All of the marketing books I’ve read keep repeating the message that novels are much harder to sell than non-fiction books. People buy non-fiction books because they need them, but they buy novels because they want them. That’s true enough. With a non-fiction book you’ve got (or should have) a well-defined target market and you should know exactly how and where to reach them. But with a novel the market is often a little more vague and harder to pinpoint. So let’s see what we can do to fix this unhappy situation.
Most novels feature at least one major issue that you can tie into. For example, if one of your main characters had an abusive childhood, that gives you a tie-in to talk about child abuse – in articles, interviews, talks, links with support groups, websites, forums, newsletters, and much more.
That’s just one little hook, but you can add dozens or even hundreds of them in a single story, covering all sorts of things: illnesses, cruelty, victims of crime, green energy, politics, particular sports, or whatever interests you enough to make you want to talk and write about it. You can pack your novel with hooks and create links to a wide range of markets.
You still need to convince people that your book is something they want, of course. But with enough hooks you can make it something that they would want, since it relates directly to them.
If your hero belongs to a particular organisation, or works in a particular industry, those are hooks. You can now contact those organisations and tell them about your book, offer to give talks, or see if they’ll buy a bulk shipment for their managers, staff, clients, or to sell as part of their product range or to use as a fundraiser. You might even let them put their own logo on the cover if they buy enough copies.
You can add hooks that target the markets you can reach most easily. Let’s say the crooks in your story hide out in a hotel. But which hotel? The biggest hotel in town, of course! Now the hotel will help you promote and sell your book. In fact you could help things along by visiting the manager before you even write the book and asking him if he’s happy for you to stage the big shootout there. He’s almost certain to agree, and once your book is published he can mention it in all his publicity materials – as featured in [name of your novel]. And he can sell copies to his guests, or put one in every room for his guests to take home. “We actually stayed in the hotel in the story,” they’ll say proudly, thus promoting both your book and the hotel at the same time.
Think about your readers – or even conduct a short survey: who are they, what do they do, where do they live, where do they gather, what groups do they belong to, where do they shop, where do they go on holiday, what do they care strongly about? Now do exactly the same for your own life, interests and connections. The answers will give you plenty of hooks for your story.
You can also find hooks just by keeping your eyes open: look at all those people over there – that must be a popular place, I could put that in my book.
Not every organisation will be interested of course, but many of them will. More than enough to make it worth your while. And once your novel proves successful you’ll probably find some of those people who turned you down initially wanting to get involved after all. You might decide to only include in the story those that agree to take part from the outset. Think carefully about doing this though, as some of your biggest potential markets might turn you down initially, or delay replying, but later agree to take part. Alternatively, see if you can find a replacement of equivalent size, so that if one turns you down you can feature the other one.
Don’t forget online places too. Perhaps your crooks post a coded message on one of the biggest websites. The website can then put a “Buy the Book” link on their homepage, mention it in their newsletter, and so on.
Compromising your integrity? Compromising the story? Not at all. After all, the big shootout needs to take place somewhere. Why not there? Does it really have to happen in a place you can’t profit from?
When you’re a bestselling novelist and millions of people buy your new book simply because it exists, you can set your shootouts anywhere you like. But until that happy day you’ve got to create a market for your work and continually build upon it. That means whatever you can do now (without compromising the story or your integrity) you should do.
Make some lists of people, businesses, organisations, places, professions, hobbies, pastimes, illnesses, animals, sports, causes, connections, and so on, and think about how you could build them into your story. What could you do to promote or connect to each of these things, and how would they help to promote your book?
Your detective is also a great cook? Perfect – you can give cookery demonstrations and tasting sessions (and even sell some cookery books) based on her favourite recipes. That should liven up those dull book signings. (Book signings should never be dull by the way, but that’s a separate article).
Her child has been diagnosed with something nasty? Now you’re in the perfect position to become a high-profile spokesperson for fellow sufferers and raise awareness of their plight. Naturally, you’ll donate some of the profits from your book and perhaps organise some other fundraising events to help them – and make sure it gets very good press coverage.
If you want to write something potentially scandalous – as in the hotel example above – then it’s a good idea to seek permission before you write it. But if it won’t harm their business or reputation, you’ll find that most people are good sports and can see the promotional opportunities in what you’re doing – especially if you point them out!
So while a non-fiction book usually covers just one subject, a novel can cover hundreds, and all of them are potential markets. If you write the book with the market in mind right from the start, selling novels should be at least as easy as selling non-fiction, and potentially far more lucrative.
[For more information on selling novels and non-ficton books, look out for Dave Haslett’s forthcoming book “The Fastest Way to Sell Your Book”, to be published by ideas4writers, summer 2008]
About the author
Dave Haslett is the founder of ideas4writers, the ideas and inspiration website, and i4w2, the ethical publishing service. If you’d like to write 10 full-length books per year and change your life forever, check out Dave’s book “The Fastest Way to Write Your Book”. Lifetime ideas4writers membership with every copy!
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Dave Haslett, ideas4writers, www.ideas4writers.co.uk