Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Finding Your Niche: On Genre Fiction and Indie Authors

(from publishersweekly.com
By Betty Kelly Sargent)


Let’s talk genre. Whether you’re a thriller writer, a natural when it comes to love and romance, or like to spend your time exploring undiscovered galaxies, your genre can be your best friend. Some genres are hot right now and some not so hot, so let’s take a look at those that are really on fire and figure out why -- and what this could mean for you.

First of all, what is a fiction genre anyway? It is a category, a sub-set of the form of literary composition known as fiction -- literature created from the imagination, even though it may be based on fact. Traditional publishers often distinguish between literary fiction (usually more character driven) and commercial fiction (usually more plot driven). Of course, there are overlaps between these classifications, but, for the most part, genre fiction falls into the commercial category.

These days, especially in the e-book world of digital publishing, genre fiction is huge. Right now, the leading genre categories for self-published titles are: romance, science fiction, fantasy, and mystery/thriller/suspense, in that order. There is some controversy about how e-book sales are actually measured and it is difficult to come up with precise sales figures in each category, but Los Angeles-based science-fiction author Edward W. Robertson has studied the data from the Author Earnings Report, and, using a different methodology, twice come to the same conclusion, namely that “these four genres continue to comprise 70 percent of Amazon’s e-book sales, and roughly half of those sales are of self-published books." That adds up to a lot of people reading self-published genre fiction in the e-book format.

As an author, it took Robertson a few years to “get his sea legs,” he says, and at the beginning sales were slow. Now, though, he has sold over 160,000 copies of his books and his sales are getting better every year. His advice to new authors: create a series and build on each book; commission a dynamite, genre-appropriate cover; and experiment with pricing until you find what works best for you.

When we asked Hugh Howey, bestselling sci-fi author of the Wool Series, how he found his niche, he said he thinks he was just lucky. “As a kid I always felt like an outsider in my literary taste,” he says. “I thought science fiction was a narrow genre, but when I started to write I just followed my passion and it worked out better than I could have ever imagined. My goal was to write lots of books and sell 5,000 copies over my lifetime. My dad encouraged me to go for it, so go for it I did. And look what happened.”

Howey’s books have sold millions of copies. He’s considered a marketing genius, and yet remains humble about his success. “I was in the right place at the right time,” he says. “In 2009, when I published my first book, it was the beginning of the gold rush in self-publishing and the timing couldn’t have been better. But people are still having this kind of success today. Authors like A.G. Riddle are selling like crazy, and refining their marketing skills every day.” Howey’s advice to new authors: “Make a plan. Think long term. Decide to write 10 books instead of just one and then start writing -- everyday. That’s what worked for me.”

And then there are all those hugely successful romance writers, such as Laurelin Paige with her Fixed Trilogy and Amanda Hocking with her paranormal romances, just for starters.

Obviously not all indie writers enjoy this kind of success. In fact some studies suggest that the majority of self-published books sell modestly. But here’s what’s so exciting. These days, if an author’s sales are sluggish to begin with, there is a lot she can do about it. Today, as never before in the history of the book publishing business, an author can find her niche -- figure out who her readers are and connect with them. I remember once, years ago, at the weekly editorial meeting at the publishing house where I was working, suggesting that we slip a postage paid, self-addressed post card into the front of a couple of upcoming books on our list to find out who the buyer was and why they bought this book. Don’t be ridiculous was the response. We just don’t do that.

Well, now, we don’t have to. It is done for us, especially when it comes to tracking the sale of books sold online. It is a new day for authors, and no matter what your genre, or your subject matter, you can find your readers, connect with them, listen to them, learn from them, and enjoy sales you probably never dreamed were possible.

Betty Kelly Sargent is the founder of BookWorks.com