I’ll Buy Yours, If You Buy Mine?

“Hey girl, when are you gonna pick up your copy of my book?” wrote the author-turned publisher. I looked at the note in my inbox like a dog looks at his master when he wants praise for chewing up a new shoe.

She was kidding me, right? Why the heck would I buy her book when I had my own book for sale and at the same price? Plus, I’m an avid reader of Sci-Fi/Supernatural/Thrillers, not urban fiction romance. She would have known that if she would have bothered to read my Myspace profile page.

I wrote back, “Sure, when you pick up my book.” She wrote, “I’m sorry, I thought you were my friend Mel from North Carolina. Good luck with your book.” “Thanks, you too,” I offered.

She knew good, and well, I wasn’t “Mel from North Carolina.” But I knew she was a writer who suffered from the same affliction most author-publishers suffer from:  “I don’t know my readers.”

Market Segmentation

Possibly this lack of business planning is reaching epidemic proportions in the Literati because an author is an artist, a creative type who may or may not have a proclivity for business. Therefore, the last thing on the creative entrepreneur’s mind is pinpointing a group of people with similar wants and needs that may want your product.

In fact, most entrepreneurs suffer from the same syndrome and fail to acquire enough customers to keep them in business. Does that mean there aren’t enough prospects? Heck no! There are 300 million people here in the United States alone, and that’s plenty of prospects.

What? Did someone say all those people can’t be considered prospects? By Jove, you got it. No one’s market consists of 300 million people in the US unless she sells the air we breathe. Therefore, why do most entrepreneurs think that they can sell to anyone in-ear or eye-shot of their pitch? They can’t. They can only sell to people who are receptive to their product.

Target Market

There are two ways to find out which prospects will buy your product; knock on many doors and ask to make a sale or figuratively prepare a buffet, set the table, and see who shows up hungry.  You may not know what your dinner guests need to eat, but you know what they want.  In this case, they want to satisfy their hunger.    Now that you have the home-field advantage, you can find out your guests’ wants and needs through observation and communication.

In determining who will most likely buy your product (in this scenario, your book), you must first determine:

  • What problem does my book solve? (My heroine shows the reader how to mend a broken heart)
  • Why does my book solve that problem? (Although my book’s heroine problem is universal, her solution is unique.)
  • Who has this problem?  (The jilted lover)
  • How does my book help the prospects? (My heroine gives the book-buying jilted lover an adventure and how to heal)
  • Where can prospects go to get this help? (My books’ platform should be the ideal destination)
  • When can prospects expect relief from their problem?  (Once the prospect buys and reads the book.)

If you’re not interested in making a full-blown strategic marketing proposal, at least answer those questions.

You’ll quickly learn:

  • Who are your likely customers?
  • Where your customers “live” metaphorically speaking.
  • How to develop a relationship with your prospects so you can get your product in front of them.
  • If your book can satisfy your prospects’ needs.
  • If your customers will buy again and refer your books to friends.

When you determine who your book helps, it will reveal other businesses already helping the group.  This information will allow you to form a partnership and go through the back door to sell to their ready-made market. Also, your research will reveal your competition and under the right conditions. Those competitors could become allies.

Social Selling

Finally, once you know who is in your audience, you’ll know how to communicate with them. You’ll know what they want and need and how you can be of assistance in helping them get it.

The latter is the foundation to developing a solid relationship with your customers and potential stakeholders, those who will eventually form a sustainable network for your book business.

(c) 2009 MH

Update 2016: As for the author-turned-publisher I mentioned initially, I heard she now has a thriving publishing business. I didn't say knocking on many doors doesn't work - it just may take longer.

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