Part III – doing your market research (of how does a book get published)
We’ve compared our manuscript with a chocolate bar – one that you’ve created in your own kitchen and found that your family and friends enjoyed enough to start thinking about how you could actually market it. And we looked at some of the initial questions that made it all seem like a pretty lengthy and complicated process. Well, it is. You can forget right now about any airy-fairy notions that you’ll just write that international bestseller and that some fairy godmother publishing house will snatch it out of your hands and magic it into the market place, as a fully-formed book, to publicity and acclaim…sorry, but no. This may have happened occasionally back in the days when the dollar wasn’t quite so pressing as it is now, but today hard-nosed commercial considerations come first, and you – as the aspiring published author – will have to learn them.
So, let’s go back to our chocolate bar, since the process of getting a book out there is really not significantly different to that of a yummy chocolate. You’ve made a bar that your mates said was really rather good. That’s a great, encouraging start – after all, you know something about chocolate by now and you also liked this combination. But when it comes to commercial situations, you need a much broader base. There are many different people out there, with different tastes, dietary requirements, standards of expectation, and with variously-filled (or not) wallets. So, one of the most fundamental questions you must ask is: who, exactly, is my target market?
Is your bar a fancy one appealing to the more gourmet-inclined purchaser? Or is it a more basic one, someone wanting a quick tasty snack that’s readily affordable? Is it going to be a chocolate that is bought occasionally when we want a little luxury experience or will it fill a hungry tummy on the run? Go with a quick coffee and leave the buyer with a feeling of satisfaction? These are just a few questions (there could be more!) that begin to narrow down the likely ingredients, production and distribution quantities and appropriate packaging for our bar.
You’ve decided that your bar (book) is appropriate for a broad market, appealingly widely to the average purchaser, but not in a cheap quick-consumption category. You want to offer good solid value that hopefully will speak for itself and thus retain a loyal customer base. So, that immediately tells us that certain standards will have to be met – the ingredients must be quite good quality, the production process consistent, the packaging appealing to that particular buyer, and the price within his range, not cheap but not too expensive either. So, you take a stroll in shops where such bars (books) are sold, and check out what’s there, suss out the potential competition, and observe what is the norm in your target market. This is absolutely essential research, and will immediately tell you what will be necessary for you to compete effectively there.
The same thinking must be brought to your manuscript. What level of literacy will your target reader expect? Will he buy a big, hefty book or will it need to be a lighter-looking read? Paper back or hard back? What will he pay? Will he wander into bookshops (remember, there are not too many of them out there these days), or will more sales happen off the website? (If so, you will have to factor in postage.) Bookshops will require 40% minimum sales percentage – can your book be produced at a cost that will still allow you to squeeze in a small profit after 40% has been taken off the RRP? If the answer is ‘no’, then you will be dependent entirely on on-line sales distribution. This is actually quite good news, for it is a very accessible and possible method – it simply requires that you understand the specifics so you can make the right decisions to enact it.
So, now you start some more market research – this time on the web. Since you are not (yet) a John Le Carré or a Patricia Cornwell, who can sell anything just on their name, it takes some kind of marketing campaign to persuade buyers to spend their money on your fiction book. After all, that is not a practical item with an obvious use, is it? So, can you find anything on the web where this is being successfully done? What kind of connections do you have to follow to find it?
There are so many questions…so step two of the TBM is to start doing your market research. Next week, we’ll look at what that means in practical applications.
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