4 Lessons learned from super niche marketing

niche marketing

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

It’s frustrating to work your face off and release a product online that no one wants to buy.

(X___X ) < That was me about two years ago, when I uploaded my first sci-fi book to Amazon where it vanished into the algorithm of the digital abyss.

Disappointed but not defeated, I wrote my next book, created a kick-ass cover (or so I thought) and uploaded the new baby. Unsurprisingly, it bombed like the first, and I was beginning to lose faith. Was I really going to be the successful sci-fi author my mind wanted to make me believe?

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I’ve shipped my third sci-fi book, Vanguard Galaxy. It’s outperforming my previous ones by a loooong shot. I make dozens of sales a day, with as many as 35,000 pages read a week, for which I get paid for as well. One more book, and I’m able to live off self-publishing exclusively, which is a dimension away from the few bucks I used to make with my previous ones.

So what has changed?

Marketing.

And to be more specific, marketing to niche group within a niche group. Down below, I want to reveal my top five lessons I’ve learned from marketing my fiction to a fan crowd online.

1) Going exclusive is risky and rewarding

You hear it all the time—never lay all your books in one basket. If I had gotten a cent from every author telling me to publish my books on multiple market places, I’d be a centaur by now. Sure, there is Smashwords, Kobo, and iBooks, but the truth is—Amazon is not only the biggest book market on the planet, it’s also the best one for selling science fiction.

Even indie millionaire authors like Hugh Howey focus on Amazon exclusively because that’s where he’s selling more fiction than on all the other platforms combined. Truth is some online markets are just better suited for your product, and selling everywhere for the sake of being everywhere can cannibalize your sales.

Lesson: going exclusive with a platform is always an option, especially if that’s where your niche audience ‘hangs out’. Of course it’s more risky, but if you gain critical market penetration, you can ALWAYS diversify later, e.g. selling audiobook and foreign rights.

2) Don’t think outside the box, think at the edge of the box

Marketer guru Seth Godin once said—and I’m mangling his exact words here—if you think inside the box, you’re too average and customers ignore you. On the other hand, if you think outside the box, customers can’t categorize you and end up ignoring you as well because they’re confused. The goal, thus, was to think at the edges of the box.

So in my case, instead of writing whacko sci-fi that was wayyy out there, I had to learn the tropes of space sci-fi by heart so I could creatively play with them. I had to understand people’s expectations and create stories that fit within the framework, while still crafting something distinct enough to stand out.

Lesson: niche crowds love something for a reason. If you provide the very same or something completely different, you either bore or confuse them. The goal is to find the sweet-spot between what they already love and what they haven’t seen yet.

3) Find the niche of your niche

Globalization and its girlfriend the internet have enabled people from across to planet to team up in the most ridiculous niche groups imaginable. Ranging from queer Japanese anime Sailermoon cosplays to post-apocalyptic indie zombie survival horror fiction, there’s a sub-niche for everyone.

Sub-categories are small, highly targeted, and hugely engaged, read: these fans are eager to pay for their passion.

So when I learned more about self-publishing and my favorite genre sci-fi, I realized I had to go even more niche. Instead of writing stories for the general future-friendly crowd, I targeted genetic engineering slash space fleet colonization which is a sub-market with at least a couple of hundred thousands fans in the English-speaking world. This sub-niche focus has allowed me to hit a very passionate mini-market that’s eager to pay for my fiction.

Lesson: targeting sub-niches means tapping into an existing, tight customer market that’s eager to pay. The smaller the market, the higher the short-term reward.

4) Ditch what doesn’t drive sales, even social media

Lots of self-publishers mingle in my networks, and I’ve made an interesting realization. The most successful authors tend to have the worst social media presence and websites that you wouldn’t wish upon your enemies, while the far lesser successful ones market on all mainstream social media networks and have solid-to-good websites.

The reason? The bestselling authors are super-conscious about their time–they know exactly what sells their fiction books: i.e. the content itself, the cover packaging, keywords, book blurbs, and targeted email lists. And because they know what works best, they ruthlessly cut out what brings few or no results at all, e.g. social media platforms.

The average authors get blinded by the social media hype (You should be on platform X), irregardless if it sells their fiction in significant ways. Many indie writers I spoke to on Skype waste time on social media because they think that’s what they have to do. It’s just satisfying to tell yourself to promote your books on Twitter/Facebook/Snapchat/Pinterest etc., because it gives you the illusion of doing something worthwhile, similar to (falsely) believing that checking your email equals being productive.

Lesson: don’t get blinded by the social media hype. Today it’s Snapchat, tomorrow it’s Mindbeam. Always ask yourself if the platform that’s hip right now SIGNIFICANTLY impacts your sales or if it’s just a mainstream me-too trap.

Conclusion

Once you get good at marketing a specific product online, you can leverage that knowledge to other niches. I’d love to hear one major tip you’ve learned from marketing a niche product.

mars dorian

Mars Dorian
draws funky illustrations and pens sci-fi thrillers for the Internet Generation. His latest novel is available on Amazon for just $2.99! Consider his artwork for your next project: http://www.marsdorian.com
Original illustration by the author.

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