When I set out to write my Splatter Elf stories, the first thought that entered my mind was, “Who in the blue hell is going to read this?” Then I went back to that old nugget of advice, “Write what you know.” Well, I know a great deal about fantasy, schlocky violence, cartoons, and monsters. So I figured, why not cram them all into one series?
The problem with this idea was that I decided to essentially write for an audience of one: me. That didn’t answer the “blue hell” question. I needed to find an audience for this stuff, however niche it may be. Yet therein still lay the problem: I had no idea as to how to go about doing this. In my youthful (?) arrogance I decided to just write it and put it out there. As a self-published author (hoping to go hybrid), finding the audience was going to require a lot of elbow grease, a ton of luck, and some other factor I can’t think of right now. Magic? Maybe.
The issue of finding a niche audience for something unconventional never ends, though. With a name like Splatter Elf, I already decided that I’ve ruled out:
a. Readers who are averse to violence.
b. Readers who like to see elves happy, alive, and breathing.
c. Readers who prefer a limit on colorful language.
However, I had high hopes that I would run across:
a. Readers who enjoy over-the-top violence.
b. Readers who like the dark comedy vibe.
c. Readers who probably grew up on Dungeons and Dragons, cartoons, and Conan the Barbarian.
In my ongoing quest, I’ve come across all of these types of readers. But the conundrum still is figuring out how to keep those readers that like my stories and to continue to attract new readers. Build, build, build.
About this building thing…
1. Word of Mouth
Word of mouth continues to be the most powerful way to reach a niche audience. One person reads something a little off-kilter and recommends it to someone else. They like it, they read it, and on the story goes. There’s really no way of controlling this as it’s the most organic way to reach an audience. However, when you do find people who really enjoy what you’re doing, connect with them however you can by engaging (likely on social media), making yourself available, and taking their interests into consideration. Since you’re writing for a select group of readers, it’s easier to connect with what they love about your world, your characters, etc.
2. A Bigger Author Gives You the Thumbs Up
I owe a lot of purchases of my stories to author Robert Bevan, who gave me a vote of confidence on social media a few times. He thought his readers would enjoy my writing and I did get some nice comments and reviews afterwards. That helped a ton in making me feel more confident in my own ability to tell an engaging story as well. It’s great to have someone who already has a large audience help out a smaller author by saying, “Go on, give this writer a try!” I wouldn’t go around asking other authors to read your work unless they offered to do so, but one way people learn by word of mouth is from authors they already know and trust.
3. The Ever-Elusive Review Hustle
Everyone and their mother harps on how important reviews are to building an audience. Not only are there some kind of mysterious, ever-morphing algorithms, but a decent volume of reviews shows that some people have read your work and took the time to actually write something about it, which is pretty awesome on multiple levels. There are numerous people who are better qualified to talk about how to get reviews, so I’m not going to go into that. But I’ll tell you how reviews came about for me:
a. I mentioned I had something for sale.
b. That’s it.
That’s a crappy list, but whatever, that’s what happened. I just told people on forums I frequent (like this one!), some Facebook groups I hang out in, and my Splatter Elf Facebook page. One thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes the people who review your work might be other indie authors. Writers love reading as well, don’t they? In this case, you’re hoping hundreds of other indie authors will love you. There have to be other people who are voracious readers reading your work most of all. Even if they’re a small number, if they review and read everything you write, then you’re on the right track. The secret number is one hundred hardcore readers? Yeah, let’s go with that.
4. They Come for the Concept, Stay for the Characters
I’ve had some people comment before about how they love my main character Katzia. She’s a foul-mouthed elf monster hunter that has resonated with some readers. While people initially like the idea of a hyper-violent fantasy world that pulls no punches, they seem to comment most about the characters. Katzia, Bathbrady the Starseer, Grinner, and Elandral the Shield Elf. I try to pride myself on not just writing splattery fantasy with all sizzle and no steak. So in order to hook a niche audience, you still have to ultimately give them something to latch onto. It’s like having a movie with a bunch of flashy CGI and flat, dull characters isn’t going to work anymore… if it ever did. The same goes for stories. Bedazzle your stories with memorable characters and they’ll propel the concepts to the moon.
5. Don’t Give Up Just Yet (Or Quit Your Day Job)
Now I wouldn’t say my sales for Splatter Elf have been phenomenal. I’m also not much in the way of marketing, something I probably need to get on the ball with. I see Splatter Elf as a passion project, a series of stories I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. Do I see them as my bread and butter? Not really. I love writing them and enjoy the characters but I’ve realized some things also:
1. I should not put all my eggs in the bloody elf basket. I want to write more mainstream fantasy as well, branch out into urban fantasy, and see where that takes me.
2. Niche fiction tends to strive on meeting people halfway. I don’t think this means I need to dial anything back, but I do think it means my fiction has to resemble something familiar to connect with more readers.
3. Niche fiction is not going to make you an Amazon Top Bestseller Hot Damn Person of the Year overnight. Not usually anyway. It’s a slow grind and it has to be writing you love doing. I know I love writing Splatter Elf, so that’s all that matters. (Aww!)
6. Maybe You Should Shift Your Focus?
Now I’m only doing short stories right now, but I’ve had people ask if a novel is on the horizon. I assume so, as I’ve planned some Splatter Elf novels in the past, but none have come to fruition yet. Perhaps if I put a longer work out there (which was my plan from the beginning), then people will go back and pick up the short stories also. I’ve had other people tell me multiple times they’d like to see Splatter Elf as a comic or graphic novel. This is another idea I’m entertaining. And one of the most exciting things that has happened as of late is that an indie gaming company has approached me about designing a full-blown Splatter Elf tabletop RPG.
All of these things make me think, “Maybe I should focus less on short stories and more on getting these other things going.” However, I’m the kind of person that takes one thing at a time. I’m excited about the prospects of my little niche series getting a wider fanbase from other forms of media. If you’re finding your niche fiction isn’t gaining traction in your chosen form, consider trying others and see how they turn out. Who knows, that could be your defining moment! (Tell me if this works. That would kick ass.)
All in all, writing niche fiction definitely has to be your passion. It also can find a solid, loyal audience if you stick with it and keep plugging away. A good piece of advice that I’ve seen come up several times is that the best way to promote yourself is to keep writing. I plan on it. I’ve yet to splatter my last elf. (Damn, how many times have I said Splatter Elf in this article. Subliminal message much?)
What do you think about niche fantasy fiction? Have you dabbled in writing something that you weren’t sure would find an audience? Share your experiences in the comments below!