Do you want to sell more books?
In a recent online discussion, an author observed that when you write books on different topics, each with its own audience, it’s hard to build up a fan base.
She’s right. She was referring to nonfiction, but many novelists have this problem, too. They write books in multiple genres and have to start from scratch with the marketing when they move into a new category. For example, they might write a science fiction book, then shift to poetry before moving on to steampunk.
This is a common situation. These writers follow their muse or interests. They’re not interested in focusing on one topic, genre, or audience. They write what they want to write about. Fair enough. But they’re often the people who complain the loudest that their book sales aren’t what they think they should be. I’ve got a two-step solution for them.
Step 1: Sell more books by going pro
Write an excellent book and package it so that it looks like it’s traditionally published.
If you’re still designing your own covers and not hiring an editor and a proofreader, I’ve got no sympathy for ya. We do judge books by their covers. Yours has to look great. In addition, the book must read well, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, and be error-free.
Step 2: Sell more books by focusing
Stop writing about whatever nonfiction topic appeals to you and stop changing fiction genres.
Instead, write more books on your favorite nonfiction topic. Write either a fiction series or several books in the same genre. Don’t write a book about how to train a pet therapy dog, then move along to cooking with quinoa and later to 100 exercises with a stretch band. Similarly, don’t write a historical novel and follow it with a vampire romance before trying your hand at children’s books. While there might be some audience overlap, for the most part, you’ll need to find a completely new audience for each book. Pick one and stick with it.
Here’s what will happen. When you write more books on a single topic, stay within a single genre, or write a series, each book becomes a gateway to your other books in that genre or subject area.
For example, the authors of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, first published in 1984, could have stopped there. They wanted to write the book they couldn’t find in stores, and they did it. Done! But given that book’s remarkable success (in 2007, USA Today ranked it as one of the 25 most influential books of the past 25 years), if they had stopped with one book, they wouldn’t have enjoyed their current empire. That first book led to the “What to Expect” book series, an income-producing website, and a major motion picture. The women who read What to Expect When You’re Expecting 30 years ago went on to buy and read What to Expect the First Year, What to Expect the Second Year, and so on. As their babies grew, so did the “What to Expect” backlist. That purchasing pattern continues today.
And what if J.K. Rowling had stopped at Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone?
I’m sure you get the point: If your books are good, fans want to read more of them. So why are you letting them down by switching to a new topic or genre? Why aren’t you giving them more of what they want? Why aren’t you building a fan base that will buy more of your books?
“You don’t understand.”
This is where many of you are feeling a little annoyed with me and thinking, “You don’t understand.”
Oh, but I do! I understand that you can’t expect to to sell more books if you aren’t willing to do what it takes to make that happen. And how do you do that?
Scroll up to Step 1 and Step 2
After you’ve built up a substantial following and the books you wrote for a single, focused audience are selling well, you can consider shifting to a completely new topic or genre. The income you’ll generate from selling several books to one audience will help underwrite your work to reach a different audience. Follow the same procedure — Steps 1 and 2 — before moving along again.
It’s all about achieving success by focusing on one topic, audience, or genre long enough to have a backlist of books that will sell well before writing for a different market.