was ‘original’. There’s nothing in the coming-of-age, battle of good versus evil, school companions unite against authority, wise-old-mentor-guides-wounded-orphan-through-series-of-challenges-accompanied-by-archetypal-companions plot lines in Potter that you can’t find elsewhere; even the creatures that appear in her books are drawn from myth and legend. There are better developed characters, richer dialogue, more philosophical depths in plenty of other books. What worked about Potter was that it was Rowling’s unique take on all these elements.
Difference and similarity, the music of the spheres. You can be so similar that your identity as a writer merges with the writers you imitate; or you can be so different as to be unreadable. Getting the balance and finding your audience are key.
It took Rowling longer to strike success because the publishers she submitted the work to initially were, consciously or unconsciously, looking for something more imitative. That’s understandable: an investor should be wary of investing in something which doesn’t look very similar to other successful somethings. Publishers are investors, that’s all: they are looking for ways to make money, and the best ways to make money are usually to back things which have already made money. Harry Potter’s quirky take on the school story, an unusual mixture of magic, mystery and manageable vocabulary was outside the parameters of what they had seen to be successful. Someone took the risk and now, looking back, we see shelves full of Rowling imitators for the last two decades, most of them forgettable.
So what are those readers missing in the material they read already that you provide in your fiction? You. Your specific take on the universal themes and plot lines with which we are all very familiar. How will you know if they are missing it? You know already, because you haven’t written and/or published your piece yet. There's a You-shaped gap in the heart of your particular audience.
All your carefully tabulated and demographically suitable readers, the ones who read things in your general field, the 'fertile soil’ for your own work, await your arrival.
That might be a comforting thought.