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Write What You Know, or Write What Sells?

Discussion in 'Marketing' started by neodoering, Mar 2, 2017.

  1. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

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    Ms. Marvel is Muslim. Peggy Carter got Operation: Sin (I prefer her as a brunette btw) AND a 2 season television show (which I thought was spectacular). Jessica Jones & Luke Cage have Netflix series ... really the list could go on and on. Minorities (religious, ethnic, and unrepresented gender) are actually the "new" thing in comics ... I'm inclined to side with Russ and say that the modern market is more open now than its ever been & it'll probably become even more inclusive in the next decade or so.

    I don't want to derail the thread but I think it's important to note that there are two sets of data to consider ... not only who is buying comics ... but also what do they want? Just because "straight white males" are the largest paying target audience (though I'm inclined to believe the gender split is closer to 50/50) doesn't mean that they necessarily prefer straight white male characters (enter Wonder Woman & Ms Marvel). I'm a female comic reader but that doesn't mean I scout for women in comics (or books for that matter)- my decisions are more often based on the art work than whether or not the character "looks like me" - the same is probably true for many white men....

    As for any trends in ethnic groups, that data will be hard to track not only because (as already noted) many people use small indie stores, but also because certain demographics tend to be more thrifty than others... Unlike my white friends, I know several Latino comic book readers & when we find one we like we don't tell others to go buy it, we'll lend it out ... which means there might be 10 Latino readers for that one graphic novel or comic book but the data reflects only 1 Latino buyer... Stats are weird like that.

    In order to talk about recent trends, I think it's important to place a bigger emphasis on the smaller companies and what they're producing (such as Walking Dead) - as with anything more indie-leaning, the change will probably come there first. If we continue this conversation ... I don't think traditional comics (those you'd find in Marvel and DC) are necessarily a good place to start analyzing given that they're going to need to shift slowly from the last several decades of backstory each character has acquired. You do see things like (is it in the Avengers?) a side character that runs a taco truck (or that sort of thing). But its going to have to be an evolutionary thing for them. They can't just wake up one day and decide to make Howard Stark a Puerto Rican woman or make Matthew Murdoch a gay Asian ... I suppose they could but it would feel like a cheap move and they probably wouldn't... unless its Green Lantern or Ms. Marvel hahaha

    Wait, what were we talking about again?
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2017
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  2. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

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    Cough ... Heavy Metal ... cough.
     
  3. Just because people want something or will buy something doesn't mean what they want or buy is automatically right [or even morally or ethically right].
     
  4. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    That's not for any of us to decide though, now is it?
     
    Ronald T. likes this.
  5. ^My apologies. :(

    Maybe this is alright, then:
    Who am I to judge?
     
  6. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

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    Yes. On a fantasy writing forum... How dare I assume the work in question is prose
     
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I find it odd that people are talking about the market like it's this homogeneous creature that only buys one kind of thing. You don't need to write to the market to sell a book - you need to write to a teeny tiny itty bitty little piece of the market. Screenwriters have to worry about the mass market because they need to get millions and millions of viewers to cover their budget. Books do not - you can make a living selling something like 20,000 books a year.

    What kind of audience are you writing for where 20,000 readers don't exist? Seriously, in this world you can find 20,000 people who try to live like werewolves if you've got the right book for them.

    I honestly.... the notion that "writing to the market" means you have to write a certain kind of book, I find to be shallow and unfounded.
     
  8. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    The movies, the magazine or the musical genre?
     
  9. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I am partially with you on this. I agree that with the internet and indy publishing it is easier than it ever has been to get your message and product to a niche market.

    But you still face a conversion/statistical issue when you write in a way that limits your appeal to a small audience.

    Before my wife's book came out we went out for dinner with a friend who is a very successful spec fic writer to get marketing advice. He talked about using the 1% rule. If his book got exposed to a certain group, he was pleased if 1% of that group bought, and hopefully would by again.

    There is a similar problem writing for a niche market.

    Firstly you have to find them, and they are a smaller target. And then you need to convert a much higher proportion of them to make your target number. So if you want to sell the 20k number, and there are only 100,000 or so people who really make up your potential audience you need to convert 20% of them. If your potential audience is 1,000,000 you only need to convert 2% of them and so on.

    Think about it like you are a baseball player and you need to get 20 hits to make a paycheck. That is a lot easier in 100 at bats than if you only get 50!

    A lot of people here can tell you just how hard it is to sell 20k books a year in a niche market. I would not underestimate how challenging that can be.
     
  10. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    While that's true enough, you're only looking at half the equation. Smaller niches have less competition, which means that it is actually easier to find those higher conversion rates. And while the 1% rule you mentioned is pretty accurate, that percentage does not assume that the book is reaching 1% of a primary target audience. Target audiences are layered. Almost everyone here, for instance, should probably consider fantasy readers a tertiary audience - that is, "Anyone who enjoys fantasy could like my book, but I'm really writing epic fantasy with a romantic subplot.... (or whatever)."

    Exposing your book to a thousand fantasy readers, and getting a 1% return, might be accurate. But only a fraction of them were ever really part of your target audience to begin with.

    I maintain that a book's problem reaching sales is almost never the size of its chosen niche.
     
  11. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    That depends on how you set your sales goals. :)

    But it certainly is a factor, and may set practical limitations on the commercial value of any particular project.
     
  12. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I'm not sure I understand what you mean Russ.
     
  13. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    That a small audience means you have a cap on how many books you will sell, regardless of conversion rate or other issues of selling to the smaller market.

    i.e. You will never sell a million copies to 100,000 people. :cool2:
     
  14. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

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    Although I don't entirely disagree, I need to point out that targeting the right 100,000 people means you will absolutely sell a million copies. Because word of mouth is still crucial.
     
  15. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Yeah, that would be true of some products. But that's not really how an audience works. Again, audience appeal is a layered concept. Your primary audience may be 100,000 people. But any well-told story has the potential for far broader appeal. Even with a well-defined, highly pinpointed primary audience, most of your sales will still come from your broader secondary and tertiary markets.

    That is, you may write for people who like to think of themselves literally as werewolves, but hey, what a weird perspective, I might try that book too.

    And if you look at sort of the "big three" in fantasy, which are Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and A Song of Ice and Fire (and okay, I'll be honest, Twilight), they are very different from each other, and it would've been easy, before they came out, to argue that they were niche markets. School magic? Vampire romance? Who cares how elves live or would want to read a story where everyone dies? And yet they're some of the best selling books in history.

    I mean, I maintain that a book's problem is almost never size of its niche.
     
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  16. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Well it is easy to quote some outliers, like historical black swans to try and make a point, but that doesn't change the writers or marketer's thought process.

    There are plenty of authors who would disagree with you and almost every publisher would.

    I know folks who make a living writing, for instance, amazing, award winning Caribbean Fantabulist fiction. It has a limited market. Their publisher is not going to do a first print run of 75,000 because there is not a market that large to support it. There are just not enough people interested. Nor likely will there ever be.

    Same thing for say, cozy mysteries. Or hockey romance. I could go on and on. You can write this material as well as you like, and it will not likely ever break out into the general market. Vampires, on the other hand, have proven again and again to have explosive break out potential. So has epic fantasy. Even GRRM has done vampire novels in his day!

    While in theory, a well told story has the potential for broader appeal, it rarely happens.

    I don't know why you think that most book sales will come from your secondary or tertiary market. I have never seen either author or publisher data that supports that. Most authors appeal to certain demographics and don't sell a lot of books outside their demographic. That is why you don't see that much genre book advertising directed at the general public.
     
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  17. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I agree word of mouth is important.

    But no matter how many people you tell about your profound love of Caribbean Fantabulist Fiction, you are not likely to get too many of them to actually buy the work.
     
  18. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    As someone who writes in a tiny niche of historical romance, I must attest to it being difficult to make serious sales. I played with the packaging a lot for these books, got help on doing this, too. Still, even with promos I sell very little. It's a tiny niche. Other books in it do well....but they've been sticky for a while and most of them aren't even 1940's romance but family sagas instead. NOT the same thing!

    Now, fantasy romance has more of an audience than 1940's romance. This is where the majority of my work is going so I'm more hopeful about the future. Plus I care more about these books and approach audience building in fantasy romance in an entirely different way than the historical novels, which I put up for sale and don't care necessarily if they sell.

    What it comes down to is this: fantasy is ingrained into the fiber of my very soul. I understand what nerds want because I am one. We want action, magic, romance, adventure, dark forces and castles and enchanted items and swords. Writing these stories turns me on in a way that writing historical romance doesn't. If I truly wanted to make money at historical romance, I'd write Regency or Victorian. I hate both. So I write in a niche with a tiny audience because it's what I love, but in actuality it's screwing me. Why waste time writing stories no one is going to buy or that I don't care if they buy?

    Writing to market doesn't mean writing stories that you hate. That would be me writing Regency romance. Writing to market, at least to me as an author, means that I write fantasy romance because it's the best of both worlds. There is nothing more delectable than a fantasy adventure story with a hot romance as the front center. I'm not the only reader like this. It's a larger audience with more potential and some pretty nice Indie authors willing to cross-promo together. This is writing to market. Finding what you love and giving it your all. It doesn't have to be any other way!
     
  19. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I'm in the same boat, Chessie. I can find plenty of alternate history. I can find plenty of historical fantasies. I find very few fantasies set in an alternate timeline. Those that exist are not huge sellers and they tend to fall into very specific eras. Most of which don't interest me.

    I'm not going to let that deter me. But I'm also not going to complain about low sales or claim evil conspiracies keep me from fame and fortune. Then again, I have that luxury. I'm retired. I don't need to live off my income. In a sense, I don't even care about the money; it's readers I want. I look forward to hearing from people who like my work and want to know more about Altearth.

    People write for many different reasons. All are valid, even if not all are realistic.
     
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  20. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I am fortunate in one sense, my love is epic fantasy which has big potential, I just don't love how most of it is written, heh heh. Too much of it epic (as in slow) rather than epic (as in fun). Pretty much all writing is niche these days, it's the level of crossover each has and the potential for movie rights, if you're looking at the monetary and big readership side of things.
     
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