Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Branding and Career - Part Two: Who is Your Target Audience?

“To be a success as an author, all you need is ten thousand people, each willing to give you $10 a year.”

I’m not sure who said that, but I read it recently and it stuck with me. Ten times ten thousand is one hundred thousand. Which seems like a very nice living to me too. However, if you’re writing and selling books, you’re probably not getting ten dollars per unit sold.

I strongly believe in the ten thousand fans idea though, so when you are planning your career, you need to think about what it will take to get ten dollars from each fan every year—keeping in mind publishers or Amazon are going to take their cut. So that may translate to three novels a year. Or a dozen short stories. Or a novel and a webinar. Or two novels and merchandise. What you offer fans, and how you get your ten dollars, is going to be unique to you.

As a fan, my top choice would be to get three novels from my favourite authors each year. I’d be paying more than ten dollars though, and they would be getting a lot less. I bought the kindle version of ‘King’s Rising’ the day it launched for $7, but I suspect C.S Pacat probably received about $2 of it, depending on her contract.

For her to get $10 off me a year, I guess she’d have to write five books. I would be extremely happy, but I don’t think she writes that fast. Of course, C.S Pacat has a lot more than 10, 000 people buying her novels.

So who are your 10, 000 people?

If you’re going to have a loyal fan base, you need to know who they are, so you can cater to their interests. It’s a bit recursive though, since you’re trying to work out who likes your stuff, so you can write stuff they like, so they like your stuff.

But let me put it this way: let’s say you write action/horror and your audience is men in their 20s. Men in their 20s also like things like video games and attractive women, and they worry about things like their careers, finding a long term girlfriend (or boyfriend) and their role in society. So if you had none of those themes in your first book, but added some in to your second book, those men in their 20s would probably relate more with your work and be even more likely to buy your next book.

But let’s say instead you write historical romance. Most of your readers are women in their 30s and 40s. They’re not interested in video games, sexy young women, or finding their role in society. Most women in their 30s and 40s are pretty confident about their role. They’d be much more interested in stories that show women their age achieving goals, making a contribution, being sassy and in control.

So to turn readers into fans, you need to know who they are, so you can research their interests and the themes that matter to them and put more of that in your work. Whatever you do, don’t make assumptions. It’s patronising and probably bigoted. Do proper research. Talk to people. Ask people who liked your work what other books they like, and why they liked them. Take notes, then actually read those books. Most readers will talk about books they love until the cows come home, then die of old age. I promise it’s not hard.

Each time you write a book, before you start, make a note:
Target Audience:
What themes and conflicts interest them?
What other books are they reading?

If you really pay attention to what people are saying, and don’t just impose your own beliefs and attitudes over theirs, you’ll see a difference in how people respond to your work. It will take two or three books for you to really see the tangible effects of this. But in the mean time, it gives you a sense of grounding. Particularly when you start editing, pull your hair in despair and think: ‘Who will ever read this crap?’

It also helps, of course, in deciding what platform is best for promoting your work. Go where your fans are.

Final Thought:

Remember, you’re not changing what you want to write to cater to other people’s interests, you’re just adding in a little extra on top of the stuff you are passionate about.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Valentine’s Day. 2016.

Due to circumstances outside my control (AKA: mystery fainting for two weeks now), I am not only late on my blog post, but didn’t manage to finish the one I planned to post about knowing your target audience.

Rather than skipping a week, I have decided to post a poem for Valentine’s Day.

I know many of you don’t like Valentine’s Day, for various reasons, however I always have. It’s so kitschy and a fantastic excuse to do something outrageous to embarrass your loved ones in public. Like show up at their work dressed only in balloons. Or that year I posted everyone packets of instant mac’n’cheese with romantic cards attached.

This poem is probably a little sincere for my usual brand of Valentine’s Day fun. Hopefully it has merit anyway.


It doesn’t matter what you’ve heard,
I definitely don’t love you. Not today.
Not ever.

Except for those moments,
When the sun is up.

I definitely don’t love you,
Unless you are laughing.
And when you smile at me and your eyes light up.
But only then.

Even if someone told you it was true,
I definitely don’t love you.
Even if I said it. Even if I look at you,
Like you were the moon.

I definitely don’t love you.
Except when you are thinking,
And your brows crease.
I don’t know how anyone can look so serious,
About something I said in jest.

I definitely don’t love you.
Except for those moments,
When the sun is gone, and the sky is dark.
Because you are the light.

The only light.

Even if I could love you,
It would only be while that song is playing.
Or when you are so passionate,
You have forgotten you are shy.
And those times you make the right choice,
Even when you don’t want to. You grit your teeth
And do good.

Maybe someone told you,
That I love your salute.
Or that the things I loathe in others,
Are somehow charming in you.
But that would be a lie.

Because I definitely don’t love you.

Definitely not.

- Talitha Kalago. 2016.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Branding and Career - Part One: What is Your Brand?

Welcome to my five part series on Branding and Career Planning. I will finish my characterisation series. That’s next on the blog line up.  This week though:


What sort of career do you want?
When you’re thinking about your brand and career, you need to know what an author brand actually is, and what sort of career you want. Let’s start with the career part, because I think this is obvious to some and confusing to others.

There are many types of writing career. There is writing novels, one a year, every year. There is writing for TV or plays. There is writing hundreds of short stories and chasing award accolades. There is non-fiction writing. The ever mysterious children’s books. Writing for graphic novels. Journalism. Magazine articles. You get the idea.

All of these have their own career trajectories and many require very different skills to be successful. In this series, I am going to focus on novels (and novellas) and a path that is reasonably suited to indie published and traditionally published authors, or hybrids, like myself. However you should sit down and think about what you want. If you have no idea, pick an author you want to be like, and map their career path to give you some ideas.

What is your brand?
Firstly, what is a brand? An author’s name is not a person, it’s a brand. A logo, of sorts. Apple, Stephen King, Sony, J.K Rowling. They identify the quality and type of product being offered. In the case of an author a brand is, generally speaking, a combination of your genre and strengths.

In Stephen King’s case, you know you are likely getting a certain type of character driven horror, a little slow, and a little wordy, but beautifully developed with a lot of relatable characters and powerful motivations. It will also be off-beat, original and strange.

In J.K Rowling’s case, you are getting easy-to-read prose, very English settings, themes about class and financial inequality and identifiable, easy to connect with characters. Of course, most people hear JK Rowling and just think HARRY POTTER, however now she has done some other works, it’s easier to identify which elements have been maintained.

So when you are identifying your own brand, you need to look at your genres, themes and writing strengths. Specifically, what people enjoy about your work. I have diversity in my characters and themes that address disability, sexuality and identity. I am also well-known for my grimdark style. People who like my writing, like those elements. That is the Talitha Kalago brand.

Make a list of what you think your strengths are, and be sure to ask people who have read your work. Write a few paragraphs about your brand and what you want it to be, it will help with later exercises in this blog series.

My romance brand has different strengths and themes, which is why it is under a different pen name. There is not necessarily a lot of cross-over between the fan base. Which brings me to the last point: you may need more than one brand.

Some people will insist you need different brands for different genres. Some people lump everything together and do just fine.  I believe each brand doubles the work load, but gets you four times as many readers and your decision should be based on your time and your drive for success.

Why Have More Than One Brand?

Because it makes it easier for readers to find books they want to read. There is a scene in one of my horror novels where a monster cannibalises its own infants. It’s very graphic. There is also a scene in one of my romance novels where three band members have sex with a fan. It’s also very graphic. I suspect there are very few people who would enjoy both of those scenes equally.

So if all my books were published under the same name (brand) people who brought both books would be disappointed with one or the other. Because they have very little in common. Even if people love the first three books by an author, if they hate the fourth, they probably won’t by the fifth.

If you want a career as an author, you should always be aiming to create repeat customers. This is more effective with different pen names for different genres. However, two pen names is double the work. Three is triple the work, and so on. More brands make things easier for readers; it does not make things easier for you.

So what if you want to put it under the same name? That’s fine. It just means your pool of readers will be much smaller. Because (in my case) they will comprise of people who enjoy both scenes of graphic infanticide cannibalism AND scenes of erotic, sensual four-ways. And, let’s face it, that’s really just me and a few people who are in prison.

NEXT WEEK: Knowing Your Target Audience.