Last week I began talking about the wisdom in studying other authors’ works in order to nail a genre. This may or may not be something you are interested in, but in dealing with hundreds of clients each year who hire me to critique and edit their novels, I note that most of them 1) want to have successful sales with their books and 2) are targeting a specific genre. Some of my clients aren’t sure what genre they are writing in, or what audience they are writing for. As a result, those books are usually unfocused, awkwardly constructed, lacking clear style and voice.
I get that a lot of beginning writers are just finding their feet (or, rather, voice) and are often experimenting with writing to get some chops and see if they can just write a somewhat coherent novel. All well and good. But at some point, a writer needs to ask herself questions like “Just what do I want to do with this book?” and “Do I want to grow fans and make money from my writing?”
There is nothing wrong with writing something for fun or as an experiment or writing the story put on your heart that may be unconventional and cross genres and be hard to classify and hence difficult to sell (to an agent, publisher, or online as an indie author). A whole lot of unconventional, odd, weird, and “different” novels have sold well, so there’s no telling if your “unusual” book will sell or not. But odds are, books like that are going to be harder to sell well.
Adjusting Your Writing Style and Interests for Success
And, as I mentioned last week, it is not “selling your soul” to “adjust” what you are writing to target a specific genre or niche in order to sell well. Some of us writers actually have bills to pay like rent, utilities, college loans, car payments, and health insurance. Some of us would like to write at least a few books that make good money. If you can write books that sell and get those bills paid, you can then gift yourself with some free time to perhaps write those other books you want to write that aren’t in the big-selling genres.
That’s what I decided to do. All my novels sell to some extent. But the ones that fit in the best-selling genres on Amazon (and research has shown these are mystery/suspense, fantasy, paranormal/horror, and romance) sell way more. The novels I love to write are usually the oddball ones, with experimental structure and plots, that don’t fit into the clearly defined slots. But it’s my choice to spend my time expanding and exploring my creativity in those projects.
So, since I didn’t want to give up writing weird stuff but wanted to make some money, I decided to start writing novels that would fit the genres that sold well. I already was writing fantasy and sci-fi and suspense/mysteries. I took a few of those novels and tweaked them to fit the genres better or fit into a subgenre.
For example, I took my mostly “literary fiction” suspense novel A Thin Film of Lies (that my agent just couldn’t sell) and decided to make it a Christian/inspirational novel. I made a secondary character my protagonist, turning my female detective into the lead, and made her faith an important component of her character and work. I loved the result, and the book has seen some great success in that niche. And most importantly, I had a lot of fun rewriting this novel into one I could be proud of.
What Is “Selling Out” to You?
Did I sell out by targeting a specific subgenre of the suspense/mystery genre? No. Think about what “selling out” means to you. To me, it means doing something I don’t want to do or don’t believe in, in order to make a buck. If you can find a way to write the kinds of stories you love and structure them to fit into genres that sell well, I don’t feel that’s selling out. That’s being practical.
If you needed to get a job in the workforce and you had a certain skill set, and the best-paying jobs were in one specific field, say computer tech, and with a bit of training you could actually qualify for a job in that field, would you think you were selling out if you went for it? Maybe this would not be your dream job, but you knew you could enjoy it. And maybe in time you would be in a position to quit and do the job you really dreamed of doing.
Making the Needed Adjustment
A whole lot of people in the world make that kind of adjustment to have valuable skills in a marketplace. They train and study in order to qualify for that high-paying, steady job in the industries that are thriving and offer great benefits or a secure (if that’s possible) future for their employees. Similarly, a writer might look at those best-selling genres as the “industries” that are thriving. By writing novels that fit those genres, there is a higher chance of success in terms of sales. And the best way to get that “training” you need to fit that “job”? Study the works of successful novelists in those genres.
Understand that “learning from the masters” is a good thing. Just as aspiring painters set up their easels in museums like The Louvre and copy the works of famous painters, writers can learn some of the most important technique and structure by studying the novels of best-selling authors in the genre they want to write it. There is a huge difference between stealing someone else’s words and copying structure, as I explained last week.
Next week I’m going to talk more on ways to “deconstruct” a novel, to nail the genre. Of course, this may not be for everyone. But I believe many writers that want to make a living writing fiction can tailor their writing interests to fit into a genre and enjoy seeing those checks come in and those bills paid.
Any thoughts? What do you think is “selling out”? Do you feel it’s wrong for writers to change how and what they write in order to sell well?
Want to learn how to target genre to sell big?
With 4,000+ ebooks published every day, you need every advantage to get discovered. Instead of writing a book and hoping it will somehow come up in the search results when a potential customer types in words in the search bar on Amazon, you’ll have the best chance at topping those lists if you write to genre.
What does that mean? It means identifying a very specific audience for a specific type of book. If you write a mystery and only list it as “mystery” in your description and keywords, you are competing against hundreds of thousands of other novels. But if you search out a niche genre that sells well and doesn’t have as much competition, you have an edge.
Part of targeting genre requires accurately identifying these successful niche genres. But another important factor is learning how to write to that genre. How to study other books that are selling big and emulate their structure and style, as well as use the best keywords in your promotions to get your book to fit in the slots right alongside those best sellers.
There’s a lot to know to do this well, but it’s not hard.
I floundered for decades trying to sell my many novels that didn’t specifically fit a niche genre. Then, when I decided to write to genre, I went from selling a few copies a month to thousands. With hardly any marketing and using a pen name no one heard of.
You can do it too!
But there’s a strategy to this. And steps you need to take to ensure your novel will have the best chance at discoverability.
I’ve made it easy for you!
It’s all here in my online course: Targeting Genre for Big Sales!
Don’t waste time trying to get your novels to sell. Be smart and treat your novels as products designed for specific consumers with specific needs. Once you learn to write to genre and target genre, it will be a game changer!