By Zach Bohannon and J. Thorn
Zach Bohannon and J. Thorn are bestselling science fiction and horror authors, and the co-owners of Molten Universe Media. They are the hosts of “Authors on a Train,” a unique experience centered around collaboration, and workshops to help take your craft and marketing to the next level. For more information about Authors on a Train, please visit www.authorsonatrain.com
Read about the first part of their journey here.
Start with Why
We started the second day of workshops by watching Simon Sinek’s famous TED Talk. The strategy of “Starting with why” is something that I feel gets lost, not only in the author community but in many decisions that people make in their everyday lives.
To be honest, there’s a lot of advice and information shared in the author community – especially when it comes to marketing. Many writers will follow others’ “advice” without considering whether it’s the best strategy for them, personally. You’ve heard Facebook ads are hot. Someone else said that exclusivity is better than going wide. Audiobooks are all the rage.
Before reacting, you need to stop and ask yourself one simple question…
Why do you need to run Facebook ads? What are you looking to get out of it, and will spending time and money on those ads deliver your desired results?
J. and I know our why for everything that we do. That is the first question that comes up with every idea one of us shares. We know why we are writing post-apocalyptic fiction. We know why we’ve chosen to focus on that genre only. We know why we’ve chosen to commit 100% to co-writing for the foreseeable future. We know why we’ve decided to take a step back from social media. And we know why we are hosting cool events like Authors on a Train, as well as other exciting events we have planned for 2018.
We have a specific focus and reason for everything we do, and every decision we make. If an idea or a project doesn’t move us closer to our shared goals, then we table the project before we even start it.
You should be asking “why” before making a decision regardless of how big or small it might me.
Targeting Your Ideal Reader
We started Thursday morning with a lesson on the Climax in the Story Grid methodology. This seemed fitting, as Thursday was the climax of our week. Every scene and every global story needs a Crisis and a Climax. The Crisis is the question the protagonist must face, and the Climax is the consequence of that decision. Without a Crisis and a Climax, a scene, chapter, or story can “feel flat” to the reader.
After our Story Grid workshop, we moved on to a discussion about marketing. I took the lead in this session as, in our company, Molten Universe Media, I am the one responsible for developing and executing our marketing plans. We talked about many topics, from launching your book to running ads, but I decided to focus on the thing which is critical for any marketing plan.
How do you target your ideal reader?
I hear this question all the time in the indie publishing community, and it’s a legitimate one. We all want to sell more books, and a big part of that is finding the ideal reader for the book you’ve written. I’ve talked to a lot of authors who are stuck on this. They feel like they’ve written a great book, but getting it discovered seems impossible.
And therein lies the solution. What if you thought about your ideal reader before you wrote your book?
I believe this is an important strategy that authors fail to consider before they start writing their book. Almost daily, I see authors getting frustrated because their book doesn’t sell. When I ask them what kind of book they wrote, here’s something like what I usually hear:
“Well, it’s a thriller, but has some supernatural elements. There’s also time travel, and it’s a romance.”
When I follow up with the question, “Who’s your ideal reader?”, I tend to get a blank stare.
Trying to reach three different types of readers will, in turn, satisfy none of them. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to sell a supernatural, time-travel, thriller/romance, but you are making it incredibly difficult for yourself unless you already have a recognized brand—like Stephen King.
What book is most like yours? What keywords can you target? What should your cover look like?
Unless you know the ideal reader you are trying to target, answering these questions is going to be difficult. And the easiest way to accomplish this goal is to identify your genre before you start your book.
Using the example above, the author could write a supernatural thriller. This doesn’t mean it can’t have time-travel or romance in it, but they should hit all the conventions and tropes of a supernatural thriller first, and use keywords and marketing tactics to find fans of supernatural thrillers. If you hit the conventions of that genre and do it well, then those readers won’t mind if they get into the book and then find that there’s some time-travel involved and also a love story as a subplot.
I promise that, if you answer this question before writing your book, you will have a much better chance of connecting with your ideal reader.
End of the Road (kinda)
On Friday evening, I had conflicting emotions. The next morning, I would be flying back home to Tennessee, thus wrapping up what had been an incredible week. I honestly didn’t want it to end. I had enjoyed everything about the experience, from the initial gathering in Chicago to the train ride down to New Orleans, including the entire week spent with eight other amazing and inspiring authors (and J. Thorn).
I remembered the tension I’d felt when walking into LaunchPad on Tuesday morning. But the feeling in the room on Friday morning was totally different. The group had been worn out from a week of writing, workshops, and exploring this amazing city, but I could also tell that others shared my feeling of not wanting it to end.
The interesting thing is that Friday’s arrival had not entirely ended the trip. There are still collaborative stories to finish and an anthology to publish. Every person told us how much they had learned this week about craft, collaboration, publishing, marketing, and branding. If there’s one takeaway for me, it would be that I’ve now seen even more proof of how beneficial it can be to come together and collaborate – even if it takes you out of your comfort zone.
There isn’t one right way to collaborate, so just go out there and connect with other authors. If you don’t want to write a book with another author, you can still get involved in marketing collaboration (such as with box sets or anthologies). And if you want to meet in person, there are many opportunities to do that. Look for author groups and meetups in your city. And whether it’s a smaller, more intimate event such as Authors on a Train, or one of the several great conferences for writers and publishers, I encourage you to attend them and get to know other authors. I promise that you’ll come away smarter and more energized.
For now, we’d like to sincerely thank Kobo for being one of the sponsors for our Authors on a Train adventure and for supporting innovative and unique experiences in the writing community.
The anthology is now available .
If Authors on a Train sounds like something you’d want to attend, we are currently accepting applications for our 2018 retreat. It will take place November 11-16, and again head to New Orleans by way of Amtrak from Chicago. For more information, go to www.authorsonatrain.com.