Thursday, August 27, 2020

Marketability: The Author’s Secret Weapon by Lisa Phillips

I had my plot all figured out.

Famous singer placed in witness protection finds herself in danger. Protected by a handsome US Marshal, she winds up falling for him as they race for safety. My editor’s response: “characters with artistic careers don’t sell.” Say what?!

First of all, the fact she knew that was great. My editor knew what the reader wanted down to a degree so specific she could tell me my character needed career advice. So I revised.

What does the reader want? Because once we figure that out, we can give it to them. (More or less.) I write Christian romantic suspense. It’s a pretty narrow genre, with a lot of fantastic authors—some who put out longer books less frequently, and some who put out shorter books every few weeks. Subscription services like KU, and platforms like Kobo serve readers in different countries and all walks of life. Across the world—and right in my neighborhood. We can thank pioneers like Terri Blackstock, and Dee Henderson for helping to grow the popularity of Christian suspense books over the past decades. And we’re gaining new readers every day, people who weren’t even aware that there are Christian fiction novels out there. We’ve been around for years, and there’s no sign that I can see that Christian romantic suspense is going anywhere. (Except to my Kindle app.)

So how do we find out what the reader wants? By being a reader. Sure, you could call it “market research” and claim all your purchases as business expenses, but all this means is looking at the titles in your genre on all the sales platforms, and reading them. Ones you think you’d like. Ones you think you won’t like. Ones that sell baffling amounts of copies. Traditional. Indie. Short. Long.

Figure out what you like best about your genre, and then write a book that encompasses all those things. But what if I don’t read the genre I write in? Um…why would you write something you wouldn’t want to read? That’s my first question. And I’ll probably leave it there. If you’re just in this to sell books, we readers can tell if you’ve got no love for what you’re writing. I’m a pretty eclectic reader, but there’s something about Christian romantic suspense that checks the most boxes for me. So that’s what I write—with a unique voice only I can bring.

Hone your craft Do authors in your genre use short, punchy sentences? Fragments. Lyrical prose. Third person. Past tense. Do they split the POV between two characters, or more? Do they use scene breaks, or is each chapter one POV? Do they start with an exciting, hooky scene? Does the romance develop quickly or slowly? How much time do the characters spend on the page together? Are writers in my genre writing a lot about one topic, or another – which books are ranked higher on Amazon? Is it a fad, a trend, or a way of life? If a book in your genre grabs you – analyze why. Use that knowledge in your own books. Put your own spin on it.

Read the reviews… …of the top books in your genre. What are the biggest complaints? I did that yesterday, and one struck me. The author had two timelines, and goes back and forth through the story—the past was written in third person past tense, and the present in third person present tense. Makes sense to me. Except for most people, present tense is hard to read. And switching between can be jarring. If I was going to write a book like that? I would seriously consider what to do about it.

Maybe a book has too many characters to keep track of—how many did the author use? Or it started slowly—how did the author write the beginning? Maybe the story just wasn’t believable—can you figure out what lost the reader? Some things are simply reader preference—of the individual reader—but if you find several reviews on a book that say essentially the same thing, then it’s worth looking at what the author did.

And then editing your book with this in mind. Leaving your novel for a few weeks (or so) and coming back with fresh eyes is a great way to see it as a reader might. I’ll often put it on my Kindle, and read it like any other book. Sometimes I like what I find. Sometimes I see holes, or contrivances. Dialogue that’s out of character. Things that come out of nowhere with no transition.

Which brings me to my next point: Develop a business mindset. If you’ve journeyed with me this far, you’re a long way to viewing the market in terms of what might sell—and what might have a harder time holding onto your readers. But there’s another step.

The moment your book is written, it’s no longer a book. Yes, you heard me. Once you’ve got all those words down. Edited, or just a first draft: that book is now a product. It’s not your baby, or your sweet story, or your life’s work (even if you took 20 years to finish it). It’s a product looking for a customer.

Especially if you’re an indie author, but also if you’re looking to get traditionally published and hook that editor or agent. You have to let go of what your story “is” and be willing to revise—sometimes huge chunks of it—to get it to a place where it’s salable. The market, and readers, know what they like. If you don’t write what sells, guess what? It won’t sell.

And how do I know this, you ask? The difference in sales rankings between my latest, Last Chance County series, and my supernatural books that I write under a penname…apparently for fun, and not for any actual money.

Maybe it’s the story that doesn’t drive readers to your next book. Maybe it’s a description that doesn’t grab in the first few words. Maybe it’s a cheap or self-created cover. I’ve done some of those myself. Occasionally they work, but more occasionally they’re terrible (and I get my cover designer to make me something new).

Your product is a whole package, with multiple entry points. Some readers only look at the cover. Some look at the description. Or reviews. Or editorial comments. Your Facebook page. A blog or newsletter. Bookbub. Goodreads. Who knows how readers will find you?

Make what they discover the best it can be. And exactly what they’re looking for.

And speaking of books that are exactly what you’re looking for *wink* check out this upcoming box set. What, you say? Another bundle of short stories? NO WAY!! These are all full length novels from Christian suspense/romance’s biggest authors. Bestsellers. Award winners. Amazing women it’s been a pleasure to work on this with.

Figure out what you like best about your genre, and then write a book that encompasses all those things.




Order your copy of DANGEROUS DECEPTIONS now!


A British ex-pat who grew up an hour outside of London, Lisa attended Calvary Chapel Bible College where she met her husband. He's from California, but nobody's perfect. It wasn't until her Bible College graduation that she figured out she was a writer (someone told her). Since then she's discovered a penchant for high-stakes stories of mayhem and disaster where you can find made-for-each-other love that always ends in happily ever after. Lisa can be found in Idaho wearing either flip-flops or cowgirl boots, depending on the season. She leads worship with her husband at their local church. Together they have two kids and an all black Airedale known as The Dark Lord Elevator.

16 comments:

  1. Lisa, such great information. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Well said, Lisa! It's hard to think of my novels as products, but you're absolutely right--that's what they are. (Though I'd never heard that books with characters with artistic careers don't sell. Who knew?)

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    1. I think it was specifically for that line, but it’s still interesting to think about. As a reader I have PLENTY of opinions about what I like, or don’t like, lol.

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  3. Thanks for the tips, Lisa. Much appreciated!

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  5. Very insightful! I love this kind of information! So useful! Thanks, Lisa. Of course, I love the boxed set too!

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  6. Love these ideas - really makes you think about character choices.

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  7. This really is a lot of great information! Thanks so much for sharing.

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  8. Lisa, I’ve been reading some about this but wasn’t sure I understood it. Thanks for explaining. You provided great information.

    I’ve had my copy of Dangerous Deceptions preordered for quite some time. I’m anxiously awaiting release day!

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    1. It’s such a massive topic, I think I could’ve gone on longer but then it would’ve been a book on its own lol. I’m glad it helped!
      I can’t wait for the boxed set either!!

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  9. Great advice. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

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