The small stage in the Hilton 208-209 meeting room was filled to capacity Sunday afternoon with panelists for the “Niche Markets in eBooks & Print (for Writers).” Gail Z. Martin, Nico Murray, Alex Hovelich, Tyra Burton, Andrew Greenburg, Holly Bryant-Simpson and Elaine Calloway joined moderator Sascha Illyvich to discuss various types of niches and how to market yourself to your specific audience.
Illyvich began the session with the question, what exactly is a niche market? The panel collaborated on the answer and described it as segmenting a genre down to very specific submarkets. For example, young adult vampire romance in Atlanta would be a niche.
Next, we moved into online marketing with the question, “Is SEO (search engine optimization) relevant?” Martin mentioned it was like chasing unicorns, to which Greenburg agreed. When marketing books online, you have to set out to own the niche against your competitors. An author should come up on the first page of search results and must own their own name and book title. The bottom line for SEO is to control what comes up first when people search for you or your niche. As regards competition, Illyvich had a slightly different take as he considered many in his niche to be friends and doesn’t want to compete with them per se. For him, it was all about discoverability and having new readers find you.
This led to the follow-up question about blackhat SEO, what it is, and how to use it. The panel felt, in general, it is like cheating the system and warned that it can come back to bite you in the ass. Things like hiring people to run up reviews or writing your own reviews and posting them as someone else are actions of blackhat marketers. Even just trying to figure out Google or Amazon algorithms are frowned upon. A strong warning not to piss off either of the online giants was followed by a suggestion to read through the Google release when they make changes.
The next question was how to balance marketing with writing. Anderson said it was all about time management. You need to figure out the time of day you are at your personal peak and use that time for writing, saving the marketing tasks for those times you are less efficient. Bryant-Simpson said she uses lists on Facebook and Twitter to concentrate only on what she needs during working hours. This helps to cut back on wasting time. Yet another suggestion was to set aside time and use a timer. When that timer goes off you get back to writing. Martin mentioned her book, 30 Days to Social Media Success, which teaches 30 days of 30-minute actionable items to market yourself online. More suggestions included engaging with your top fans and building a newsletter list. Calloway was passionate about the list, saying, “You own your list. Facebook and Twitter can always change or go away, but they can’t take your list.”
The second half of the panel was opened up to audience questions. The first question came from an author writing choose-your-own-story books, asking where to publish. The immediate answer was Kindle, as links can be used to take the reader to their chosen next section. Anderson also suggested marketing to gamers as they are the perfect audience for the interactivity of that type of book.
The next question came from an author who used DeviantArt to post her work for feedback. She was disappointed that the site is all but dead for authors and wanted to know where she could go now. Reddit was mentioned as an alternative, since the subreddits can likely match up to a niche. It was also mentioned to network with others in her niche. In addition, Illyvich said to reach out to pros such as those on the panel, but he warned to keep the requests succinct. People have helped them get to where they are, and they are willing to help others.
Yet another audience member mentioned that the Amazon categories are still too vague and wondered how to narrow down to a niche in that instance. Keywords was the answer. Amazon allows more than a single word as a keyword. Slugs or phrases can also be used.
A query to define the Young Adult market was next. This genre is for the roughly 12- to 18-year-old set, but it was mentioned there is a new segment called New Adult, which markets to the 18- to 30-year-olds.
Going back to the timing question, another audience member wondered about outsourcing marketing. Though you could outsource, you need to remember your audience wants access to you, not your staff. You will still need to do some of your own marketing.
With all the talk of social media, the final audience question asked how to set up specific accounts. For example, should you use your personal page or make an author page, and should you be on Facebook and Twitter? The emphatic answer was to have an author page and keep it separate from personal. Another suggestion was to figure out where your audience is. This particular author writes Young Adult fiction, so the panel suggested she should be on Instagram and Tumblr. It’s all about finding your audience where they are.
The end of the hour brought us back to Illyvich for the panel’s final thoughts.
Calloway: Embrace it (marketing) and think outside the box.
Bryant-Simpson: Find your audience and join in. Fandom is about participation.
Greenburg: Create your brand and be true to it.
Burton: Agreed with Greenburg about branding.
Hovelich: It’s about the community.
Murray: Be accessible and find your passion in everything you do.
Martin: Collaborate with others and cross promote.
Illyvich: Have fun!