Thursday, February 17, 2011

So you just wrote a best seller

What makes a best seller? The short answer is, “Nobody knows.” Why do people buy one book and pass on another? Maybe the cover is attractive, maybe the first page is compelling, maybe, maybe, maybe. In actual fact, if anyone knew the formula for a best seller, J K Rowling wouldn’t have endured fourteen (some sources say twelve) rejections before finding a publisher to take on her Harry Potter series.

So what does that mean for writers? Whether you are self published, work with an indie, or a major house, you need to know the market for your book. When writing, keep in mind who you’re writing for. Oh, we can always fall back on that “I’m writing for myself. I don’t care if anyone else likes it or not.” Fine, in that case, why not just keep a diary and save yourself the struggle of landing a publishing contract?

If you want to get published, consider your audience. That’s still something of a black art as far as I can tell. Even the publishers aren’t completely sure of who will buy your book, and they are the experts, right?

I started with genre. Genre wise, I am a mystery/suspense writer with a style that falls somewhere between Randy Wayne White and John D. MacDonald, with a slight dose of Tim Dorsey thrown in for humor. While I’m not arrogant enough to consider myself at their level (yet), a lot of elements are similar enough for classification purposes.

Okay, I’ve got a handle on who I am as a writer. But who would buy my book once it’s out there? Sisters in Crime recently published a study on mystery reader demographics. According to their study, 70% of mystery buyers are women, and 70% of mystery buyers are over 45 years old.

Ouch! My book is a bit more male centric. Did I cut myself off of the largest market segment? Not necessarily, my beta readers were female, and they enjoyed the read. They also offered major suggestions, which I took to heart. I wanted the story to appeal to the ladies as well as the men.

How do I reach the mystery buying public? The Sisters in Crime study claims that 19% get their books at libraries. Maybe I should consider donating some books to libraries, maybe try to do a talk or two over there? 11% of mysteries are acquired through book clubs. This bears a little research as well. Maybe try to get a review and a recommendation from Mystery Guild or Mystery Readers?

SIC claims that 39% are store bought. How to get on the shelves at Barnes and Noble? Talk to some store managers, see if they allow signings, see if they have a shelf for local writers. Unless you are working with a big publishing house, I think that getting onto the shelves nationwide will be a tough battle. Except for the local stores, it may be better to save your energy for activities with a greater payback percentage.

Another interesting tidbit from the SIC study is that 35% are purchased in the South. Good for me, I live in the South. So I need to reach out to women over 45 who live in the South. I travel quite a bit, so dropping in on libraries, book clubs, book stores, and book fairs is a possibility. Locating them and finagling my way in will take some work, but may be worth the effort.

What this all boils down to is work. Stretch yourself. Do some research. Reach out to people in different areas and see if they are willing to work with you. Don’t take no too easily, but don’t push to the point of being obnoxious. Think of non-traditional ways to get the word out. In return, remember others who, like you, are struggling with the same issues, and lend them a helping hand along the way.


  1. You've done some excellent research, Tom! I hope I have that fortitude.

  2. Thank you Savvy, but I did have some help. I received some terrific pointers from a pro!

  3. I'm sure people will benefit from these ideas, Tom! Good post!

  4. Thanks for coming by, Jenny. BTW, Jenny has a series of terrific blogs of her own. Links to her blog can be found at

  5. Good post! I'm a firm believer in library presentations. I've done several and enjoyed every one of them. I think book clubs would be a lot of fun, too. Trust me; finagling your way in will be worth the effort.

  6. Hi Marja, thanks for the feedback, and welcome to Musings. Hope to see you back soon, and best of luck on your books.