If I remember correctly, dear readers, I left you last week in the middle of the tiresome task of completing your Tip Sheet. As promised, however, I’m back this week to help you on some of the more sticky points.
Let’s take TARGET AUDIENCE first.
It’s important to have a firm grasp on just who your target audience is. Scribbling down “everyone!” is not going to work, nor is it really accurate. This may sound counter-intuitive, darlings, but the more specific you are, the better. Remember why you are doing this particular exercise in the first place. It’s ultimately to help a sales team know where to put your book, and it makes marketing more effective as well. Non-fiction or memoir are sometimes easier because they often have an obvious audience, like date-rape survivors or peace corps volunteers, but a novel can be a bit harder. There are the fans of your particular genre, of course, but even that is a bit broad.
To better help you visualize, I’ll share with you what I came up with for A Girl Like You:
- Fans of historical mystery series who enjoy a strong romantic subplot
- Fans of Downton Abbey (10.2 million viewers) or other BBC/PBS period dramas
- Women aged 25-70
See? Nothing too complicated. Numbers are good because sales people and marketers relate to them so well. Words, not so much. Break it down for them. How do I find this information? you might be asking. Google, of course, or copy from other people. Seriously. Publishing, if you haven’t noticed already, is a copy-cat sort of business. Your key to success is to do what everyone else is doing but to put a unique spin on it somehow.
BISACS and keywords go hand-in-hand with target audience, so let’s look at those next.
A BISAC is really just a numerical code that categorizes your book and is a way for your book to get properly shelved, whether in a real brick-and-mortar store or a virtual one. If you are with a hybrid publisher, they will send you a link to the BISAC site for your perusal. Because these codes are going to populate the universe and are the signposts to your book, try to narrow it down as best you can.
Similarly, KEYWORDS are the words (or a short phrase) you think people are most likely to Google when searching for your book. You are allowed only seven. This is probably one of the more easy parts of the tip sheet, but important none-the-less.
Next up is COMPARATIVE TITLES, which, for me, was the hardest assignment of the whole publishing journey. Basically, you have to list five titles that are similar in genre to your own – another clue for the sales team to understand where your book fits into the bigger picture.
Preferably these titles will have been published in the last five years (no classics, then) and are not mega best-sellers, as that is an immediate indicator that you either don’t know what you are talking about or are too delusional, never mind conceited, to be taken seriously. So even though you think you really have something with your YA book on child wizards, saying that it’s the next Harry Potter, is, well, a bit much. Better to be a little bit more modest in this department. I know people try to tell you all the time that you have to sell yourself and to toot your own horn and all that, but this is one time when reality is needed.
In my case, listing comparative titles proved extremely difficult for a number of reasons, the most alarming being that before this whole “publish-a-book” thing, I didn’t really read much contemporary fiction (Don’t tell anyone!). And if I did happen to read something published after 1895, it generally wasn’t a mystery. Closer to the mark would be historical fiction, but that makes sense, doesn’t it? given my predilection for the classics. (Why am I writing a mystery series then, you might ask? Darlings, let’s just say it’s a very long story which I’ll no doubt bore you with some other day.)
Anyway, up until the arrival of the tip sheet in my inbox, I had been able to dodge the comparative title question, though it comes up on a surprisingly regular basis – almost from minute One – in your publishing journey, usually posed as the seemingly innocent query, “What is it like?” meaning, of course, your book. Now that it was being explained, however, that comparative titles are similar to what pops up on Amazon as “Customers who liked this, also liked these titles,” I felt the weight of the question and knew that the day of reckoning had finally arrived. And, as usual, in my panic, I drew a complete blank.
Suffice it to say that a rather frantic period ensued of skimming descriptions and first pages of books listed on Amazon, author websites, Goodreads, FB forums, and various review sites. In some cases, I had to resort to reading whole books (!) in my desperate attempt to find who I was similar to. Eventually I was able to cobble together a decent-enough list, but in the year and half that it’s taken for my book to come into the world, this list has changed more times than I’d like to admit, much to the annoyance, I’m sure, of various editors along the way as I continue to avail myself of what’s out there.
I have much more faith in you, though, darlings, to better know your genre and to therefore be better equipped to answer this question when it arises than I was. After all, I’m sure you had the better sense to write, if not what you know exactly, than at least to have written what is mildly familiar.
Next week: Blurbs!