The very same people who know that target marketing works for non-fiction
are often surprised when we report that it works for fiction too. How do you identify the people likely to be interested in
a novel, they always ask, and then how do you reach them without spending huge sums of money?
As the old joke goes --- carefully. You start by pinpointing markets
in terms of professional, geographical, historical, a vocational and gender interests, to name just a few possibilities. Then,
with some imagination, diligent research and an intelligently active author, you tell the people in those markets how your
book relates to things they care about and how they can easily get it.
To decide what directions to go in, you need to ask 10 Leading Questions.
The answers will help you launch your fiction, no matter what the subject. Most of the examples that follow are from the experiences
of Sensible Solutions clients and PMA-List subscribers.
10 Leading Questions for Targeting Fiction Readers
1. What subjects are important
in the book? Does the story feature families, addiction, angels, terrorism, tourism? By searching in the Encyclopedia of Associations,
in Gale's and Bacon's directories of periodicals, and on the Web, you'll find groups of people already interested in whatever
your book is about.
Dale Smith's new novel
for young readers -- What the Parrot Told Alice -- teaches kids about wildlife conservation, so it's is a natural for bird enthusiasts and environmental activists. With
Deer Creek Publishing's marketing campaign still in its early stages, results so far include a laudatory two-page review in
Bird Talk that generated orders for 80 books almost immediately; sales of 200 copies at an American Federation of Aviculture Convention , where pet shop owners who figure to become steady customers were among the buyers; a premium deal with the World Parrot Trust, and good leads for premium sales to two major conservation groups.
2. What geographical areas does the book relate to and depict? Because people
love to read about places they inhabit and visit, it's relatively easy to generate publicity and sales in the neighborhood,
city, county, state or country where the action in a novel takes place. The more you can narrow the locale, the better. There's
nothing like hometown pride.
also works if you focus on where your press is and where your author comes from. When Saybrook, a Dallas house, published
The Dark Path to the River, a first novel by Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, who was raised in Dallas, the book made The Dallas Morning News bestseller list. As the author did readings at the local university and independent bookstores and got coverage in area papers,
Dark Path not only stayed on the list; it got to #1.
3. What do the protagonists do? The central character of James Halperin's speculative
novel The Truth Machine is a computer whiz. What better place to look for like-minded readers than the Web?
Even before pub date,
Halperin put material from and about his story on his Ivy Press site, and after Ballantine bought rights and published its edition, the Random House site featured it too. Every month, several thousand visitors to the site are a source of praise, sales and word-of-mouth
momentum. Typical comments are: "I will definitely buy the book"; I work at Waldenbooks and will be recommending it"; "I will
definitely purchase it," and, from another bookseller, "Will recommend to my customers and managers."
4. Whose comments will send powerful signals to people who will like this book
and talk it up? For Flight Path, Jan Blais's novel about the post de- regulation struggle to balance airline safety with profitability, Highpoint Press used the author's
professional connections to get blurbs from aviation experts and writers. Pre-pub praise included comments from the former
director of the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum, the author of The President's Plane Is Missing and a senior captain for
a major airline who chairs a national airline accident investigation committee.
5. Does the novel fit into a category that has well-developed sales and publicity
networks? Is it, for instance, science fiction, romance, mystery, Jewish, Christian, gay, feminist or literary?
Routes to feminists,
to take just one example, include more than 175 bookstores; a publication, Feminist Bookstore News, in which you can advertise and which sells its mailing list on labels for a modest
fee, and at least 60,000 academics involved with Women's Studies courses, who can be reached via lists available from the
College Marketing Group. (For more on the education market, keep reading.)
6. Are there courses that could use the novel as required or supplementary reading?
From grad school to preschool, teachers often assign fiction in the classroom, which can mean sizeable bulk sales for years.
The Tomato Enterprises
editions of Patty Reed's Doll: The Story of the Donner Party and Sallie Fox: The Story of a Pioneer Girl sell to elementary-school
teachers through educational catalogs (including home-schooling catalogs) and gatherings of teachers and school librarians,
as well as through trade and special-interest channels.
Publisher Dorothy Kupcha
Leland, who also sells a Teacher's Guide, cheerfully reports: "If the teachers know about the books, they want them." Two
local teachers recently wanted 60 copies, as year-end gifts for their students.
7. Is there a newspeg for the story? Rape Awareness Week gave Walking Bridge Press
a handle for getting media interested in Cherry Love by Marcella Chester, a story about date rape.
To date, results of
the Press's target marketing campaign, which emphasizes the newsworthy and nonfiction aspects of Cherry Love, include a scheduled
mention in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association; an invitation to speak to volunteers at the Mayo Foundation; a feature story in the local newspaper, and appearances at
the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations, all of which continue to build word-of-mouth enthusiasm.
8. Whom can the author attract? When John Daniel & Company published Lightning in July -- Ann L. McLaughlin's poignant novel about two gifted young polio victims who fall in love --
her schedule included a reading at the National Rehabilitation Hospital. For The Balancing Pole, about a woman who suffers
from manic-depressive psychosis, McLaughlin read at a meeting of a manic- depressives' support group. And for all three of
her novels (the latest, Sunset at Rosalie, is a story of the Deep South), she drew crowds to schools, libraries, universities,
writers' groups, book clubs and bookstores, partly through personalized mailings to her own lengthy list.
9. What channels, besides bookstores, reach people interested in this story? Consider
non-book stores, non-book wholesalers, book clubs, other publishers in the United States and abroad that might buy rights, catalogs that focus on your story's subject, plus
associations, institutions and corporations.
And don't be afraid
to go where no book has gone before. Diana Brown got a jewelry-store chain to showcase her novel The Emerald Necklace in May,
emeralds being the birthstone for that month.
10. How can publicity and sales in target markets lead to a novel's entire audience?
While target markets
are sometimes central to a story, they can also seem pretty peripheral. But because they can be activated by a publisher with
less than a gazillion dollars to spend on any given title, and because the ripple effects from them are usually strong, they're
great places to start.
When things are humming
in your target markets, be sure to tell media and booksellers about the good review, the successful public appearance, the local sales spurt -- whatever is happening that shows that your
book's bandwagon is rolling. Those who are already involved will be energized by your successes; those who aren't yet involved
will take notice. And you'll prove, once again, that target marketing for fiction works very well in fact.