Market vs Platform
One is you as the writer, the other is you as a reader
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We’ve talked about platform (have you recovered?) and we’ve talked a little about how statistics are inadequate to prove the market for your book, but, like, what’s a market anyway? When we talk about marketing and publicity, what are we even talking about?
You’ve clearly wondered is there a market for my book (article, chapbook, knitting pattern, etc)? Does it keep you up at night? (It does for me, sometimes). And to quell that anxiety, the obvious thing to do is to start googling. Hence, those bad statistics we talked about in the last (subscriber) newsletter. The thing is, Google is not going to tell you if there is a market for your book, because the market for a book is based on the number of people who previously bought a book like yours and there is no publicly accessible way to find that information. If you’re a publishing professional, you can subscribe to BookScan (or whatever they’re calling it now) through Publisher’s Marketplace, but that doesn’t apply to all of you, and frankly, BookScan numbers are inadequate and not aggregated. Like, you can’t search and find out how many books about WWII and nurses sold in the last five years? That number does not exist anywhere, except for maybe from the retailers, if the metadata is accurate at all, and you can bet they (coughAmazoncough) is not sharing that kind of info. So, what then?
They way to prove, or really demonstrate is a better word, because we can’t prove anything, that there is a market for your book is to focus on comp titles. Comp(arable) titles are books like yours that other people bought and liked (or at least bought and talked a lot about). Yours, of course, will be different and better and scratch a different itch for readers, which will be evident to agents and editors when they read your work. In your query letter, (or pitch or sales copy), you can say readers of X book will also like mine. My book is Z set in space. My book is a gender-flipped Y. Whatever is true, authentic, and a result of you actually reading said books. That’s why people always say to read widely in your genre—so that you know what’s out there and can speak intelligently about the market for your book, based on what’s come before. You can’t read everything, and you don’t have to, but you should be reading more. Everyone should be (me included).
The secret to comp titles, is that you can use movies, too. Yep! It’s a bit of a cheat, but people consume movies in a similar what that they do books (similar, not the same), so it’s useful. The other secret is YOUR BOOK IS NOT THE NEXT HARRY POTTER. It’s also not like 50 Shades, Hunger Games, DaVinci Code (y’all, that book came out 17 years ago) or any other massively best-selling novel. I don’t say this because yours isn’t as good or doesn’t have the potential to be one. But those books are outliers. They’re exceptional. They are the exception. Leave them out of your comps.
How is this different than platform? Your platform is you, what you have control over, what you do and write and put into the world that result in people following and knowing you. Your market is what other people do and read. It’s books and movies and TV shows that other people make and other people enjoy and talk about online and spend money on. You can’t control any of that and you don’t have access to hardly any stats about it. So, focus on numbers (that YOU have access to) to demonstrate your platform and focus on books you’ve actually read to demonstrate your market.
When it comes to marketing and publicity time for my clients in their book lifecycle, I tell them: the marketing department promotes the book and the publicity department promotes the author. It’s not a strict line between the two but it helps understand the division of labor. For you, before you sell a book (or an article or a knitting pattern), your market is books that have come before you and your platform is you the author. Together, they sell your book.
I hope this is more enlightening than depressing! Get thee to a bookstore or library and read some more books this week, friends. After all, it’s research.
Subscribers: get at me with Qs for Q&A Thursday! If any reader out there has a suggestion for a future newsletter topic, don’t be shy. I’m all ears.