So you just finished writing a book. Awesome–now who are you going to sell it to?

If you’re not published by a major publishing house, chances are you’re going to sell it to your parents, your kids, your neighbors, maybe coworkers, etc.

You won’t, however, be selling it to a massive segment of the U.S. adult population–unless you’ve been building a list.

The power of the list.

The “list,” as it’s come to be known in marketing and advertising circles, is hands-down the most powerful marketing asset to any organization–online or off. In fact, many marketing experts have publicly stated that if their business completely collapsed overnight leaving them with nothing but their list, they’d be back in business within a week.

Your list will be the first 1,000 true fans you have. They’ll be the people anxiously awaiting your book’s release; the ones emailing you asking for help and advice.

Ignore your list at your peril.

Great, but what does that mean for authors?

As an author, you need to do three things:

  1. Write the best darn book you can. Without fail, this is the difference between long-term success as a “pro writer” and a hack who’s trying to bank on the publishing industry’s turmoil.
  2. Find (or create) your perfect audience. Easier said than done, which is why too many authors ignore this crucial step in the sales chain.
  3. Start building a list. Again, this will be a list of the “for sure” buyers–the guys and gals who show up to your local gigs, your book signings, and eventually act like raving lunatics and treat you like a celebrity.

In this post, I’m going to talk about each one of these steps–hopefully giving you actionable advice and tips on how to do each one. Again, my standard disclaimer applies: I’m no “expert,” but I’ve done these things–I’ve built lists, written a book, and targeted niche audiences. I may not have all the answers, but I sure do have examples of mistakes and what not to do!

Writing the book. 

Even though I listed this step first, it’s really the last thing you want to worry about. Here’s why: you’re a writer for a reason. You probably have enough confidence in your own writing abilities that you don’t need to spend much effort and energy writing the best book possible.

I do have a great (and free!) guide on crafting story that helps with the fiction-writing process, though, if you need a little help.

Plus, you need to start building your online platform long before you finish your masterpiece. It takes more time, effort, and usually more planning than writing the novel.

So, again, I won’t talk about writing the book much here–that’s something you can do on your own, or with the help of the Fiction Writing course.

Finding or creating an audience. 

The second (or first, really) step in the chain is building your audience. You need to have a niche, or a segmented portion of the overall market, that you can start interacting with, engaging, and eventually pitching your book to. Here are a few examples of niche markets you might focus on.

If you’re a sci-fi writer:

  • Astronomy and celestial science
  • Physics and natural sciences
  • Star Wars/Star Trek fan forums
  • Comic book lovers
  • Computer/tech genres

If you’re a Western writer:

  • “History buffs”
  • Western living blogs and websites
  • Ranching and farming
  • DIY “mountain-man”-types

If you’re a thriller writer, primarily writing about military-based stuff:

  • Conspiracy theories
  • Military intelligence
  • Military history
  • Men, ages 45-65, who are ex-military and love to fish

As you can see, there really aren’t any “rules” except for this one:

You can’t market to everyone.

If you email me and say, “hey, Nick, I really feel like my story about a magical Hobbit vampire who travels to Muckduck to throw her magic wand into a hurricane is going to be perfect for everyone,” I’m not going to ignore you, but I’ll strongly advise against that “target market” (and possibly writing the book in the first place…

Yes, I realize there are smash-hit successes that break all the rules and literally everyone in your office will read.

But the second you try to be one of them, you’re going to realize that you’re in over your head. I’ve harped on it before, I’ll harp on it again: These are the exceptions that prove the rule, not the other way around.

Prove me wrong, and enjoy being a millionaire. I’ll stay here on Earth and write books for the few-hundred people I know will absolutely love it.

So, going back to our examples above, start drilling down categorically into the areas of interest your readers might have. Try to get as granular, targeted, and focused as possible. One way to think of this is that you’re trying to find your “Unique Selling Proposition,” or USP as it’s known in business-land.

And here’s a top-secret way to figure out your USP that works every time:

Start with yourself as your target market.

Literally write a list of your interests–broadly, then more focused as you go. List things like “fishing,” “backpacking,” “Hunger Games,” etc. until you have a few pages of ideas. These things don’t need to have anything to do with your book’s topics. My book’s about an ancient, mysterious stone that resurfaces after millennia and threatens to destroy the world.

The reason I can still list other interests and categories that don’t have anything to do with my book is that for whatever reason, those things that I like have also made me like the type of book I wrote (and read). 

Does that make sense?

The stuff that you like is the stuff that indirectly or directly gets added into your book’s final ingredient list–whether you realize it or not.

And if there’s another person out there who likes the exact same stuff as you is probably going to absolutely love your book as well.

So in turn, that’s how to start narrowing your focus down into a granular idea of a niche market for your book. Keep adding to the list, and see what larger, broader categories crop up:

  • Do you have things like “camping,” “backpacking,” and “running with my spouse” on your list? Might start thinking about a target market of “young couples who enjoy the outdoors.”
  • Do you have “dress-up games,” “Halloween,” “intelligent humor,” and “fantasy movies” on your list? Your target market might be “a broad age range of intelligent males who enjoy and appreciate fantasy.”
  • Do you have “cooking alone,” “cats,” and “true romance” on your list? Yep, you guessed it–you could have a target market that’s “primarily middle-aged women, between the ages of 35 and 70, who enjoy fine foods, wine, and are either divorced or widowed.”

Listen, this shouldn’t be insulting to anyone. Yes, they’re stereotypes, but that’s because stereotypes work. If you fall into one of your categories, you’d better believe you have a great opportunity at selling your book to others in that category! Don’t get all bent out of shape if there’s something about your target market that doesn’t speak too kindly of yourself–it is what it is, and it’s going to get you paid.

Building your audience and platform.

Once you know exactly the type of person you’re trying to target (hint: yourself), you can start figuring out where these “perfect readers” hang out (hint: where do you hang out?).

  • Are they spending most of their time on Facebook or Twitter? Pinterest?
  • What are they spending money on? Ask yourself this question by popping open your Amazon account and browsing through your recent history.
  • What forums, chat rooms, or interactive websites are they hanging out on? Do they play games online, or gamble, or read political rant columns at Huff Post?
  • What books do they purchase? This is the million-dollar question, but it’s an easy thing to find out: again, what books do you buy? What book did you just have to have when it came out? Extrapolate.
  • What blogs and news sites do they read?

Keep asking these types of questions, and compare the answers with your categorical list from above. You’ll start to see patterns. For me, it was:

  • Many of the people who write genre-thrillers like mine and James Rollins’, Dan Brown’s, and Clive Cussler’s, are guys–adult males, specifically. They have full-time office-style jobs with families, and enjoy the “escape” provided by “hero-saves-the-world” action tales.
  • My target market has a reasonably large amount of disposable income. They purchase small-ticket items like books and magazines, and music, on impulse. Yet they’re still bargain-conscious and will go for the cheaper option when faced with two options, rather than purchase both.
  • They travel, either for business or for pleasure, and love stories about exotic locales and awesome scenery.

See how easy that was? Maybe you’ve got a similar market-base, or maybe it’s the exact opposite. It doesn’t matter–just start figuring it out now, and keep adjusting/changing it as you go, until you have a pretty good idea of which people at the office party are going to really enjoy your book, and which ones are just going to purchase it to be nice (or to get you to shut up about it).

Getting emails. 

Okay, so you’ve gotten a target market identified, and you know precisely if they’re going to be a good fit for your book.

Now, how do you get them to give you permission to sell something to them?

Pretty simple, really: you ask. 

You ask them for permission to give you permission to sell something to them. It sounds counter-intuitive, but this little customer-seller dance is a crucial step in long-term business success. Here are the steps:

  1. First, you need to make sure you’re set up for capturing their permission. You must have a website; preferably a blog. Specifically a WordPress blog that doesn’t have a sucky design.
  2. Second, you need to have the technology in place to actually make the transaction. I have a newsletter sign-up on every page of this site, and sometimes more than once. If you come to my site, I’m going to ask you often to sign up for email updates–in a nice, cordial way–but I’m going to ask nonetheless.
  3. Third, you need to get people to your site. You can’t get people to sign up for anything if you don’t have people. You need to start focusing on a traffic strategy for your brand (your website). Guest-posting, paid ad spots, and SEO are all viable options, and you can certainly do each simultaneously. Of the three I just mentioned, though, I heartily recommend guest-posting as a blogging and platform-building strategy. It’s taken this very site from nothing to a quickly-growing site in all of two months. Literally.

I’ll post more about guest-blogging as a strategy, but for now, you can read this post about it. In a nutshell, you’re going to learn how to write content for those categories you listed above, and then start seeking out opportunities to write for other blogs and sites that would benefit from your expertise. In exchange, you’ll get a “call out” spot–a brief bio and link back to your blog and possibly your book.

(If you have a specific question about the strategy just leave a comment on this post or The Secret to Gaining Massive Readership for Your Blog–I respond to every one of them.)

The overall strategy. 

Find an audience, prepare your “home-base,” and drive traffic to generate signups. It’s that simple, and it’s that difficult, at the same time. There are so many ways to get caught up along the way–“shiny object syndrome,” shady marketers promising a “better, cheaper, faster” method, etc.

Trust me on this–I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I’ve paid too much for the t-shirt (and then I got fat, so it doesn’t even fit anyway…). Focus on nothing but writing, building, and adding value, and you’ll eventually make it.

Yes, it’s difficult. But it’s not hard. Building a house by yourself with no tools is hard.

But building a platform, with all the tools and all the wisdom readily at your disposal?

That should be easy.

Please, if you need help figuring something out, or just don’t “get” the concept–leave a comment or email me. I want to help you make sense of all of this–I’ll feel like I helped in your imminent success, and I’ll get a warm-fuzzy for that.