I've already discussed the "over-simplified mind" of our customers and the relationship between our actual products and our potential customer's perception of them. Those concepts were tied together with the discussion of "filtering perception" in the 3rd entry of this series, and last week, I talked about finding and identifying a creneau, French for a "hole" in the market. Today we'll look at different kinds of creneaus--and discuss how they are or are not suited to the Indie Author.
It's a given that size matters in the world of selling widgets (things) and it's no different for Indie Publishing. From the second that Amazon introduced 99c books to the American Kindle Store, short, low-priced eBooks have been a bone of contention in the industry. Arguments rage on about pricing full-length books at the 99c price point to gather up new readers and the most-common argument against doing it touches on the size creneau even if they dodn't know it.
A fractional price should indicate a fractional size, just a portion of a typical product--such as, a short story, a novella, a sampling of the wares for sale at "regular" prices. This is the argument against the 99c novel because pricing a full-sized product below full price changes the product ladder inside the minds of the customers. The customers begin to expect novels to cost less. The size creneau becomes fractured, not fractional.
If you have a knack for writing short stories or novellas, make that your niche. Don't keep forcing yourself into the longer-length book format simply to make a higher price point. Sell more copies of the lower-priced book by being true to your own format.
Almost the same discussion applies here, where simply pricing something higher is supposed to imply it has a higher value or worth. Although this can work with cars or clothing labels--and people really do pay more just to get the label!--the reality is, when it comes to eBooks, readers will not pay a higher price unless there are more words present to warrant it. Readers base their pricing on the "bang for the buck" method. Fewer words, lower price; more words, higher price. Doesn't matter if the handful of words one author writes are worth 5 times the 100k another author writes, the crap writer with the 100k long work is going to find it easier to demand a higher price.
The high-priced creneau, however, is available to Indie Authors who have established themselves, who have a name--or at least some publicity quotes they can slap onto their covers. The phrase Award-winning Author has been so over-used at this point, it nearly has no meaning anymore (as well as Best Seller List--which list? who cares?) but these are labels like the labels inside designer clothes. If you have them, use them and raise your price to match. Celebrity endorsement also raises your "worth." Someone famous said nice things about your book? Quote them on your cover and raise the price again. Not a lot, just a little each time. Slowly inch your way up that product ladder. Remember you have to justify each price increase or you won't have a rung to stand on!
The other way to get more money for your products isn't really the same as changing the perception of your worth. It's simply writing more words and raising your price to match the size of your product. It's the inverse of the "Size Creneau." If you're like me and your novels seem to hover in length around 150,000 or 200,000 words, then you can demand a higher price. Don't just demand it; draw attention to it! The higher-priced, long book is your creneau! So long as that's the length you feel most comfortable writing (and can keep turning out) identify yourself with it -- sell yourself with it!
For an example of a highly-successful author who became known for writing tomes--and having them priced just as large--but still frequented the NYT Best Seller List, I give you James A. Michener. Although I prefer the genres of Romantic Suspense and Science Fiction, I am definitely aspiring to be another Michener. My "natural" format is the epic saga, not short stories. I have no qualms about pricing my high-quality, longer-length books well above the $2.99 minimum to get Amazon's 70% royalty rate. Regular paperback books are $7.99 (+/- a dollar) so why not price my longer-length books at or above that price point? Only my lack of a name like Michener's lowers my prices--for now. I'll still enter the market at or above $5.99 because I cannot see throwing away the possibility of becoming known for writing high-quality, longer-length books. I want to snatch that identity up right from the start!
Note that the "Size Creneau" and its related "Low-Priced Creneau" both typically cater to readers who prefer shorts at bargain-basement prices. The "High-Priced Creneau" caters to readers who prefer longer books and are willing to pay for them. These are completely different markets and as such, are opportunities to bring the Law of Opposites into play. No matter which one you fall into, be sure to be not the other.
Sex Still Sells Butt....
In the world of creneaus, sex is still a great way to sell things (and no pun was intended at first; however, I can't miss out on all of the double entendres!) For Indie Authors who write sizzling hot, sexy books, just the sex part of the book can and will sell the entire story to their target readers. Although not necessarily erotica, sizzling hot romance novels are a popular product and well-established creneau.
To sell inside that creneau, you nearly need to find a hole within a hole (again, no puns intended here but it's pretty hard not to find double entendres every third word). Finding a hole within a hole is pretty much what gave rise to new genre labels (such as "Erotica" and the recent explosion of "M/M Romance" - again no pun intended butt...read at your own risk.) In fact, the M/M Romance genre is usually homoerotic fiction written by women for women and gay men who might enjoy the topic typically look for books labelled "Gay Fiction" instead. The gender of the reader determines the reaction to the label and that is the crux of the "Sex Creneau." It's about the sex of your reader, not the sex in your book.
Even so, the sexual content of your story is definitely a consideration when formulating your sales pitch. Sex will sell. Guaranteed, but be aware taht sex will also prevent sales if your readers sees it as "an obstacle to their enjoyment of an otherwise good story." I cannot tell you how often I've seen nearly that exact quote in a book review. Dozens of times. Even if all humans want sex in their lives, not all readers want sex in their stories.
I write SciFi under a pen name but if I target the SciFi adventure readers with a promo for a sexy SFR (SciFi Romance), they're not going to be interested. Instead, I'm specifically trying to target Romantic SF readers with those pitches. I've been promo'ing the book on Thriller Thursdays as a SciFi Thriller that has some sexy thrills and reaching more mainstream SciFi fans that way.
Make sure your brand supports sex as a central focus or stay away from using sex to sell your books. If your readers find you've done a "bait and switch" to sell them a book that has none of the sex they want--or worse, sex they don't want--they'll find that to be a betrayal of their trust. Reclaiming trust once lost is far more difficult than gaining trust in the first place.
As I just mentioned in the "Sex Creneau" discussion, the gender of your prospect will affect how they view you and your product. Their gender affects how they interpret the entire world, so why not how they "hear" sales pitches? Gender targetting is a slightly different tactic than "Sex Creneau" targetting--and far more difficult than merely identifying if your book is "too sexy for a shirt" on the cover ((grin)) or will appeal to a specific sexually-active audience.
To target women or men, you have to be able to get outside your own gender biases and really understand where those sexist lines are drawn. You also need to be willing to step over a sexist line and be a sexist. Targetting men or women with a pitch designed for one but not the other is an art form. If you can do it and want to do it, go for it--but do it with your eyes open.
What's the danger? You might be cutting off an entire segment of your potential market that otherwise would have been interested in your book, right up until you informed them they were not of interest to you! Worse, with the virality of the internet these days, once you become known as a sexist (whether anti-male or anit-female), the gender against which you allegedly discriminate might never give you a second chance to prove you're not discriminating against them.
If your product really and truly only appeals to one gender and not the other, using the "Gender Creneau" as part of your sales pitch is the way to go. Otherwise, stay clear. Gender creneaus work well for something like cigarettes, perfumes/colognes (See? We even have genderized names for the same products!) but they are a slipperly slope for eBook sellers.
I'll take a risk and flat out advise against targetting a market based on gender. Ever. I cannot think of any genre that couldn't possibly appeal to all humans on the planet.
This creneau is, on the surface, not applicable to Indie Authors, but once you get past the words (haha) it's more applicable to publishing than it is to widgets. The mistake giving rise to this term is that many people try to fill a hole in the factory rather than one in the mind of the customer. The factory, in Indie Publishing, is the production line of creating and selling books en masse. The mistake is in the creation of the so-called "cookie cutter story" or series of stories. Readers are always looking for "something new, something different," and cookie cutter stories sell once, but do not sustain sales trends.
But wait! I hear you saying. What about book club subscriptions? Aren't they specifically selling more of the same old, same old month after month?
For many years, the "category romance" subgenre of books was considered to be a kind of factory-produced creneau or niche market. Harlequin Books has sold monthly subscriptions and mailed out books to readers for a monthly residual fee and made their name doing so. In fact, Harlequin launched dozens of imprints and became a behemoth of a force in the publishing world by selling monthly subscriptions. They did not, in fact, turn out the same old, same old month after month.
The Science Fiction Book Club has also sold subscriptions--for over 50 years! They've catered to the SF/F genre readers since the day the genre came out of the closet. Almost literally. In the 1950s, the typical SF/F reader was a white male in his mid-teens and the typical SF/F writer was a white male in his mid-forties or fifties, possibly with a son in his mid-teens. The SFBC definitely caters to non-whites, non-males and non-teens today. They learned to grow with the times.
Both of these subscription services or "factories" survived by not doing the same thing they used to do 50 years ago. They learned to change their position in the readers' minds and changed the "factory" to accommodate the new niche they needed to fill. They've changed with the times; you should, too.
The Everybody Trap
Some marketers reject the entire cherchez le creneau (fill the hole) concept by saying their product appeals to everyone, not just some specific niche market. The trap there is that if your brand doesn't identify you as "something new, something different," then there's nothing to distinguish you from the "everyone else." If you appeal to "everybody," then you don't really appeal to anybody.
If you're trying to build a "position" in the minds of readers starting from "nowhere" and climbing up the product ladder to the top, you have to be something new and something different. You cannot appeal to everybody. You must avoid appealing to everybody. You need to create and claim and dominate an entirely new market! I refer you back to both Harlequin and SFBC, both of which are now hugely successful financial ventures--and both of which started when the concept didn't yet exist. Both Harlequin and SFBC created a creneau and then filled it and neither one appeals to "everybody," even to this day. That's part of why both are still so successful today ((grin))
Tomorrow's Tuesday Tip will discuss more Facebookisms, focused on the fact that Everybody on Facebook is getting Timeline in 2 weeks whether we like it or not!
Next week's Positioning entry will look at what to do when you cannot find a creneau to fill. Hope to see you then! Follow me on Twitter @webbiegrrl in the meantime or follow the Webbiegrrl Writer Page on Facebook (via Networked Blogs) for interesting tidbits throughout the week.