Edit: Since writing this blog article, I've learned that John Locke left one crucial fact out of his marketing plan, which is that he paid for reviews. Given what I know about the Amazon ecosystem, I'm guessing this had a much greater impact on his sales than his blogging ever did. So please take the post with a grain of salt.
Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful comments on author blogging and whether or not it’s a good use of time. If you haven't already, you might want to drop by.
As a quick recap, my beef with author blogging is that writers rarely keep target audience in mind. They’re writing fiction for kids, thriller lovers, or [insert some other reader profile], but they turn around and blog exclusively for writers.
Why do writers do this? My guess is because it's hard to define a target audience in fiction, and even harder to figure out how to reach that audience with blog entries. And what works for one author might not work for another author’s audience.
Which was why I was intrigued to hear about a generalizable, “target audience” focused approach to blogging for fiction writers. And because the person presenting this plan was John Locke, self-publishing hero and first indie author to reach one million sales on Kindle, I listened.
Locke shares several strategies for launching e-books via social media in his ebook How I Sold 1 Million Kindle Books in Five Months, but what got me was his focus on target audience. Locke defines his target audience more precisely than most novelists. I think of my target audience as teenage girls, or more specifically, teenage girls who like Tamora Pierce and Kristin Cashore. Locke takes it a step further, working up a detailed psychological profile -- who they are and what they like about his stories. In his book, he writes a profile of the readers in his popular Donovan Creed series.
I'll attempt similar workup of my own target audience here:
My target audience consists of young women, from high school through early 20s. They read to be transported to other worlds, and they actively seek sword and sorcery with female protagonists. They like to read about – for lack of a better term -- girls kicking butt. My readers are attracted to strong, larger than life heroines, and they like reading about my main character Kyra because of the cool things she can do. They’d love to be Kyra for a day or two. My readers shy away from situations that are too cut and dry. They're drawn to moral complexity, hard decisions, and inner conflict. They like a heroine with a dark side (no Pollyanna heroines please), but they still expect good to triumph in the end. My readers want fast-paced action and adventure, with high stakes and lots of plot twists. They don't want to be bogged down with things like setting details and overly flowery prose.
How do I know this about my target audience? It's a combination of knowing the kind of story I want to write and listening to the feedback I've gotten from my beta readers. In every group of beta readers, there will be readers who love your book, and readers who hate it. Look for the beta readers who really loved the story, and listen to what they have to say. For more ideas about what to ask your beta readers, see my beta reading series.
Once you have your psychological profile, you can come up with themes that resonate with your target audience. In my case, it might be girls kicking butt, larger-than-life heroes, and tough moral decisions. And you’d would write a blog post that encapsulated these themes. The idea is that you write blog posts that resonate with your target audience, making them curious to read your book.
Locke has written several of these blog posts, aimed at target audiences for his two series. Here's one example post titled Why I Love Joe Paterno and My Mom. It's aimed at the target audience for his Donovan Creed series, which touches on many themes, including everyday heroes, humor, and a strong woman.
Locke credits the majority of his sales to thesese blog posts, many of which went viral. Readers identified with them and shared them with their friends, and many ended up buying his books. I find his idea of viral marketing intriguing, and I’m curious as to how to generalizable it is. My own experience with blogging has been that it's very hard to predict what will go viral. I can probably guess with above-chance accuracy whether a blog will do well, but there’s a huge amount of uncertainty. Sometimes I’ll slave away at a blog post for days, just to have it fall flat, while other times I'll dash off a throwaway post that gets an enthusiastic response. In fact, I only have one blog post that truly went viral, and I actually thought was very mundane when I was writing it. That'd be an interesting study -- see how good bloggers are at predicting a post's success, and see how much that prediction accuracy increases with experience.
Locke does give the blog posts a push with what he calls Loyalty Transfer. He looks for people on Twitter who are interested in the topic he blogs about, and reaches out to them, eventually sharing his blog post with them after he’s built a connection. For the blog post mentioned earlier, he’d look for people tweeting about Joe Paterno. Again, target audience. Looking for people who will resonate with your posts. My hunch here is that you need to be genuinely invested in the conversations you strike up for this to work. If not, I can see links falling flat, or even getting in trouble with Twitter terms of service for spamming.
All in all, Locke presents an interesting approach to blogging as a way to sell fiction, and it's definitely worth taking a look for an in-depth case study of one author’s (very) successful marketing strategy.
Now you tell me. What is your target audience like, and how might you reach them?
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