Do you ever feel like your book is targeted to a specific, small group of people? Targeting a small niche can be a benefit or a liability. But knowing which small niche you serve makes it much easier to get started in niche marketing.
Ashley Rescot, a novelist, music aficionado, and violinist, has a unique challenge when it comes to niche marketing. She asked about it on my Ask a Vulcan website, and this interview is our coaching call about Ashley’s challenge, which might be your challenge as well.
Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: Tell us about what you write and the challenge you’re facing.
Ashley Rescot: I write music fiction, and I have published a series of short stories called The Chronicles of Music Majors. My writing is targeted toward musicians or people who enjoy music. I’ve given The Chronicles of Music Majors to various beta readers to see if I should aim for the general market, but it seems to resonate most with people who are already somewhat familiar with the music world.
Have you worked with other authors or artists who target a very specific group of people?
Thomas: I love this kind of specific target reader. Whenever somebody says they have a niche, I’m always curious about what kind of niche they have.
Sometimes they say they’re writing for 24-year-old women, but that is a terribly broad niche because 24-year-old women can be vastly different. Some 24-year-olds are staying home with their three children. Other 24-year-old women are in college or running businesses. Some are traveling Europe trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. So, the “niche” of 24-year-old women is not useful.
But you’re writing fiction for music lovers, and that’s a useful niche. Those people could be old, young, men, or women. When it comes to marketing to them, regardless of gender or age, they want the same sort of tropes in a story, and they probably hang out in the same kinds of places online.
As a music fiction novelist, you have the potential to become one of only a handful, and possibly the only one, who writes music-focused fiction.
Find Comparable Authors in Your Niche
Have you researched to see if other authors are writing this kind of fiction?
Ashley: Yes, and I found a few. Victoria Kimball wrote a similar book she released a year ago called The Main Dish. The main character was a violinist, and it was a romance for middle school and high school readers.
She targeted an audience a bit younger than mine. I’m probably aiming for high school and college readers. She also wrote a Choir Girl series, so she has tapped into those music lovers.
I’ve found other books by historical romance or inspirational historical romance writers who have had a violinist as a main character. Most of their books aren’t necessarily music fiction, but they’ll have one specific book that follows the life of a musician.
So far, from what I can find, I am the only one who has coined herself as a music fiction author.
Thomas: So, other people have dabbled in this genre, but you want to plant your flag there. You want to own this market, and when it comes to a brand-new market, there is an advantage to being the very first one.
There are also advantages to being the second one to market.
For example, in the old Disney movie Iron Will, a young boy is racing his dog sled team. Early in the race, this young kid is out in front. He and his team plow through the fresh, deep snow to get up the hill. At the top, they’re exhausted because they’ve done all the work, being the first to plow through. Then, all the other sleds start racing past them because he had packed the snow and made it easier for everyone behind him.
Sometimes it’s easier to be second.
In the software industry, it’s called a “fast follower” strategy. Microsoft and Apple watch for good ideas, and then they copy them very quickly.
I would encourage you to read all the books by authors who’ve dabbled in this market. You should also read all their book reviews. Look for elements that resonate with readers. Also, take note of what’s not resonating. Find common phrases among the five-star reviews, three-star reviews, and even the one-star reviews. One-star reviews aren’t as useful because they’re often the result of the wrong kind of person reading the book.
But if somebody leaves a two or three-star review, it means they’re the right kind of reader, but they were unhappy with some aspect of the book. See what readers and saying.
What kind of access do you have to this musical group of book readers?
Tactics to Reach Niche Readers
Ashley: I’ve spent the past 18 months trying to figure out where the musicians, especially the string players, hang out online. Many authors like hanging out on Twitter, but that’s not really where the musicians are.
They want to play their music for others online through video performances. A lot of millennials are on Instagram. Some of the older musicians are in Facebook groups, and the young ones are on Twitch.
I’m trying to write books that will appeal to different ages because, as you said, a niche of 24-year-old violinists is going to be too small. But regardless of age, they all have a love for music, especially classical music. It’s not limited to classical music lovers, but that would be the target.
I’ve tried to build relationships with musicians and string players on these different platforms and with my email list. One major online publication is called Violinist.com, and I’ve enjoyed reading some of the editor’s work. She’s been in this niche for two or three decades, so she has insightful content.
Thomas: Violinist.com is a good example of where you might use nonfiction techniques like article writing to reach this audience. If Violinist.com takes guest articles, you can pitch them even before your book comes out.
Guest posting can help you build your relationship with the publication. The first article is always the hardest. If you can write a good, enjoyable article that gets a good reaction from readers, you’re more likely to get invited back. Once you make it through that first pitch, you’ll often be given a different email address to pitch that goes past the gatekeeper to the person making final decisions.
Once you’ve built the relationship, you can coordinate your future articles with your book launch, which helps in terms of social media.
Genre-Specific Social Media Groups
Speaking of social media, one social network you didn’t mention is Discord. See if there are any Discord servers for musicians, especially violinists, talking to each other about music. If that doesn’t exist, you may want to create your own Discord.
Discord is the hottest social network right now, especially for this kind of communication. I imagine Discord is popular with classical musicians because it’s an audio-centric platform as much as a tech-centric platform. That means musicians can play music on the platform.
Have you researched Discord yet?
Ashley: When I delved into Twitch, it seemed like a lot of people were hanging out on Discord, so I need to look into it more. We do tend to be very audio-centric, more so than text-centric, which is ironic for a writer. But I’m heavily auditory for sure.
Thomas: The kind of people who are on Twitch are also on Discord. Maybe not 100%, but the audience is similar.
This is why knowing your niche is so important. If you write Amish fiction, your niche may not be on Discord or Twitch, but the musicians are.
When it comes to niche marketing on these social platforms, you must first ask whether you will be the community manager or a community member. Are you throwing the party, or are you attending parties that other people are throwing?
For most types of fiction, this isn’t a question. You can’t throw your own party because there are already hundreds of parties going on. No one wants to go to a party being thrown by an unpublished author. It’s not a good strategy for a beginning author.
But if you’re in a small niche, things change a bit. You can throw the party and invite people to attend. In the music fiction genre, you may be one of the first on Discord. I suspect quite a few musicians hang out on Discord, but you could host the first Musicians Meet.
Ashley: There are already a lot of musicians, and I would not be throwing the party for violinists on Discord.
Thomas: But for musician novels, you might be the first.
Review Other Books in Your Niche
Another tactic is to start writing reviews for the books you mentioned that are close to your genre. You’re going to be reading the music fiction books anyway to research the market, so while you’re at it, post the reviews on your blog and Goodreads.
To level up, you could do YouTube or TikTok reviews. You could even host a podcast.
Interview Authors in Your Niche
If you decide to host a podcast, you can review the book in one episode, but you can also interview the author in another episode. Other music fiction authors will be thrilled to be on your music fiction podcast. Interviews are a great way to get to know authors in your space because when authors in the same genre collaborate, the genre grows.
Authors in your genre are not your competitors. Your competitors are all the other authors writing all the other genres that these same people are reading.
Readers have many different identities. Your reader might be a musician, a mom, and a New Yorker who likes to read about New York and motherhood. Those other genres are your real competition, especially if you’re trying to create this genre from scratch.
How a Genre is Born
Ashley: Starting the genre from scratch seems to be the hard part.
Thomas: It is hard, but there are some benefits, especially if you control the party. If you’re throwing the party, you can make money off other people’s books. Maybe making money isn’t necessarily your goal, but the more action that happens at the party, the happier people are to attend.
In the early days of sci-fi, there were just a couple of authors writing in the genre. Before that, the genre didn’t even exist.
The godfathers of science fiction, Heinlein, Asimov, and a few others, interacted with one another often. They were writing a lot of sci-fi short stories. They had to work hard to be taken seriously, but eventually magazines started publishing their short stories.
Many sci-fi authors came along in the next generation, but Asimov and Heinlein are remembered as founders of the genre, and people still love to read them and quote them.
I don’t know if musical fiction has a chance at becoming as big as science fiction, but certain people are as passionate about music as others are about science.
Ashley: I write more in the romance genre of music fiction, but I can see where there would be room for thriller or sci-fi writers in the music fiction genre as well.
Thomas: I could see a thriller spy series where you have a spy whose cover identity is the fact that they’re a musician. They travel the world doing spy stuff, but they also give concerts. Maybe the main character is a struggling musician who still has to make the concerts work. The conflict would arise when the musician is torn between the spy agency and the concert manager, neither of which can know about the other.
Ashley: I love it!
Thomas: Have you written your first novel for this audience yet?
Ashley: Yes, but I’m one of those authors who wrote it ten years ago and put it down. Two years ago, I started listening to K.M. Weiland’s podcast. She talked a lot about story structure, so I revamped the story and decided to indie publish because I didn’t see any publishers acquiring music fiction.
I found my developmental editor, who sent me to your podcast. Right now, I’m working on edits from my copy editor. Hopefully, I’ll publish in the fall.
Thomas: I’m listening to see if you’re violating the Ninth Commandment of book marketing, which is “Thou shalt not publish thy first book first.”
Ashley: I am not publishing my first book first. My first book was horrible. My second one was 100,000 words, and it was also bad. I can’t publish it at all.
Thomas: That is the normal experience. Most authors don’t realize how bad their first book is, and they keep trying to bring the monster back to life.
Even though you’re hoping to launch it in the fall, I would hold that launch date loosely. A strong launch is more important than a fall launch. If you put it off a few months and have a stronger launch, your career will be better off in the long run. Indie authors often make the mistake of launching their books too quickly.
Author Platform Coaching
Thomas: Let’s talk about your platform. You know who your audience is, and you’ve found where they hang out online. You’re using social media to research and listen to your audience, which is a great way to use social media.
Ashley: I like to see what my readers are doing and talking about, and I like to listen to them playing music.
Thomas: How many of them do you have on your email list? How many have downloaded your short story in exchange for their email address?
Ashley: Many of the addresses on my email list are from when I gave a free course on how to teach violin. The rest are my real-life contacts.
Thomas: You’re starting almost from scratch then. Since you’re targeting this musician niche, some of those violin teachers may be interested in your book, so you don’t want to throw those away, but they may not be readers. The downside of your email list is that you have a lot of non-readers mixed in.
As you start sending emails about your books, those non-readers will quickly unsubscribe, and that is a good thing.
Ashley: Do you think some would read a book because it’s set in their music world?
Thomas: It’s hard to convince a non-reader to read a book for any reason. Typically, an author can’t convince a non-reader to read. If somebody hasn’t read a book for fun in five years, your book will not be the first book they read for fun.
The non-reader needs several friends to bludgeon them over the head with a book to transform them into a reader. It’s difficult to change someone. As a marketer, we must accept that fact. We’re not here to change people. We’re here to connect with people as they are. You can’t change somebody because only they can change themselves.
If you’re trying to change another person, in any area of life, you’re setting yourself up for frustration.
Building an Email List with a Reader Magnet
Thomas: Let’s talk about how you’re going to build your email list.
Even if your book was ready to publish, you don’t have a way of letting readers know about your book. If no one knows about your book, it won’t reach many people, and the news won’t spread. Throwing a match on the ground isn’t going to start a fire unless the conditions are right, so we need to make the conditions right for your book.
Tell me about the short stories you’ve written.
Ashley: I started releasing them about a year ago. They all take place at my made-up music university, but each story is about a different character. In one story, the main character is a flutist, and in another story, it’s a clarinetist. I tried to make the rounds of the orchestra.
After I had released them every couple of months, I put them into a collection and published a paperback book through Ingram Spark and Amazon. I published it as a marketing tool so readers can sample my writing. I wasn’t super concerned about its success.
Some people have enjoyed the short stories because they’re manageable and bite-sized. They don’t have to commit to a whole novel that’s going to keep them up all night.
Thomas: This is an interesting implementation of the short story strategy. When I recommend writing short stories, I don’t recommend selling them on Amazon because it’s hard to find people on Amazon. It’s kind of like putting your needle into a giant haystack.
Seth Godin, in his Akimbo podcast, made an interesting point about Amazon. He said, “While Amazon sells everything, they don’t sell anything,” which means Amazon doesn’t promote any one thing over another. No human is deciding which books to recommend.
An independent bookseller might recommend books to her customers, but Amazon doesn’t do that. It’s all algorithmic, and money is the only metric the algorithm uses. So, the more successful you are on Amazon, the more the algorithm will help you be successful. That’s basically it. It’s not a complicated algorithm. They’re not making editorial decisions in any significant way.
Even in the political realm on Amazon, I haven’t seen a lot of evidence that Amazon is making editorial decisions. They just started banning books two months ago. Everybody else has been banning and canceling for years. Amazon just started, and they’re not sophisticated about it.
But that means the algorithm won’t help you in the same way the YouTube algorithm would. When you upload videos to YouTube, you find a niche. Then the algorithm starts recommending your videos to people who may like them. Amazon won’t do that until you’re already pretty successful. Amazon may do it to some extent, but since you are in a small niche, there aren’t many authors Amazon can compare you to.
Ashley: Right. When I chose the genre for my short stories on Amazon, they had a very narrow genre. Juvenile fiction/performing arts was the closest genre that existed. Otherwise, I had to pick a more generalized genre like romance, young adult, or contemporary.
Thomas: You’re out in front of the Amazon categories with this. You may want to try targeting some of those nonfiction categories and see how you do.
Email List Building Tools
I’d recommend using your short stories for BookSweeps or Story Origin promotions. With Story Origin, you can collaborate with other authors and offer your short story for free to readers in exchange for an email address.
Email addresses are much more valuable to you than selling your book for $.99 and taking home $.10 or $.20. You’ll never make money doing that. But an email address can be worth a lot. If someone buys a book from you every year for the next ten years, that one email address could be worth $20.
Right now in your career, you want to prioritize building your email list of target readers.
BookSweeps hosts sweepstakes for books, except everybody is a winner. Readers exchange their email addresses for a pile of ebooks, and the authors of those books get the email addresses of those subscribers.
Once you get the list of subscribers from BookSweepes, you want to email them right away. Some of them will turn into solid email subscribers, and some of them won’t, but it’s surprisingly effective. I have authors in my mastermind groups who have grown their lists by 300-1,000 subscribers through these giveaways.
So, it’s better to use your bundle of short stories for a BookSweeps giveaway than to get few sales here and there on Amazon. Even if you do make a sale on Amazon and the reader loves your collection, you still don’t have a way to tell them about your next book.
It’s not that helpful in terms of platform building to sell a few books here and there.
To learn more about how you can grow your list with Story Origin and BookSweeps, listen to my episode about 8 Tools to Help Authors Get More Email Subscribers. Then visit my website and listen to all of the email list-building episodes.
Ashley: When I think of targeting readers, it feels like something a nonfiction author would do, even though I’m hoping to get some fiction readers from it.
Thomas: One advantage of being in a small niche is that you’re targeting a nonfiction gathering of people, but you’re targeting them with your short stories. Your short story is your lead magnet.
You don’t need to create a guide for becoming a better violin teacher. You offer your short story about a romance between a violinist and an oboist who are at war, but they find a way to make peace or whatever.
You know where your niche is hanging out, so offering them a free short story is a much easier ask. You’re saying, “Hey, can I give you this gift?” Listen to my episode on reciprocity. You’re going to be very generous with these short stories, and as your target readers enjoy your stories, they’ll learn that your genre exists.
It’s like you have a tasty food they’ve never eaten before because they didn’t know it exists. You have to get them to taste it. Your short stories are the taste of the genre they’ll enjoy but that they don’t know about yet.
The Chronicles of Music Majors is currently free on Amazon, so you’re using the perma-free strategy. With a perma-free book, if you have enough reviews, you could submit it for a BookBub Featured Deal. Generally speaking, the books that get featured have at least 25 reviews, but usually, they have triple-digit reviews. There is no official minimum requirement for reviews. You can implement that strategy in the future.
Thomas: You need to have a good launch. My Book Launch Blueprint course would help you because there are many tactics you can implement to get reviews right out of the gate if you have a good launch.
Other marketing opportunities become available to you if you’ve had a good launch, and a BookBub Featured Deal is a good example of that.
Ashley: I had a small launch team for my short stories because I was practicing. I just wanted to try and get it out there. I have quite a few violin-world friends I could ask to be on the launch team for my novel.
Thomas: If you have different violinists from different orchestras, the word about your book will spread widely. There’s a lot of chit-chat in the pit, and music teachers talk to each other in real life. If your launch team is geographically dispersed, news about your book will spread in those various geographic areas because most people do most of their talking in real life.
Nobody says, “I need more Facebook groups and more zoom calls.” Nobody is like that. Online friends and conversations are better than nothing, but they’re not better than real life. Humans have always communicated in real life, and having a screen between us is unnatural. It’s not always bad, but it’s very strange.
For a first-book launch team, 20 to 50 people would typically be the right size for a launch team.
Thomas: You can do some advertising right now, before your book launches. We just released an episode about how to grow your email list from zero to 6,000 in a year using a lead magnet and Facebook ads.
You can duplicate that tactic as a novelist by using your short story collection and running Facebook ads that drive people to a landing page. You have a targetable niche because you don’t have to guess whether someone is a violinist. It’s not a psychological secret that only Facebook knows.
Musicians consider their skills a deep part of their identity. Being a Longhorn fan is different than being a violinist.
“Violinist” is really deep identity, which means it’s a powerful identity to target with marketing. That’s one reason this genre has potential. If you do well and other authors join you, this genre could definitely earn its own category on Amazon in a few years.
Ashley: I would love to see authors with strengths in the preexisting genres, like thriller and sci-fi, join me as the romance music fiction author.
Thomas: If you’re successful, here’s what that process will look like: You’ll make $100,000, and your success will attract people who follow these trends. Alex Newton of k-lytics publishes reports on microgenres. He’ll publish a report saying people are making a lot of money in the music fiction genre. Then the writers who can write to market will read that report and jump on board.
Suddenly, you’ll have a dozen people writing in your market, and they’ll all be making tons of money as quietly as possible. But the k-lytics reports will continue to be published, and the genre will attract more writers. As they promote their work, the genre gains traction and attracts new readers into the market.
The challenge comes when a lot of poor writers join the genre and flood the market with mediocre music fiction. Maybe they’re not even musicians, but they think there’s quick money in the genre, so they start writing in it.
Ashley: Would you recommend collaborating with musicians who like to write or writers who are also musicians?
Thomas: The people who will join you are writers first. It’s easier to learn music culture than to learn how to craft a good story.
In this fictional future we’re painting, it’s OK that some people aren’t great writers. The market will mature, and readers will look to Goodreads to find out which writers are good and which aren’t.
Goodreads reviews are much more honest and dynamic. Reviews on Amazon are different. On Amazon, every product has four or five stars, whereas, on Goodreads, it’s different.
- 1-star = I hated it.
- 2-stars = I didn’t like it.
- 3-stars = I liked it.
- 4-starts = I really liked it.
- 5-stars = I loved it.
Three stars on Goodreads means people liked your book. Three stars on Amazon means people are angry about something, which makes Amazon reviews a little harder for customers to interpret. Customers typically look at the number of ratings on a product before they look at how many stars it has.
Thomas: What other questions do you have about niche marketing?
Connect with Influencers in Your Niche
Ashley: I’ve heard you say that authors don’t have to become social media geniuses to utilize the various platforms. I got on Twitch, and I binged for a week, which is how I figure out a new social network. Then I burned myself out.
I ended up contacting one of the famous Twitch violinists, and I asked if I could sponsor a Twitch stream where she played one of the songs from my novel when it releases. She was thrilled. And she can get one of these big-shot concertos ready to perform much faster than I could because I’m working more on writing and publishing right now.
Thomas: How many subscribers does she have on Twitch?
Ashley: She has several thousand. On one of her practicing sessions, she had over 100 people showing up to watch her practice. She’s also got a YouTube channel.
Thomas: How much is she charging you?
Ashley: Honestly, she said she would do it for free, but I value musicians, so I told her I would pay $100. I value what she’s doing as a musician, I believe musicians should be paid, and I know how much work it is to play this concerto.
Thomas: That is the perfect illustration of what I mean when I talk about becoming an influencer. You do all of this work, and there’s just so little money in it, which means as an author, you can pick your own price for a sponsorship. So keep searching for people you can reach out to.
I don’t know how big the music Twitch world is. On Twitch, you’ll mostly find 12-year-olds making long videos of themselves playing Fortnite or Minecraft, but there are also musicians playing concertos.
Ashley: That’s what intrigued me. Musicians spend three to four hours each day practicing their instruments. Now they can stream their practice session for those who want to hang out together. It’s a very solitary profession in one sense, but by streaming and watching practice sessions, they’ve created a community to support each other.
Thomas: Imagine having an audience of 100 people watching you practice. That’s a bigger audience than many violinists have when they perform.
Ashley: They do take requests too.
Thomas: There’s interactivity, and money changes hands as listeners leave tips for the musicians.
But here’s the caution for everyone reading this interview. This is not a directive to get on Twitch. Your target audience may not be there because it skews younger, it skews male, and neither of those groups is a big reading audience.
Ashley: I will admit, the reason I got on Twitch was because the violinist Lindsey Stirling was hosting her book club there, and that’s why I joined.
That’s what niche marketing is all about. You’re not trying to appeal to everyone. You’re trying to appeal to a small group of people, and you’re trying to thrill them.
Thomas: Lindsey is a perfect fit for Twitch because she performs covers of songs from video games. She’s a violinist, but she plays the Skyrim theme. She’s a great example of someone who has found a niche, and her audience enjoys her unique performances.
As you continue to connect with your niche, they will come to enjoy, expect, and even spread the word about your work.
Peter DeHaan, author of 52 Churches
Peter and his wife visited a different Christian Church every Sunday for a year. This book is their story. Discover more about Jesus’s church, the people who go there, and just how vast our practices and worship are.