A big part of building an audience for your fiction is knowing how to make a story stand out in a crowded market. There is so much advice that says write ‘what you know’ and ‘write what you love’. But you also can’t ignore the market entirely, especially if you dream of being a publishing success. The good news is you can make your story stand out with market-ready writing that doesn’t just follow a formula:
Remember how self-publishing and traditional publishing differ
First, keep in mind that the worlds of self-published and traditionally published fiction differ. Many readers read only one type of book or the other. Therefore, if you know ahead of time which route you plan to use, you should focus more in your market research on books published through the means you prefer.
Choose a genre or sub-genre you’re comfortable with
In a way, you’ve been doing market research all your life. There are books you love in your favourite genres that are seen as good by many others. This gives you an idea of what type of story will appeal to your specific genre. It’s best to choose a genre that you already know well and enjoy.
Think about your chosen genre’s popularity. Many people like to read in more than one genre, and one of the decisions that you must make regards which genre is more commercially viable. You might even combine your favourite genres to plot a story that doesn’t stick to genre constraints.
Make a story stand out by having a marketable concept
Once you have an idea of what genre your novel will most likely be you need to refine your story concept. First, you should use your market research to answer two questions:
- What has been popular in your genre in the past? Knowing the genre you write in well has multiple benefits: For one, you become aware of what’s considered clichéd (fantasy fans don’t want J.R.R. Tolkien pastiches). you have a sense for what types of stories in your genre have timeless appeal, and you can write your story into a tradition.
- What’s happening in your genre now? This approach is two-fold. You need to look at what types of books are popular in your niche right now, and you also need to find out, more importantly, what agents and editors are looking for. You may be surprised to find that what seems to be ‘hot’ with readers presently is exactly what editors and agents say they are seeing too much of. This is because by the time a particular theme or topic becomes a trend, it may be too late to jump on the bandwagon.
Ensure that you are aware of what writers are doing and readers are reading. Writing fiction is not an isolated exercise (which is why joining a writing group based around your preferred genre or themes is often helpful).
Once you have formed a stronger idea of your story concept, you can begin the actual writing process. Choose an idea that you love because you need something that will sustain your interest and motivation for the length of time that it takes to complete a novel.
Try to analyze and understand trends in fiction writing
Rather than simply adapt your story concepts from books that are currently popular, consider what in particular makes those books popular. For example, in 2003, the novel The Da Vinci Code was a huge hit. You could reason that what readers wanted in 2003 were more historical novels or conspiracy stories, but also think about elements such as how a successful book is paced.
Make a story for a specific audience
Many genres, such as crime and mystery fiction, are read by a broad demographic. You might consider the age and gender of your ideal reader. This does not mean that you are only writing for that demographic, but doing so many help you focus on giving your audience a story that fulfills (or challenges) their desires.
A YA fantasy aimed at a fourteen-year-old boy might differ a great deal from one that appeals to a seventeen-year-old girl — or it might not, as the success of the Harry Potter books proved. All the same, you may want to consider a particular type of reader and how your book might be shaped to maximize appeal for that reader.
Even if you don’t think in terms of age and gender, you might focus on readers’ preferences. Are you writing a mystery novel for a reader who loves dark, gritty fiction or one who wants a cosy escapist experience? You might also think about writers who write in your genre and do some research into their readers’ interests. This may also be useful when it comes to marketing your book on social media.
While actually writing your novel, focus as much as possible on the creative process. Worrying about how to make a story a success at this stage can be a distraction and do more harm than good. However, once your book is finished, you will need to start thinking about finding a market again:
Building your story’s market: The publishing process
The fiction publishing process differs to some extent between traditionally-published and self-published books. Whichever category your book lies in, you will need to write an enticing synopsis or summary. For writers seeking traditional publishers, this is essential for pitching agents and editors. For self-published writers, it is necessary for book promotion on the Amazon marketplace or for book tours. There are useful resources online that provide synopsis and summary examples.
One of the main differences between self-publishing and finding a traditional publisher is the amount of control you will have over the cover art. Although this is an important part of how a book is marketed, it is entirely possible that an author who is being published by a large traditional publisher will have no input at all concerning cover art. Stories abound of writers distressed by the covers their books carried. Your book might have a cover that has little to do with the actual contents if someone at the publishing house feels that the book will be better positioned to sell that way.
If you use a small press, you may have more input into cover design. They may be offered a choice between several different covers or may have some input into the design idea itself.
If you are self-publishing, you’ll need to decide between designing a cover yourself or hiring a professional designer. The advantage of designing your own cover is that it is cheaper, and it can be done with a simple graphic design tool such as Canva.
If you are on a budget and have a good design eye, this might be an acceptable option. Otherwise, hire a professional who understands the principles of good layouts as well as the types of designs that sell. This sounds like it could be expensive, but you may be able to find talented artists on websites such as DeviantArt or at a nearby art school who help you for a lower fee than more experienced cover designers.
Whether you are designing the artwork or hiring someone to do it for you, do some research on the covers of books that are selling well. You should also be honest with yourself about your own design skills. If they are lacking, resist the temptation to design your cover yourself.
You’ll also need to get blurbs for your book. These make a story more enticing before the reader even opens to the front page. Blurbs are short quotes from others praising the strengths of your book. Ideally, they’re provided via well-known authors or prominent reviewers or review sites.
Make you story marketable post-publication
To make a story marketable post-publication, read up about the best ways to promote your book. This is necessary whether you are self-published or traditionally published. Self-published writers will still have to do a great deal more marketing themselves, as larger publishers have their own in-house marketing teams who organize readings and other promotion events. While traditional publishers do not do as much to market their writers as they did in the past (unless those writers are best-sellers), they often have access to bookstores and reviewers that the self-published writer does not.
Even if you land a book deal and will be published by a small or larger press, identify top review sources and make sure that advance copies of your book are sent to those places. Set up public appearances where possible, such as doing signings in local bookstores.
You might consider hiring a freelance publicist. Proceed with caution as this can be expensive. If a freelance publicist is really able to offer knowledge and access that you might not have had otherwise, it may be worthwhile. If the publicist’s approach is to set up guest blogs and reviews and some local bookstore appearances, this might be work that you can do yourself at no additional cost. A publicist will most likely have contacts you lack in this department, however.
One thing you can do to make a story more marketable is examine how other writers in your genre promote their work. Look at how successful writers balance promoting their work on social media with other avenues for making connections and networking. No one wants to feel like they are being constantly sold to on social media, even if that is ultimately the reason for your account’s existence.
Market-ready writing is an approach to writing that starts with choosing a genre and an idea and continues on through the publishing process and beyond. To make a story marketable you don’t have to slavishly stick to genre expectations and conventions, but you do need to know enough about your genre and the industry surrounding it to make savvy choices. Research can help you decide which is the best type of book to write as well as the best novel marketing strategy.
How have you gone about marketing yourself and your writing? Are there any platforms or methods you’ve found particularly helpful?