When I started out on this writer’s journey fifteen years ago, my first goal was simply to tell a good story that would allow readers to escape to another time and place and feel the real emotions of the characters I created. My sense was a good story would speak for itself and sell on its own merits.
With experience comes greater insight. I’ve come to better understand the realities of the fiction marketplace and the significant challenges of writing a book or series of books that will break through to gain a significant audience.
What are the numbers?
You can find many statistics about the industry, but what strikes me most is the incredibly large number of books published each year and the relatively few copies of each of these books that actually sell. The last numbers I saw reported there are over one million new novels published each year. The vast majority, more than 99%, sell less than 50 copies. After friends and family reach out and provide their support, the author is challenged to compete against millions of other books and authors with far more established recognition.
Remember that online book retailers like Amazon rarely feature more than 20 of the top selling books of any particular genre or sub-genre on the first page. Where are the other 999,980? Off in the obscurity of cyberspace and certainly not on the front table, let alone any shelf of your neighborhood bookstore.
The Business of Marketing Fiction and Building an “Author Brand”
Today’s author must not only embrace the art of writing a great story, but also understand the business of marketing that story to audiences who will find it appealing. Having a unique author brand is essential to carve out that unique space in readers minds the next time they’re considering purchasing a new book or hovering over your latest offering on Amazon before clicking “Buy”.
An author’s brand goes beyond the genre they write in. It goes beyond the popularity or not of their last book. The best author brands are tied to the experience the reader feels when reading their books.
Compelling Author Brands?
What authors have developed clear and compelling brands? John Grisham certainly comes to mind as the author who consistently writes legal thrillers that pit the everyday and often downtrodden hero against superior evil opponents with substantial gains at stake. Your find yourself rooting for the hero to win over Big Tobacco, or the mob, or unethical insurance companies.
Another great author brand, in my opinion, is Nicholas Sparks. His loyal audience has come to expect deeply emotional stories of love and relationships that prevail against overwhelming odds. The author stays consistent to his brand and his readers know what to expect and are excited to read the next installment.
Jodi Picoult also comes to mind. Her books have consistently focused on a highly controversial and emotional social issue and traced her character’s journey through these troubled waters. The list goes on but, in reality, is really quite short when you consider how few authors actually break through and establish a solid and loyal author brand following compared to the millions who try each year.
What is the brand of Michael Lindley novels?
My own journey continues as I prepare to release my fifth book later this year. I’ve been working to establish a more consistent author brand and reader experience that will hopefully resonate with a particular segment of book lovers and create a growing base of support, continued strong reviews and more recommendations for my stories.
I want readers to know and recognize that when they select a Michael Lindley novel, they will be transported to an idyllic place and time and find characters who are dealing with the deep emotions of love, betrayal, loss and redemption. They will not only know what this place looks like, but also what is was like to live there during the times of my stories, how it sounds and smells, how it shapes peoples lives. My characters are immersed in these places as they struggle with family and relationships and terrible loss. The place nurtures them and helps them heal and find redemption and new paths in the end.
Starting a Story with Place not People
Does James Michener come to mind?
The initial ideas for my novels always start with place. Some authors like to write about big cities. How many books have you read that were set in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles? They’re all fascinating and great towns and settings for compelling stories, but I prefer the lesser known, out of the way locations that have unique pasts that can be brought to life with new fictional characters and plot lines. Whether it’s a Northern Michigan resort town in the 1940’s or a remote beach village on the Gulf Coast of Florida during prohibition, or the fascinating history of the Low Country of South Carolina and Pawley’s Island during the Civil War, these types of locations give me a great canvas to work from.
I also want to build an audience of readers who take my books to these destinations on their next visit or vacation. They will hopefully gain a greater perspective and insight to the place during their stay.
How do you establish your author brand?
I learn more every day, but I’m striving to be consistent, to not stray from the course, to continue to give readers what I’ve promised. I’m reaching out and telling readers what to expect and then trying my best to deliver.
Sounds so easy. The journey continues.