An American Editor

September 30, 2022

Thinking Fiction: Finding Your Audience

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 11:16 am
Tags: , , , ,

© Carolyn Haley, Fiction Columnist

Anyone who writes fiction and is serious about publishing it has surely seen advice from many “gurus” about how to sell their work.

The core concept is something most of us have heard in different areas for all our adult lives. In general business: Get the right product or service into the right people’s hands. In traditional publishing, it’s more specific: the right book on the right person’s desk on the right day. Indie fiction publishing broadens it to: the right book in front of the right genre audience.

Finding that audience is a challenge. I’m still not sure how to do it after many years, especially since I write cross-genre novels. But one day, I accidentally received a clue from out in left field.

It came through Facebook. I use this social media platform only for personal interaction, not for business promotion. Well, not 100% true. On the occasions that I get a nice review, win an award, or run a promotion, I post it on my personal page and get a handful of “Likes” (but usually zero book sales in response).

In comparison, my cat postings get from 20 to 50 Likes per photo or story. When I post more-serious subjects, rarely two or three respond, and usually the same folks. For interesting general subjects, perhaps 10 to 30 will react.

But then …


My spouse chanced upon a Facebook enthusiasts group for B-17 Flying Fortress WWII bombers. This is an interest we share, and we’ve had many interesting and intense experiences related thereto, so we joined the group.

Sharing our stories and photographs with them instantly brought tens to dozens of Likes, many Shares, and lots of miscellaneous Comments. Wow! Best response either of us has ever received for our postings on any subject. Cool!

Then I posted a photograph of myself peeking out the cockpit window of the B-17 that I arranged to visit at our local airport. It was a big deal on several levels and took four years to achieve. But what astonished me was how big a deal it was to other people. Over the course of a week, that posting received more than 800 Likes, two dozen Comments, and a dozen and a half Shares before it flattened out.

Holy moley! Who’d’ve THUNK???

The big question is: Why?

The surface answer is obvious: I delivered the right content to the people who most want to see it.

The same phenomenon occurred when we hosted the B-17 itself at our local airport in 2019. That turned into the biggest event ever to happen in the entire state aviation system. Not only that, our event was the fifth most successful on the plane’s national tour that year. Amazing for our little city of ±20,000 people! We moved 3,500+ of them through the aircraft on the ground, and flew 150+ of them in the plane, all of whom paid many dollars for the privilege.

That event remains my greatest personal success. The Facebook repeat on the micro scale with Likes reflects the same thing. In both cases, I never saw it coming. I never even tried for it. But I’m party to the proof of the sales bottom line: Give people what they want and they will respond positively.

We see this over and over in literature and entertainment with genres and tropes. People buy what they want to read/see/listen to/experience. My B-17 story illustrates the importance of identifying a receptive audience. I’ve known this intellectually forever, but to actually see it and experience it, albeit in the “wrong” context, has driven home the lesson more effectively than anything else.

It doesn’t solve my fiction marketing problem, because I still don’t know how to find the audience for my mixed-genre novels. But now I understand the value of identifying audience in a way I didn’t before.

The aircraft experience raises new literary questions. Should I write an aviation romance or adventure featuring B-17s? No, this Facebook audience is into historical nonfiction, as are most enthusiasts we’ve encountered elsewhere. Am I qualified to write nonfiction about the B-17 that hasn’t been covered already? No.

What is it about the image of my little head peeking out of the cockpit that triggered such a warm reaction? Is it simply because it’s cute? Or because I’m female in a predominantly male context? Is it because so few people alive today — especially civilians — have the privilege of being in that position?

Should I write an article about how I got to be in that position? Would the same 800+ people care? Would any folks outside this particular Facebook group care? Would a full-length novel about the experience be interesting to anyone? Do I want to bother?

The answer to these questions is likely, or certainly, to be no.

So what does the experience actually teach me? And how could AAE readers benefit as well?

Time to go back to the starting line. My new perspective — frosting on the cake of studies about marketing and promotion — has moved me to look at my novels from a different angle. This would be problematic if the books were traditionally published. Initially, two out of three of them were, but years ago, when those contracts expired, I took back the rights and self-published the same material in new packages.

Now I have full control of what my covers look like, what my blurbs say, and how I place the novels in the marketplace. I can change all of these elements, as well as revise or rewrite the novels, any time I want.

The unrelenting reality for indie authors is “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” My B-17 Facebook surprise has motivated me to try yet again, rather than settle for “whatever.” I’m feeling my mind stretch in a way it hasn’t before. I’m agitated by ambition I haven’t felt before. All because 800+ people I don’t know and will never meet, in an arena I considered secondary in my life, surprised the heck out of me with their vigorous response to my accidentally giving them what they want!

How have AAE readers reconsidered and revamped your marketing efforts, whether as author or editor? Feel free to comment!

Carolyn Haley is an award-winning novelist who lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of three novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1997 and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She also reviews for the New York Journal of Books, and has presented about editing fiction at Communication Central conferences. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.net or through DocuMania.

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2 Comments »

  1. Thank you for another useful contribution to the world of editing fiction.

    Like

    Comment by An American Editor — September 30, 2022 @ 11:19 am | Reply

  2. Now I’m interested in seeing your B-17 photo!

    I’d be willing to bet there are other authors and readers out there who write or read the same cross-genre work you write, so maybe there is an unmet need for an online interest group out there, if one doesn’t yet exist.

    Like

    Comment by Kerrie Schurr — October 7, 2022 @ 10:59 am | Reply


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