Know Your Market (Selling Ice Creams to Eskimos)

interior-of-market-hallRetailers are all about getting the right product to the right people. That means product placement, advertising, enticement. It means making what you’re selling easily identifiable and appealing to those people who want to buy it.

Books are no different.  We, as writers, are not retailers, but in many ways we still have to get our product under the noses of the right people – those  who want to invest their time and money in what we’ve produced.  Whether our buyer is an end-user, distributor or manufacturer, we have to make sure the person we present it to actually wants to buy it.

This can be a problem if the writer isn’t really sure what kind of book they’re writing.  In fairness, many books start out as ideas or abstract concepts the writer wants to explore, and then becomes something more substantial.  Other times the writer isn’t all that clear about genre types and their idiosyncratic conventions. In general, many writers aren’t really sure about the expectations of their market in the first place.

Is it important?

You bet it is. It matters on every single level.  It matters in terms of style, content, and conventions.  It matters depending on which country it’s going to be marketed.  It matters according to what agent or publisher you have in mind.  It matters.

Not knowing what your reader likes and expects can be a major downfall.

For instance, if a British writer had notions of writing for an American market, they need to know that blaspheming is frowned on, but swearing is more accepted.  Switch that around and an American writer will discover that blaspheming is barely noticed by a British reader, but swearing is received with dismay. When a writer is aiming for a particular market, they need to know such details up front, before they start writing.  That way their protagonists don’t grate on their reader by swearing or blaspheming inappropriately.

Historically, agents and publishers weeded such novels out before they got anywhere near the bookshop, but that traditional mode of publishing has now been side-swiped by the vast number of self-published novels hitting the market.  I can only applaud this development, but without the expertise of an agent, who can advise about market acceptability and expectation, a self-published novelist is on their own.  Not knowing what your reader likes and expects can be a major downfall.

Much can be gained by reading other books available in that genre or market.  If you read enough of it you get to the point where knowing what readers of a particular type expect is almost sub-conscious. However, if you’re experimenting with a different genre, or expect to sell in a different market, than you’re used to, knowing what it wants from you is vital.  ‘Different market’ can include age and sex, as well as genre and country – young adults want a different reading experience from mature women or ex-soldiers.

This might sound incredibly obvious, but the evidence is that a surprising number of writers out there on the self-published market don’t understand, or respect, the conventions of the market.  This is fine up to a point, and that point is, do they want their novel to actually sell?  When you extrapolate that a high proportion of those novels have been submitted to agents and rejected, then it really does matter.  Obviously there aren’t enough agents to go round, and this is the reason most get rejected, but missing the market doesn’t help.

It’s so important, then, when setting out on a new writing project, to have a clear idea of which market you’re writing for, and what it expects from a novel or short story.  It’s a fundamental element of writing fiction, and one most of us take for granted.





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