Find YOUR Niche Market – Part 1

So much has happened since we began this amazing and wonderful journey of writing and publishing books. In 1998, when I published my husband’s first novel, I had no clue what publishing or marketing was all about and my self-confidence level was pretty low. All that changed pretty quickly as we found the best way to sell our book(s). This post tells you what our experience has been; I hope it helps to give you some ideas. Relate it to your circumstances and never hesitate to ask your friends or family if they would like to help. Ask them if they would like to read your new book while you’re in the later editing process. We rarely had time to do this but it could be vitally important to your success. Later, you may find someone to help you with markets/shows or webpages etc.

Today we’re in the 16th year of the life of our micro-publishing company, Whitlands Publishing, and I still need to assure myself that yes, we have written and published 12 novels, of which I am author/coauthor of 5 of them. I have also produced 4 audio books (2 of which I narrated).  Three of these novels are Canadian bestsellers (my husband’s) and in 2007 and 2008 we won IPPY (Independent Publisher) Gold Medal Awards for our region of Canada West (half of Canada). This is not only a writing award but a publishing award as well and important enough to enter. Now, many people in the industry tell me that all this makes me an expert in the field!

Our niche in books is mainly historical adventure but the marketing niche we developed was, and still is, a not-often-used method … by virtually standing on the street at outdoor markets and/or indoors craft/info or trade shows. We merely talk our fool heads off about our great books and attempt to persuade people to buy them.

“Who has time to do this?” You ask. Writers need to spend all their spare time writing, after all you are a writer not a marketer. Well, in our case, that’s where I came in because I was able to sell at some of the small markets and have time to do all the rest of it … editing, publishing, website, retail, online and other marketing. Farmer’s Markets and summer markets have been so successful for us, they became our ‘niche market’ and it was more lucrative than the uncertainty and short season of retail sales. We live in a tourist city and, although the early years were somewhat better for us prior to the recent years of worldwide economic problems, these summer/winter markets and shows remain our best avenue for sales. It became obvious that Robert had the necessary personality for this … he is confident, outgoing and pleasant, enjoying talking about his books and history to anyone who will listen. He is also probably his own greatest fan having read each of his own books numerous times since they were published!

In the early years, it got easier with each new book, now it often takes too long to talk about all of them. Winning an award really helped too. It was easy for Robert to talk about history, he’d lived it in England for the first 35 years of his life, for me it didn’t come as easily. After 14 years I still have to force myself to relax and just enjoy talking to people. I’m not as good at it as Robert, never will be, but then he’s The Man! A Tip: Don’t think too hard on ‘selling,’  just enjoy the conversation and then ask if you can sign a copy for them. Many will be surprised because it hasn’t sunk in that you are the actual author, then they usually become more interested!

Another way to look at your Niche Market is … who is going to buy your book? Is it male, female, boy, girl, young, old. The trick is then getting to them. For us, markets enabled us to have contact with some youngsters but mainly adults of all ages. They liked the books and realized they would be good for the younger members of the family partly due to their lack of gratuitous sex and violence.

I haven’t mentioned our schedule of markets/shows, but we do a lot of them. When you find something that works for you, you need to milk it and we did just that. Robert now regularly has his photo taken with the people who buy his books. You will be wondering when Robert has time to write. For the first few years he became prolific, writing quickly, and selling days were minimal. Then it got busier with a spring/summer market (Bastion Square) that went from April-October. By the end of the first summer, we knew this NICHE of summer markets was working for us despite having only one book. A few years later our schedule got busier and Robert only had 3 months of undisturbed writing in a year, but somehow he managed to churn out enough books for me to edit and publish year after year. When fans want something you make every effort to get it for them, if it is at all possible … after all this is a business.

Who would have thought it possible and, personally, I think a lot of people (friends and family) were afraid to encourage us because they thought we were going to fall flat on our faces. But they didn’t count on the talent, love and support of the one person that mattered … my husband, author J. Robert Whittle. Writing his first novel in his early 60s after never even thinking about writing, was the first miracle, that he was good at it was the second, and my interest was the third! After publishing his third novel in 1998 (the first 2 are not published yet), together we have managed to survive in this tough business for 15 years so far! (many more details on his Bio Page)

This blog entry is already feeling like a therapy session, but I want to illustrate that it really doesn’t take a lot of money, knowledge or support from those we know and love. We had only enough money to print the first book … but it was enough to get us started. In 1998, with the Internet in its early days, we had little knowledge, but we sure learned fast once people started buying that first book! We don’t recommend being as ill-prepared as we were, things have changed and there’s a lot more competition and information now. All the early support came from each other … and that turned out to be enough too because our fans soon became very encouraging, even demanding! If I can do it in my 50s and 60s, anyone can tackle writing and marketing a book. There are so many instructional websites, forums and groups on the internet today … check out Facebook and LinkedIn as well … or Google it!

Now don’t get me wrong, many people think that we’re making a ton of money because we’re so successful. How we wish! Sales have been great but self-publishing means you pay all your own expenses. With all our printing (no ebooks until recently), show registrations, two vans and travel expenses (many are away and we live on an island), this became a labour of love that gave us something to look forward to everyday – more than many people can say. Today we are very close to retirement but we’ll still keep boxes of books handy and do smaller markets as we’re able. We’ll also never stop enjoying the comments our readers tell us about how much enjoyment we’ve brought to their lives.

But back to writing and publishing. “Don’t quit your day job” is a popular expression told to writers and we feel that it continues to be very sensible advice.

So GOOD LUCK until next time. (Part 2 will follow soon).