Here’s a book marketing story: Once upon a time there was a writer named Daniel James Brown who had written a book called The Boys in the Boat. It was his third book and his publisher was very excited about it. But how to market it? The usual bookstore appearances were scheduled, and while his launch in Seattle’s University Bookstore was fantastically attended (350+ people), his very next appearance at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC was not (6 people). Such is the hit-and-miss nature of these things. So someone had a new idea. The book was about rowers. Well, actually, as any writer will tell you of his or her book, it was about more than that—it was about brotherhood, and teamwork, and the Nazis, and hope—but it was also about rowers. So Brown was sent to rowing houses to talk to young rowing enthusiasts. This is what is known as a “niche market.” Rowing, you see, used to be as popular as baseball. Not so much anymore.
The young rowers bought the book. They loved it. Then an interesting thing happened. Those rowers’ mothers read the book. They loved it too. So they shared it with their book groups. The book groups loved it. And since it was about young men and Nazis, these women shared it with their husbands. They also loved it. Now it became a great book to give to men as a gift, thereby solving many a Father’s Day and birthday quandary. The book, with its niche market, eventually reached #1 on the New York Times list. The end.
In marketing, we talk about our target audience. Ideally, our target audience is humanity. After all, we’re writing stories about other humans. But as Brown’s story illustrates, it is usually a good idea to begin with those humans who most resemble your story’s protagonists. It will be easiest for these people to see themselves in your story.
But if your story is about something universal, about love or forgiveness or charity or hope or courage, it may find its way to other humans who maybe do not resemble the story’s protagonist in form but are identical to them in spirit. There is no formula for achieving this kind of expanded readership other than to write the best book you could possibly write, to tell a story from that part of yourself that is deeper than your age, or your gender, or your history, or your family, or your race, that part of you most recognizable to everyone and perhaps also to yourself.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.