There are no shortcuts for authors to market their books. Sharon Woodhouse presents her series, "Big-Picture Ways to Think About Marketing Fiction." Read Part 1, "Maxing Out All the Themes," and Part 2, "Vitamins, Spaghetti, and Ships."
It’s my very own Nancy Drew mystery: The Case of Explosive Apple Orchard Sales. And its evidence provides a third useful big-picture way to think about marketing fiction.
At the very beginning of my foray into book publishing, a corporate executive who retired early to publish a series of hiking and biking guides told me something that registered as significant but took me years to unravel: the number one place where his books sold—to a degree that wasn’t matched elsewhere—were apple orchards.
Don’t we all want to discover such secret caches where our products fly off the shelves at a multiple of other outlets? These unexpected places where our products go home with one happy customer after another with an ease and rapidity that doesn’t happen just anywhere?
Book publishing and selling is a ridiculously tough, unforgiving business, but its natural constraints, and my efforts to beat them, continuously pushed my limits and stretched my thinking for a couple of decades plus. In those labyrinths of experimentation and rabbit holes of trial and error, in swapping stories with fellow small publishers and indie authors and in aiding clients, I eventually happened upon the secret of the apple orchard.
And it’s useful for you as a writer and seller of fiction books.
The secret of the apple orchards lies in two key things about how and when people spend money more easily than others. (There are more I’ve happened upon, but these two are useful for this particular secret.)
- People more easily spend money when they expect to spend money! That is, when they have mentally and physically allowed for the idea of money to leave their wallets. Consider how we all expect to spend money at the holidays or on vacation. As individuals, we also have our own list of circumstances in which we are more likely and more willing to part with our money.
- People more easily spend money in alignment with their goals and aspirations. In some ways, this is a subset of the above. We each have categories in which we “permit” ourselves to spend, and we account for this spending in our actual or approximate budgets and so it requires less deliberation at point of sale. The path has been lubricated.
I have a very frugal friend who barely spends at coffeeshops or bars in the U.S., but does so frequently in overseas travel. Another who is overall very thrifty, but exceedingly generous with gifts. Another who doles out the bare minimum for clothes, but opens the tap for gaming and cars.
What are these categories for you? Rather, what are these categories for your customers?
Put the above two situations together and you have an environment in which people are primed to spend money. Your books available for sale at their juncture, calmly waiting for your cash-in-hand buyers, may be more valuable to your business than three, five, or 10 other customers who, on the surface, appear to be of the same sort.
Now, we may not know for any single individual where these two vectors collide, but I have lots of data from my own company and those of other small publishers and authors I know or have worked with to say with confidence: There are three broad categories of this fruitful intersection that are worth exploring for your products.
Combine the below with inspiration from Part 1 of this series: "Maxing Out All the Themes" for an intersectional pow.
Takeaway: People readily spend money on family outings.
Why did people buy hiking and biking guidebooks at apple orchards? Because they were having an outing with their family and they had pre-planned on spending money there. Not only that, the family outing reminded them of their commitment, goal, aspiration to spend less time working and more quality time with their loved ones. They were proudly doing that now, right here at the apple orchard, the epitome of all things wholesome and decent, and purchasing a paperback full of future family outing ideas for $15.95 sealed that desire, confirmed that aspect of their identity, and gave them ideas they didn’t have for next weekend.
Where else do families go? Start your own brainstormed list with these—camping, fast-food entertainment emporiums, libraries, museums, national parks, nature centers, parks, playgrounds, school functions, state parks, trampoline acres o’ fun, waterparks …
Hobbies to the Nth
Takeaway: People readily spend money enjoying their hobbies to the nth degree.
Two words, one question. Renaissance fairs. How much money do you think diehards spend there? One word, same question: Comicon.
Your products may not fit with those crowds, but there will be crowded places with a spendy populace along the same lines where excellent customers for your wares are ready to break their piggybanks. You and/or your stuff just need to be in the room where it’s happening. Hobbyists to the nth often are not just pre-planning to spend money at such chosen events, many have been specifically saving for it. It may even be a line item in their budget.
Two books I’m familiar with sold at historical re-enactment events. Just Add Water: Making the City of Chicago (a Chicago history for kids filled with fun, history-themed outing ideas for parents) did a brisk business at frontier day-style events. Civil War re-enactors turned out their pockets for The Hoofs & Guns of the Storm (a guidebook based on Civil War history) at museum shops and historical societies that regularly hosted dress-up and pretend events.
Where else do hobbyists to the nth go? Begin your brainstorming with these—contests, conventions, fan events, festivals, hobby shops, special exhibits, theme weekends …
Takeaway: People readily spend money on their quirky goals and fantasies.
My friend Mary had a cottage industry for years, well over a decade, promoting a glossy, full-color book of photos and feel-good, crazy anecdotes—giving talks, and hosting tours on The Best Christmas Decorations in Chicagoland. It moved well in many places, but it sold gangbusters at an iconic local holiday live-tree, lights, and decorations store—a place that in itself was a holiday destination tradition for families across a tri-county area due to its own over-the-top displays and probably cookies and Santa appearances, too.
People arrived there 1) primed to spend, 2) with family members, 3) at the holidays, and 4) touched, if only temporarily, by the idea that they, too, were prepared to turn the outside of their home into a vision of sugar plums extravaganza. More than a few went home with a book that boosted the dream of a dazzling display of their very own.
We all have wacky projects, stretch goals, and unrequited fantasies of our own that we throw a few bucks at regularly. Where are these places for your natural customers?
Where else do people go on the boulevard of yet-to-be? Kick off your brainstorms with these, keep your imagination trained on your customers and what they’re looking for in addition to a jar of strawberry rhubarb jam, craft gin, or hand-knit sweaters at art shows, conventions, country fairs, music festivals, quaint towns, specialty stores, tourist traps …
People more readily spend money …
- when they expect to, and
- in alignment with their goals and aspirations
There are at least three fruitful places where these two key threads intersect, often creating the opportunity for exponential sales for the products available at such junctures …
- family outings,
- hobbies to the nth, and
- quirky goals
Your job is to brainstorm the sites of overlap for your books, your author events, and your customers and fans, and start testing them out.
Next up, Analyzing One's Own Reading/Book Buying Habits ...
*Feature photo by Ron Lach (Pexels)
Learn more about indie book marketing with our Symposium session by Leila Siddiqui, a book marketer at Simon & Schuster—Marketing for Indie Authors.