There is something disconcerting about referring to your novel – 100,000 words of soul-baring – as ‘product,’ as if it were one of a million identikit widgets rolling off a conveyor belt. But, if you want to engage with readers, then they are your market and your book is your product. The challenge is to know and understand something of your potential readers and to deliver what they want.
A novel, like any product, has benefits and features. Its benefits are the core reasons that people might want to buy and read it, and central to this is entertainment. Features deliver the entertainment and include length, format, genre, language, style of writing and plot. The difficulty lies in trying to match these features to the benefit sought by a particular group of readers.
I’ll give you some examples from my own work-in-progress novel (more details here). I love music and know quite a lot about it, and my characters are working in music-related fields. Reading extracts out at the writers’ group I’ve joined generates enthusiasm from the other music obsessives there, but the group members I need to pay most attention to are the ones who don’t fall into this category. Have they heard of the bands that I mention? Do they understand the technical jargon? If not, then I may have gone too ‘niche’ and will need to do some rewriting.
Another dilemma for me is how explicit my novel should be. If you look up the erotic Shades of Grey trilogy on Amazon, you can see that its readers also bought The Hunger Games, a young adult novel where there is no intimacy beyond kissing, and Me Before You, an intense love story without any actual sexual activity. We can conclude that raunch isn’t obligatory for these readers, but they aren’t averse to it in an appropriate context.
In my almost-finished novel, lust and love are central themes of my plot; the characters’ emotional fulfilment relates to what’s happening in the bedroom. Do readers want the detail? And if they do, is it because they enjoy the escapism and some titillation, or because it makes the characters more vivid and helps the plot make sense? There is, of course, the added risk of writing something akin to a Bad Sex Award winner.
There isn’t a right answer, but there are ways of exploring options:
– Take your work to a writers’ group: Other members can give constructive feedback based on their own experiences. You’ll also learn from others’ work and the feedback they receive.
– Recruit beta readers: When your novel is as good as you can make it (your ‘beta’ version), your beta readers will be able to tell you what’s working and what isn’t. Then you edit some more.
– Read bestsellers: What do people like about them? And where are criticisms aimed? How do they work for you?
– Talk to your friends, family and colleagues: What do they love and hate in a book?
Ultimately, you need to make a decision as to where your novel fits then write for those readers. You can’t please everyone. If you can accept that some people will hate what you’ve written, then you have a much better chance of finding readers who will love it.
This blog is the second in a series on marketing for writers: for the first, see 18 May. In the next blog, I’ll be tackling pricing, costs and all things wonga-related.