Business Musings: Applying Niche Marketing (Niche Marketing Part 6)
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My plan all along for this series was to take a few projects of mine and use them as examples of ways to apply niche marketing thinking to books.
It took me a while to get here. If you want to see some real world examples, take a look at the previous post. If you’re new to all of this, please start at the beginning, and read all five posts before this.
What I’m going to do here is pick something from the list of possible books I can market, a list I overwhelmed you with in the second post, and then I will apply the tips I gave you in the fourth post to that book. Much of what I’m going to list, we haven’t done yet. These are just possible things. We might never do them. I don’t know.
I’m just using all of this as examples of how to brainstorm and maybe inspire you to start looking at your own work.
The most important part of this is the choice, as I mentioned last time, that choice might be deliberate or it might be whatever floats to the top.
What you shouldn’t do is attempt to do this for all of your projects…unless you’re a brand-new writer with, say, only two books published. Then you can do everything.
But if you’re like me and have more books than you can name off the top of your head, then take it really slow. One book at a time. Maybe—just maybe—one series at a time. But don’t overwhelm yourself.
Remember, you’re a writer first.
Okay, got that?
Scroll back to my list in the second post. I have a lot of choice here, from genres to pen names. Nothing here has gotten the kind of love that I want to explain to you. For the first ten years or so of WMG Publishing’s existence, we focused on making all of our work available. In the last few months, we’ve made some business changes so we can focus on our own store, which requires the same kind of work that we did early on. (We also have to update files and covers.)
So there’s a lot of other work going on, even though we have staff. To make matters harder for them, Dean and I are producing new work all the time.
But we are turning our attention to promotion now. So, as I said early on in this blog series, some of what I’m writing here is for you all, and some of it is for our team.
This part, though, is for all of you. I’m going to start with science fiction because I want to show you different kinds of niches. I have a lot of promotion choices in the book part of my science fiction career. I also have a lot of choice in the short story part, some of which would have great merchandising attached (“Rocket Girls,” anyone?), but I’m going to ignore that.
So here’s what I’m facing from my list.
- The Diving Series
- The Retrieval Artist Series
- Standalone novels like Traitors and Snipers
- Standalone novellas
- Standalone short stories
I’ve already ruled out the short stories, so they’re gone. That leaves novellas and standalone novels, most of which are not named here. Right now, I’m not going to consider them either.
I prefer the float-to-the-top version of marketing, rather than picking something directly. Or at least, I do here. One thing for you all to consider, though, is if you feel that one of your books or series has been neglected…by you…and you really want to get to it.
For my purposes, that is floating to the top.
Looking at the sf list, I have a lot of choices. The Retrieval Artist series has sixteen novels and some short stories. A June BookBub brought new people into the series. More promotion might be a good idea.
But I’m looking forward and not back. There will be new Retrieval Artist books Real Soon Now. (How soon? I don’t know. Ask my grumpy muse digging out of the backlog in the corner.)
This leaves Diving. There are as many (or more) books in the Diving universe than there are in the Retrieval Artist universe. We haven’t done a proper enter-the-series promotion in years and years.
That’s an option. As I said, though, I prefer the float-to-the-top method. What’s on the top of my list is something I mentioned in the previous post. I finished a new side novel in the Diving universe called The Ivory Trees. It’s not out yet. For those of you who don’t know, I write side stories to explain something really important to myself in the main series. Sometimes those stories are just that—stories—and often they’re novels. Every now and then, they become series of their own.
I had initially thought The Ivory Trees would be a novella, the opening part of a novel-length story that I have sketched out on my computer. (I don’t normally sketch things either, but this story is very clear in my head.)
The Ivory Trees is a perfect entry point for new readers. They don’t have to have read any of the previous books. If they want to read this series and this series only, they can. We’ll be doing a Kickstarter on this book in September, so that fans of the series can get an advance copy of the book. The book will release in early 2024.
So let’s use the niche marketing options I mentioned in Post Four. The nice thing about these strategies is that they keep the brain under control.
What do I mean by “under control”? As I started writing this section, my creative brain (which the WMG staff likens to Tom Hanks in the movie Big, sitting in a room filled with prototypes at MacMillan Toys, coming up with idea after idea after idea) flooded me with “and we can do this and we can do this and we can do this” all spoken in a childish enthusiastic voice that has no sense of reality about time and cost and the fact that I should be writing.
So I’m going back to the basics, trying to keep that creative brain under some sense of control.
Which is why the first strategy is…
- Think Small.
Oh, I can feel the creative brain’s disappointment. But thinking small saves time and effort. Thinking small focuses the mind on what’s possible.
Here, the small items are, in part, the timeline. The book will appear to Diving lovers in the fall, as long as they go to Kickstarter. Then the book will go wide in early 2024.
Promotions should center around those times.
There’s something else to factor in here: what else am I doing at those points? In September, I’ll be back in school as well as finishing up some other projects. Should some personal health issues get resolved, I’ll also be training for a big exercise challenge in October.
So my promotion time will be limited. I will share promotion time with WMG, so I need to consider what I can do and what they will do. I also need to figure out what I can do ahead of time.
When the book appears, which is probably February, I’ll also be in school. I don’t know exactly how busy I’ll be on other things, however, but given who I am, I’m usually busy.
So the time factor has to be stretched. I need to figure out what I can prepare ahead of time, and how I’ll handle my part of the promotion. It shouldn’t be slapdash (which I’ve been doing for a while now). It should be focused.
WMG will focus as well, better than I will. They have a schedule for promoting various things, and they’ll follow it. They’re also quite creative about what they do. But, as I said above, WMG doesn’t just work on one project at a time. They handle my work and Dean’s and all kinds of other things. We have a small staff, and their time is as constricted as mine.
Fortunately, they’re more organized and they work farther ahead.
But we will have to figure out how much time we can allot in both the fall and in the early part of 2024 to this one project alone.
- Pick a platform or two
We’ve already picked some platforms for The Ivory Trees. Inadvertantly, I had chosen Asimov’s SF Magazine as the platform for some of the early promotion. Why inadvertently? Because I have an agreement with Sheila Williams, the editor, to send her a couple of novellas per year. She’s under no obligation to buy them, but she wants to see some longer work, and she knows mine is reliable.
I have no idea how many other established writers she has this arrangement with. I’m guessing that it’s a couple. I had similar arrangements when I was editing The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction back in the day, but I learned something there: I offered that opportunity to a number of favorite writers, some of whom were having the chronic financial difficulties of freelance writers, and only one took me up on it. The rest never even tried
I was and am determined not to be those writers with Sheila. So I hit the deadlines. I figure if Sheila doesn’t want the story, someone will. Or we can publish it at WMG. It’s a good exercise for me.
Sometimes I write standalone novellas that aren’t in any series. Other times, I write a planned “short” from the Diving series. (I hope to do the same with Retrieval Artist. Haven’t gotten there yet.) Every now and then, the novella turns into a novel. (That’s what happened with The Court-Martial of the Renegat Renegades.) It also happened with the Ivory Trees.
Two novellas. The first, “The Death Hole Bunker,” is the opening section of the novel. The second, “The Break-in,” comes later in the book, and in the book itself, is drastically revised and expanded. “The Death Hole Bunker” is out in the current issue. “The Break-in” will appear in September/October.
The Asimov’s audience has proven that they like the Diving standalone stories. In 2022, they chose Court-Martial as the best novel/novella of the year.
So I have an interested and engaged audience in that platform. They now know that the book is coming. If they like the two novellas, then maybe they’ll pick up the book. And, as I said in the previous post, they have a lot of other Diving novels to choose from.
The second platform we’re using on this book is Kickstarter. Kickstarter has its own ecosystem. It favors games and gaming tchotchkes. Because of the games, science fiction does well on the platform.
And, because of efforts by Dean and Loren Coleman a few years ago, there’s now a big publishing category on Kickstarter. Kickstarter has put time and dollars into promoting that category and learning what else they can do to bring in more writers and readers.
In 2022, they sent representatives to various conferences to learn more from writers about what the writers want, and the writers learned what Kickstarter can do.
Like any tech company, Kickstarter has algorithms. If you hit them just right, you get rewarded with more Kickstarter promotion. For example, if your campaign funds quickly—and the people behind Kickstarter like what you’re doing—the campaign will get chosen as “A Project We Love.” Kickstarter promotes those projects separately.
Sometimes large projects that are earning really fast will also rise to the top of their category. Meaning if your Kickstarter is earning above expectations, it might be advertised on the home page under Publishing.
There are other things that Kickstarter does behind the scenes that I’m not going to discuss here.
But two other cool things about the platform. When you offer good stretch goals, people who have already backed your project help you promote it. They want something you’ve put into the Kickstarter, but they can’t get it without the help of other backers. So, they’ll advertise your Kickstarter to their friends, family, and followers.
We always send the ebook to every single backer, so they have a chance to read it. For many of them, that’s their first introduction to my Diving series or my writing in general.
I’ll be working Facebook and my own website during that time. On Facebook, I have a following of fans of my cats, who run Promotion Central. There will be a Promotion Central campaign.
And, should the stars align, I’ll have a new website by then, and I’ll be using those tools.
WMG will do separate things, chosen from their platforms, including their newsletters and the weekly blog from the publisher. We haven’t discussed yet what platforms they’ll be using but rest assured, many of them will be different from mine.
- Small Campaigns
I’ll be doing a small launch campaign in 2024. Launch campaigns are, in some ways, a vestige of traditional publishing. People expect books to get a lot of promotion the day they appear. Trad pub still puts mega dollars into their launches and then forgets about the book later.
But for me, the launch will simply be notification to my Diving newsletter, my regular newsletter, and my website that the book is available now.
The preorder will have been up since the Kickstarter, so those books will go live on all sites on the same day. Preorders kick up the algorithms of the book retailer sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Maybe not a lot, but enough that people who are watching for the book might find it there.
Not sure yet what WMG will do, but they’ll have a lot of tools at their disposal, including whatever merchandise we have come up with around the Kickstarter. The Ivory Trees themselves might be worth merchandising in both statue form (if we can find something affordable) and as jewelry, not to mention whatever we end up with on the cover. All of that can be used in a variety of ways to promote the book.
And then there are the tools we’re just starting to explore on Shopify, which hosts WMG’s store. We’re learning about those too. That will be a localized campaign to mailing lists that we already have.
- Word-of-Mouth campaigns
I’m not sure what we’ll do on this, although in some ways, the word of mouth is already underway. Reviews and conversations about the Asimov’s excerpts should happen. Some readers will post their opinions and ratings of the book the day it goes live.
Mostly, I’m hands-off on word of mouth, letting the readers take care of that part. By early 2024, I might have changed my mind or I might have come up with a truly spectacular marketing idea that needs doing.
Some of that goes into the thinking hopper as we plan for the 2024 campaign. Whatever it is, it’ll be something fun that maybe—if we’re lucky—might have a viral moment.
Dunno what that’ll be, though. Maybe nothing.
- Build customer relationships
We’re doing that already. We have previous Diving Kickstarters. We might promote this early, with a special deal, to the backers who jump on right away.
No matter what, some customers will want the book early and at a discount, and they can do that through Kickstarter.
Will I promote something else to them? I don’t know. I might do something special for the Diving newsletter list. That would happen between September and early 2024.
It’s something I must give some thought to. If we have merch, we might offer that to the Diving list. Or maybe some excerpts from the story itself. Or something else entirely.
Whatever it is, though, it’ll go directly to the folks who have let me know that they’re fans of Diving. They’ll be the ones to receive whatever special offer this is.
- The Missing Items
What I’ve dealt with here are the things I know we’re going to do, things that are already being planned or at least thought about. But there are other things to do as well.
We have untapped small markets, things that need to be investigated for Diving in particular.
In the past, I co-wrote dozens of Star Trek novels with Dean. Those novels are still available, and I get fan mail based on them. Diving is space opera, just like Star Trek, and would appeal to some subset of Trek fandom. Maybe not the more upbeat fans who like The Original Series or The Next Generation, but fans of Deep Space Nine or Discovery.
There’s a lot of Trek fan sites and pro sites that might take an interest in these books, if we can figure out how to market there.
The same for Star Wars. I wrote a Star Wars novel thirty years ago that, again, I still get fan mail on. That’s another untapped promotional place.
Right now, I don’t do a lot of direct promotion to other places that have published my work, like Analog. Nor do I haunt sf fan sites or contact sf bloggers. I let Analog slide when I got really busy with other things. I’m not going to take out an ad, or anything, but writing more for that market is something to consider.
And there are a number of space opera communities that we and WMG have not tapped at all.
New venues and new platforms are appearing all the time, from BookThreads to BookTok. WMG has done things on BookTok. By early 2024, there might be even more places where people gather to discuss books.
And that doesn’t count all of the book clubs, all over the world, both online and in person. Or library promotions. I have a lot of Diving books in libraries all over the U.S. A direct-to-library promotion might be a good idea.
And before some of you scream that libraries don’t make writers a lot of money, let me remind you about #4 above. Word of mouth comes from everywhere, and readers talk to each other. I don’t care if someone reads my book in a library or if they buy it for their devices. I want them to read my book. If the library patron likes it, they’ll request the next book in the series from their library. And that puts the book on the map.
There are many, many, many other missing things here, and I’m not going to go into all of them.
I’m going to do one more example post, and maybe a wrap-up post. We’ll see.
Please post any questions or ideas in the comments.
Speaking of doing a lot, we’re still running the Pulphouse Kickstarter. I wrote this post before the Kickstarter launched, but you’ll read this later. The Patreon folks will see the post first, followed by the website folks. I can’t point you to what’s currently cool about the Kickstarter, because you’ll be reading this at different times. So just take a look.
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“Business Musings: Applying Niche Marketing (Niche Marketing Part Six)” copyright © 2023 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2023 by Dell Magazines, Inc.