"Market research is a very dry, dull topic, but finding and connecting with readers is how we make money." Too often, market research is limited to the basics—high-level demographics (age, gender, income) and/or broad genre interests (science fiction, romance)—leading to target audiences that either don't actually exist, or worse, reflect the researchers' personal interests. To find the right readers for a specific book or author, Amy Collins encourages writers to set aside personal assumptions and dig deeper.
The weirdest Summer of my professional career came to a surreal close this past weekend as I attended the Writer's Digest Annual Conference as a speaker and journalist rather than the publisher and marketing director who curated ~80% of the event before my departure in early July. I'm obviously still biased, but overall, it was an invigorating experience—from the amazing keynotes and insightful presenters, to the mini-reunion with some of my all-time favorite colleagues, all survivors of F+W Media's disastrous bankruptcy process that seems to have ended relatively well... for Writer's Digest, at least.
With few exceptions, publishers don't really know what drives most book sales, so the industry's focus on chasing bestsellers and trends lends itself to an unscientific combination of last-click attribution, confirmation bias, and way too often, scapegoats. Publishers have relied on booksellers and libraries to connect with readers for decades, but—despite the continued decline of physical bookstores, the intersectional challenge of "book deserts," and a lack of consistent and verifiable data on ebook sales—libraries seem to have become an easy scapegoat. Again.
In 2019, I remain astounded (but not totally surprised) by how many authors' platforms lack the basics—if they have one at all—but far more egregiously, too many publishers are way behind the curve with their own platforms, doing a disservice to the authors they've committed to support and help succeed. If you're querying a publisher—big or small, traditional or hybrid—you (or your agent) should be able to satisfactorily address these three planks of their own platform before they inquire about yours. Each one is potentially more important than the size of your advance, and definitely more important than the size of your own Twitter following or email list.
I’ve officially launched Free Verse Media, a strategic marketing consultancy offering actionable solutions for businesses and brands who want to engage audiences across multiple platforms more effectively—in alignment with specific business goals and key performance metrics. I’m taking 25 years of hard-earned experience and going the freelance route (gulp!), looking to work with organizations that value developing genuine relationships with communities in service of a greater good, at least as much as they value generating revenue for stakeholders.
There are three types of people who survive in media: hard workers, sycophants, and the serial failures they both work for who somehow manage to continually find employment despite a reasonably public record of the wreckage they've left behind. Too harsh? Maybe, a bit—some sycophants are arguably hard workers too, and serial failure might not be as easy as the eternally mediocre make it look—but after my own 25+ years surviving in media (and currently in the final throes of a demoralizing corporate bankruptcy), I'm feeling a little cynical.
There was no announcement back in August because celebrating a new gig in that context felt wrong, and as subsequent events would confirm, it honestly wasn't all that clear how long it would last. WD is and always has been a strong brand, but when your parent company is headed towards bankruptcy, the path forward is anything but clear.
There's nothing like the buzz of delving into a new passion and I've thoroughly enjoyed my serendipitous and circuitous journey into the world of rally. I've also realized my interest in rally had always been hiding just under the surface, an influence on almost everything I've ever found interesting about cars—it just took an unpredictable confluence of events to suck me in.
In reality, markets consist of human beings and the conversations they have with each other, and those conversations can be messy and involve multiple points of influence. For authors trying to develop an effective and sustainable digital strategy, that means you’re not just competing with similar authors and books for readers’ attention—hello, myopic comp titles!—you’re competing with readers themselves and the various channels they use to connect with each other. With the right strategy, though, you're not competing with anyone—you're authentically engaging with and contributing to a dynamic community.
Enthusiast media, aka niche consumer, is my favorite sector because it prioritizes depth over scale, and its KPIs are different from general consumer media's chasing eyeballs for advertisers. Instead of being dumb pipes driven by vanity metrics and anecdata, they can build self-sustaining communities with deep engagement that offers diversified revenue streams, including valuable intersections for marketing partners seeking strategic, long-term relationships. In its ideal form, enthusiast media (and some B2B verticals) combines community engagement, editorial integrity, and paid content into a diversified suite of relevant products and services which simultaneously minimizes its reliance on advertising while optimizing its effectiveness for savvier marketing partners.