Guest Post by Irene Watson
Just because you publish a book doesn’t mean anyone will want to read it. Just like everyone else, readers want to know, “What’s in it for me?” before they spend their time and money. No matter what kind of book you are writing, if you want to sell it, you need to make it relevant to what currently matters to your potential readers.
A common mistake authors make is that they write a book first and think about how they will market it after it’s finished.
Instead, once an author has an idea for a book, he needs to ask himself the question, “Who will want to read this book? And why will anyone care?” Unfortunately, when I ask authors who will want to read their books, too often I hear, “Oh, everyone will like this book” or “Everyone should read this book.” It’s a big surprise for most authors when they realize that a large percentage of the public do not buy or read books (about 80 percent of the U.S. population according to the most recent figures). In addition, most authors don’t realize that their book will have to compete with about one million other books being published every year. In short, authors need to answer these questions beforehand to ensure their books have a market, they know what that market is, and they know how to reach that market.
How does an author make sure the reading public will want to read his or her book? By making the book relevant to potential readers. How do you make it relevant? By writing about issues that readers care about or current hot topics.
Let’s take well-known author James Michener as an example. Michener had a knack for writing big epic historical novels about specific places. A short list of his many titles include: “Hawaii,” “Poland,” “Texas,” and “Space.” His novel “Hawaii” was published in the late 1950s just as Hawaii was about to become a state, so people wanted to learn more about the future state, resulting in the book becoming a bestseller. Great timing. Michener managed to keep that great timing going throughout his career. His novel “Poland” was published in 1983, in the years when Poland was undergoing political turmoil that would eventually lead in 1989 to Poland shaking off Communism to become a democratic country. Poland was constantly in the news during those years, so it piqued people’s interest and they decided to read Michener’s novel. Again, great timing.
Many other authors will pick a relevant topic in the news and write about it. Anniversary events always generate book sales—on April 15, 2012, we marked the one hundredth anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking; it is estimated that some 100 books were published in the last year to commemorate its sinking. Other popular topics in the news that concern millions of people might include bullying in school, teaching children how to eat healthy foods, what the U.S. needs to do to handle its staggering national debt, Internet dating, corruption in politics, gay marriage, prayer in school, how to be prepared when a tornado hits, global warming, and even the future of 3-D movies.
Too often, authors tell me, “I don’t watch the news.” Then they end up in their interviews talking about their writing process. While talking about writing interests other writers, most readers are not writers so you will lose most of your potential readers by not telling them why your book is relevant to them. Find a way to make your book relevant. You don’t have to watch the evening news every night, but you can go online and do a little research and talk to people you know to find out what they are interested in and what currently most concerns them.
Even if you are a fiction writer, your book can still be relevant. Your romance novel could be about Internet dating or arranging a marriage with a woman from the Ukraine. Your mystery novel could have a political bent—a plan by the crooks to steal money from the Social Security Fund. Your thriller might include CIA agents hiring prostitutes in a foreign country, and then you can talk in interviews about how you based that on the true story of secret service men hiring prostitutes in Colombia in the spring of 2012. Your main character’s love interest could be a Nascar driver, which will allow you to reach racing fans, or at least their girlfriends. Even your fantasy novel you can discuss as a satire or thinly disguised allegory for current world politics.
Authors can find a lot of ways to make their books relevant to the reading public. They just need to remember it’s not about them or their book—it’s about what readers have to gain from the book. No matter how wonderful a writer you may be, reading your book is not the major concern of your readers. They are far more concerned with paying their bills, putting their children through college, making sure their children aren’t bullied, caring for an elderly parent, worrying about the sister who was just diagnosed with cancer, how to get their new puppy potty-trained, wondering whether they’ll have enough money left for retirement, searching for some sort of meaning in their lives, wondering whether they are getting anything out of attending church, considering going back to school to change careers, or even trying to remember to put out the garbage tonight. Somehow, you have to show readers that your book is relevant to a life that has all those demands upon it, and that the best way to spend those few minutes of free-time they have at the end of a busy day is by reading your book.
Tell your readers how your self-help book might lead them in a new direction that will make their lives easier. Tell them how your finance book can help them to invest their money so their incomes don’t run out. Perhaps you think all your fantasy novel has to offer is escapism from their demanding lives, but perhaps that escapism also allows them to return to the real world with a new way of realizing what is really important in life and what they need to focus upon. In short, the author’s job is to help his or her readers—to make their lives better in some way.
At book signings, the most frequent question an author is asked by readers is, “What is your book about?” You can give people a standard answer, such as “It’s a love story,” or “It’s a mystery.” Or you can realize that the question people are really asking is, “Why should I read this book? What’s in it for me?” and you can have an answer ready that will sell that book.