Monday, May 2, 2016

How To Reach Niche Audiences

Hi Everyone,

Travis here again! Last week I talked about how to design your author brand. There was a fair amount of interest in niche appeal books, so that's what this week's topic is going to be about.

Whether your book is niche or if you are trying to reach a niche audience, hopefully you'll find this post to contain useful strategies.

Let's get into it shall we?

How To Reach Niche Audiences

Today I'd like to talk about reaching niche audiences. Originally, this post was for people who worried that their book(s) were niche. Twitter and blog comments have shown me though that folks are also interested in reaching said niche audiences, not just being relegated to them. So...

Should you worry about the niche?

Right now, Rachel and I are watching an anime called Silver Spoon on CrunchyRoll. 

Its a farming anime!
On paper, this is 100% not our fare. We're hardcore genre fans. This is a contemporary drama about farming. No magic, no mystery, no action, no sci-fi, no futurism, it's not even historical. My shame is that I'd never even think about picking up a show/book like this on my own.

What drew us in was that we wanted another cooking anime (Shokugeki!!) to watch and this was vaguely sort of relevant since it dealt with food. Also very well rated, which helped.

So that's what we were expecting, but what we got was a well balanced show that is both serious and funny. It's very human and it wrestles with some amazingly deep and profound issues, tackling them with aplomb. It's my favorite thing to watch right now despite all the mecha and magical shows on my to-watch list.

What's the point here?

Anime has proven to me that you can make anything interesting and be successful at it. I hate sports, they all bore me to tears. Sports anime though? Sign me up! I never cared anything about soccer until I watched Giant Killing. Boxing? Meh.. Hajime No Ippo though? Glued to the screen! There are many, hugely popular basketball, swimming, and baseball anime shows now. Sports Tournament is now a full fledged genre and an intensely addictive one at that.

I've also watched baking animes, the Go anime, cooking animes, slow moving overly complicated math mysteries, magical realism nature shows, and more. All stuff that I don't normally like, but which the right anime can have the power to enthrall me with.

This extends to the ridiculous as well. I mean, look at One Piece! It's not just ridiculous, it's ludicrous! Yet it's the most successful anime/manga of all time (I'm pretty sure) and is still one of greatest stories I've ever seen.

This is all a long way of me saying that pretty much any idea can have wide spread commercial success when executed appropriately. What counts as appropriate execution however depends on the topic involved. Some things require more delicate and deliberate handling than others.

I'm sure ya'll want me to get to the meat here. There's more I want to say on widespread appeal, but that can come later. Lets talk about...

The Strengths of the Niche

Fear the Bug!

Believe it or not, having a work whose topics and ideas are not widely appealing, as more mainstream products do, does have its advantages. One really big one really. Simply put,
A true niche audience is always under-served.
Readers who like the thing that your thing is about are probably not many. The upside of this is that the supply of the thing that you all like is also probably not large either. As such, niche audiences tend to be very hungry for more of their thing.

This makes them more likely to take risks. They are more responsive to good marketing. They will even wade through a lot of what they don't like just to get to the stuff they do like. It's kind of incredible really.  You mainstream readers don't go to these efforts because there's always tons of their thing around, but niche readers are hungry, and if you give them what they want, they will gobble it up.

Additionally, if you can give the niche their thing in the form of a good product, they will be loyal like few other groups can be. They will remember you far longer than others will, and they'll come back from much father away to be with you at release time.

So how do you leverage this as an author? Other than writing a book that scratches the itch of the niche?

Marketing to the Niche

Tip 1 - Learn Your Audience

This applies to most authors really, but it really applies to niche books. There aren't as many potential customers out there for you, so you need to focus your marketing research on finding them. Where do they hang out? What are they reading? What common interests might they have beyond The Thing (TM) that makes their niche?

Believe it or not, authors whose works hit a wider audience have a much harder time with this research. There's too many different groups to learn and find. Due to their size, they are also much harder to market to due to increased competition and more dispersed tastes. Achieving proper levels of engagement, retaining gains, and hitting saturation are all a lot harder to do. It's an issue of scale really.

niche crowds be like this

But the niche author needs to hit the streets, so to speak, and learn their crowd. Hopefully, if you've written a book about The Thing, you are already partially part of the niche and know something of its communities. If not, then you've got a wonderful journey ahead of you meeting all these awesome folks out there who share your interest.

Tip 2 - Outreach is The Core Strategy

Author outreach is a popular topic this year as advice for new writers. Outreach is, in short, you going out there, getting to know, and sharing your work with, other interested parties. Usually this means reader communities, but it is by no means limited to them.

Aside: Much of the outreach advice I heard at RT2016 centered on reaching out to groups that aren't reader or publishing groups b/c authors are much more special and rare in those places. (ie, if you have a Cozy Mystery with a heroine who knits, you'll get more bang for your buck by trying for a guest spot on a knitting blog where you're a REAL AUTHOR! Who writes about KNITTING! Instead of going for a guest post on a book review blog that sees authors all the time.) We have done this some and it does get a vocal response. My kingdom for some numbers, though.

Many authors can take or leave outreach. It's very time consuming to be that social and it's really easy to spread yourself thin for little results. Again, the scale and diverse tastes within large groups can really get in the way of outreach. Rachel and I don't do a lot of this specifically because it's so inefficient for us. We just keep it to where we're already naturally hanging out at online.

For the niche author though, you'll find a different kind of reward. Hunting down and engaging the small and scattered communities that like Your Thing(tm) will likely result in much much higher engagements and conversions than other authors can enjoy.

To put this in numbers - It's hard to court 100,000 people and only get 0.1% engagements. It's great to court 1000 people and get 10% engagements though!

I bet some of ya'll just checked my math there and realized that both scenarios come out to 100 engagements. Kudos! Now lemme ask you, which is easier to reach? 100,000 people or 1000 people? Thus you see the strength of the niche!

Word of mouth in these groups is stronger too as members tend to be closer due to the smaller sizes. So the most gold-standard method of marketing is at force here.

How to Find Them

Web detective go! 

A certain amount of finding communities is just cold googling and such. Speaking of which, you'll want to up your Google skills for these searches.

In all seriousness though, talking to people is your best bet. Once you find one community group, all you have to do is ask them where to find more of Your Thing and the community itself will gladly share more links to more places. Go there, check it out, repeat.

Tip.. or maybe Warning 3 - Niches are Small Towns

We're talking about getting to know and be known by small web communities here. These places are effectively small towns who are protective of the niche interest that brought and binds them all together. If you cause trouble, break rules, or act the pest, it'll get around and it might shut you down for a long time to come. These places often are tight knit. They also tend to have low group turnover, which means they have long memories.

Therefore, conduct yourself responsibly!
  1. Read and Obey community rules
  2. Share, don't sell (ie, don't just link your book over and over)
  3. Reciprocate, don't just take. Be an active part of the community!
  4. Behave!
  5. Don't start drama, and bring a thick skin with you.
  6. Don't fake your interest (if this is a problem, please go write something that interests you)
You've got to be a good citizen when you are conducting outreach, courting fans, and generally getting in with your target audience. This applies to all authors and, I hope, life in general. For niche authors, it's particularly important. You aren't playing in a large pond, be careful about what kind of splashing you do.

Give Before You Take

Probably the most important advice I can give for conducting yourself on any internet community would be generosity. Give before you ask for anything. Once you've asked, give more afterwards. Maintain a virtuous cycle if you can.

It doesn't have to be a lot. Reading and participating in someone else's thread occasionally is perfectly fine most of the time. Giving some free samples, or even a tidbit of unique content, is wonderful and will go a long way. Help the community feel special if you can (super bonus if you can put them in the book somehow.. just an oblique reference even).

Have fun with it! These should be your people after all. The reciprocity will benefit everyone I assure you.

Tip 4 - Once You've Got them, Hold onto Them!

Here we see the happy author and his precious readers
This goes for all authors. Once people read your book, you need to try to capture them in any way you can. Newsletters are the gold standard as they have many automation options, high conversion rates, and low maintenance costs. Blogs and social media are good as they keep people coming back and keep you from falling off the radar. They are more effort though as they move faster.

It should be easier to retain niche fans. IMO, once you've proven that you can deliver The Thing, they tend to remember you a lot longer than others will. (I know I do!) However, you still have to be able to reach them again when the next book or hangout happens. 
Gathering these folks up in a way that you can reach them later is the long-term strategy here.
Harder to find, easier to keep. So other than outreach, retention should be your #2 priority. Long term, your success depends on accumulation. As a niche author, accumulation isn't something you can take for granted. You need to play to your strengths here more so than others do, because they are more limited and specialized.

Genre Blending and Heartstrikers

click for full post with lots more HS art!
Now that the publishing gates are open and indies aren't concerned about getting wedged into a single genre by publishers and bookstores, a lot more genre blending is going down. Just because you are doing so doesn't make your book niche, however.

Genre blending is a little scary. As I mentioned last week, a genre is a parent brand that brings an entire body of preset customer expectations to your book. Messing around with that is pretty risky. There's a reason publishers like to pigeon-hole books into genres, and it's not just because they have to be physically shelved somewhere one day.

If you are genre-blending, then it's cause for thought. By deviating into new territory, the question of "is there an audience for this?" looms large and valid. Don't be daunted, though! The rewards are also there.

Rachel's Heartstrikers series is definitely a good example of this. It's a near-future, urban fantasy, post-apocalyptic, dragon, action, soap opera, crime drama. I don't even know. We file it under New Adult, Cyberpunk, and Urban Fantasy to hopefully cover all the most crucial bases. 

Here's the critical part though,
Rachel and I don't specifically market Nice Dragons Finish Last to niche audiences.
Please think about this for a minute as it's everything I was talking about at the beginning of this post. By most evaluations, NDFL should be a niche book and we should have needed to pursue a niche marketing strategy around it. We haven't. 

My favorite quote from a reviewer (and I can't find the source now argh!) was something like this,
"Just when we'd all gotten bored of urban fantasy, Rachel Aaron finds a way to make something completely fresh and new." -Person who I want to profoundly thank
This right here is why I believe that the idea of a niche book is usually a paper tiger. Though, to be fair, Rachel was working with a cocktail of already popular concepts. There's nothing truly squicky, wicky, or just plain out-there strange in the HS series. The execution challenge to get back to the mainstream goes way up once those kinds of elements come in.

Mainstream Yet Niche

What we see with The Heartstrikers is how you can have some niche appeal elements, like its Shadowrun-esque roots, and yet still be successful in reaching a wide audience.

Another example, I feel, of this phenomenon is The Martian. Who would have thought that a book that is mostly comprised of the hyper-technical parts of Apollo 13 would not only become an amazing best seller, but also a great movie? 

oops, wrong Martian....
I wish I could give you tips here about how to weave all these different genre and niche interest threads together into an amazing story, but well, that's Rachel's terf. Also, it's a lot more than just one Writing Wednesday post, it's all of them.

My advice here is to write the best book you can and worry about its marketing second, once you have the actual story in your hands. Authenticity is your #1 currency with fans of all kinds, regardless of their numbers. There is no magic topic or niche appeal that frees you from the requirement of a good story well told. Focus on that first, last, and always and you won't be disappointed.

Go Forth!

I hope I've helped assuage your fears about being niche or going niche today by providing some concrete options to use. It's a viable route given how many readers there are out there and the tools available to authors today. IMO, it's the same amount of work either way - infinite.

I also hope that I've helped some of you find the fire needed to wrestle risky, tough, unpleasant, or unwieldy topics out of their niches and into the mainstream. Doing so is hard work, but it's also a noble cause as such stories birth new genres and broaden humanity's horizons. Remember, there was a time when even Fantasy and Science Fiction just were just flavors of mainstream rather than genres of their own. A great new idea can create a genre, so never be afraid to stick to your guns and write what you love, whether or not it fits in the current genre landscape!

Thank you for reading! If you liked this post, please follow us somehow. We've made many options for you! There's feed-burner for the blog, there's Rachel's social media (Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Google+), and I'm on Twitter as @TravBach.

Next week, I'm hoping to continue these posts about marketing and branding. I'd like to tell people about the exciting strategy of relaunching a series. RT2016 had a lot to say about the why, when, and how of a relaunch so...much excitement!

See you next week!


Anonymous said...

Hi, I just ran across a show that I think you might really like - given that you're checking out the farming anime. It's called Flying Witch and it's very low key, no enemies to fight, and it's like Kiki's Delivery Service meets Wolf Children - without all the gut wrenching sadness.

Travis Bach said...

Oh! I've heard of this and was curious. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll definitely check it out.

JT said...

Speaking of anime, the Eli novels would make an excellent anime series. Project for the future, maybe?

Travis Bach said...

We wish! Sadly very unlikely to ever happen though.

Catherine Vignolini said...

Thank you so much for this post. I'm writing present day space opera and, you know, doubt creeps in and I think who's going to read this? But I love it, so I write it. I'm part of the niche--obviously why I gobbled up Rachel's Paradox series (thank you, Rachal Bach, for getting it!) And thank you Travis! I needed to wake up to this!

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