In this episode, we talk about how to write to market with Chris Fox. Chris Fox is an incredibly successful author of both fiction and nonfiction. He’s hit the trifecta: he’s succeeded at writing fiction, at teaching fiction and his students have gone on to succeed, some making over $50,000 a month.
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- What does it mean to write to market?
- Why would authors want to write to market?
- What about the selling out question?
- What mistakes do authors make when writing to market?
- The key is to deliver a similar emotional experience
- Example: The Hunger Games and the Divergent series
- How do you write to market?
- What is a hot category?
- What is a hungry category?
- What about the switching genre question?
- How do we find out how popular a genre is?
- What are some quick tips?
- Why should people buy your book Write to Market?
Chris, where can people find out more about you? Chris Fox Writes
A Good Bunch of Men by Danny R. Smith “Danny R. Smith is a retired homicide detective from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“Dead prostitutes can seem like part of the landscape in South Los Angeles. What, then, could render two veteran homicide detectives speechless as they stand over their latest victim? A Good Bunch of Men will take you beyond the yellow tape and into the tormented minds of those who hunt evil.”
Intro: This is novel marketing the show for novelists who aren’t necessarily fond of marketing but still want to become best selling authors.
Thomas: Episode 151.
Jim: I’m James L. Rubart, but you can call me Jim …
Thomas: I’m Thomas Umstattd Jr,
Chris: and and I’m Chris Fox.
Jim: And in this episode we’re going to talk to you guys about how to write to market with, not surprisingly Chris Fox. Chris has been on before but if you haven’t caught that episode, briefly, Chris is an incredibly successful author of both fiction and nonfiction. He’s a teacher and he’s hit the trifecta. He’s succeeded in writing nonfiction. He’s succeeding at teaching fiction. He’s succeeded at writing nonfiction and a number of his students have gone on to massive success … wait for it. Fifty thousand dollars a month. Some of them are making that much. Chris welcome back to the program. Great to have you again.
Chris: Hey thanks guys great to be here.
Thomas: I see the real measure is not if somebody has been successful but if they’ve been able to train other people to be successful and so we’re really excited to have you. But before we get to how to write to market I wanted to mention very quickly that it’s not too late if you want to sign up for the book launch blueprint’s which Jim and myself and Mary DeMuth. Registration does end at the end of August so you have about a week, give or take to sign up for that. And if you’re wanting to develop a book launch plan for your books that you can launch with a bang instead of with a sputter to come and take that course. You can find out more at novel marketing dot com.
Jim: Ok so Chris let’s dive right into this. First of all the phrase write to market … I think a lot of our listeners know what that means but I’m guessing a lot don’t know what that means. And then there’s those in the middle are going to think I know but I’m not sure. Could you clarify? What is writing to market?
Chris: I guess there’s probably a lot of different definitions because it goes back so long. Some would argue that you know Shakespeare was writing to market. Effectively the way I define it is if you can picture a Venn diagrams so you’ve got those two overlapping circles.
Chris: And one of those circles is the thing that you are most passionate about writing and the other one of those circles is a large voracious audience. You want to find the intersection between those two. So a good example would be I would really love to at some point in my career write a weird western which is just going to be a standard Western with some supernatural elements thrown in there. But that has a correspondingly tiny audience, not a ton of people are into weird westerns and if I were write that, then I probably wouldn’t sell a ton of copies simply because there aren’t that many readers. Instead one of my other passions was military science fiction and so that was the avenue that I chose knowing that right now tons and tons of people love military science fiction. This is coming off the back of some great television shows for the last decade and they want more of it. And I know going in that if I write these novels, and I’m still enjoying it, I’m going to sell a ton of copies. And so that to me is the definition of writing to market … finding that intersection.
Jim: Ok so that begs the question that maybe a lot of people are asking who are listening to this podcast right now and that is oh my gosh are you telling me to sell out. Speak to that a little bit.
Chris: This is the number one question that I get. And I think you were stripping away the desire like if you’re saying I’m going to go ahead and write erotica, because I know erotica is going to sell. I know some authors that do that and they’re not really all that happy because they’re not writing something they’re passionate about. And I think that fans can sense that I think they’re going to know if you’re sort of phoning in and writing something you’re not interested in. So when someone says selling out yeah you have to pick the novel that you really want do to but odds are good if you’re like almost every writer in the world you’re overflowing with ideas. So it’s really about looking at your kind of closet of ideas that you’ve been building up and picking the one that’s most marketable and you know to some people I guess maybe that is selling out because you are making a choice on what to write based on the market that exists for it. But as long as it’s something that you love it’s a choice and a sacrifice I’m kind of willing to make.
Jim: Yeah it’s interesting the way you phrased it. I liked the way you phrase it because you describe the fact that oh like westerns but I also like military sci fi and maybe there’s two or three other things that you enjoy as well it’s like … I guess it could be like a chef who enjoys cooking for different dishes. She just loves cooking these four different dishes but three of them people will buy in the fourth one. You know there’s just not much of a market. So it almost sounds like just approaching it intelligently and saying if I have a restaurant and want to stay in business these are the dishes I’m going to serve.
Chris: Exactly when you get to a point where we’re doing this full time you really need to assess the size of the market because you know this is how you’re paying your renter or your mortgage and you need to know that there are enough people out there and you know burgers are more popular than steak for a reason. I mean it’s less expensive takes less time to prepare and it’s kind of easy and more consumable. So I tend to lean towards most of my books earlier in my career or the burger side of things and less for its the steak site knowing that when I’m a little older a little more experienced and more of a backlist under my belt than I can write whatever the heck I want and I can do more more artsy more from the heart type novels. But at this stage in my career it just makes sense to write something I know that more of the markets market’s interested in.
Jim: That makes me think of … that’s really good. It makes me think of the musicians who have done this where you’ve seen them come out with three or four massive albums and they go you know what? I have enough money now I’m going to do that atry album that I’ve always wanted to do and it doesn’t sell as well. But they go into it knowing that in the first place. So Chris what mistakes do authors make when writing the market? Because you don’t want people going, all right I’m just going to find the market and write to it … I’m sure there’s pitfalls along the way … what are the mistakes you commonly see them make?
Chris: [00:05:39] The number one mistake and I see this almost every single time somebody gets into writing to market is they read something and they want to copy it. So if you realize that Harry Potter is doing tremendously well you want to write your own magical university that’s going to be somewhat similar to Harry Potter. And people have a Haggard type character and it’s Dumbledore type character and a Harry Potter type character. There’s sort of copying what they’ve already seen. When you’re writing to market what you’re really trying to do is capture the same emotional resonance. So you sort of need to figure out why does the audience like Harry Potter? What are they getting out of this and then it has to be the same but different. You need to deliver a similar emotional experience where it’s a good story and kind of has some of the same notes but it’s unique and it’s different it’s not something they’ve heard because you try to just knock off something like the Hunger Games or Harry Potter, you’re usually going to do it poorly and you know fans are going to sense that you’re going to get slaughtered in your reviews.
Thomas: [00:06:33] Yes I think it’s important to know why somebody like Harry Potter because if you don’t know why somebody like Harry Potter you copy all of the stupid bits, all of the superficial bits and the bits that make it sound and feel very derivative and make it feel like a knockoff. Where as if you do understand why, you are able to speak to that same why in your fiction and connect with the audience in a similar way.
Jim: So Chris would you say … I’m just trying to think of examples that most people know and what pops into my mind is the Hunger Games trilogy and then the Divergent series where really you get a very similar … you have a similar type protagonist where it’s a strong female coming into her own. And yet those stories do feel different. Is that the kind of thing you’re talking about?
Chris: Exactly … exactly so they’re clearly the same genre … you’ve got roughly the same emotional arc for both the main characters and you can see the similarities the worlds are both dystopian in their own way but they are very different also in their own way. And you notice that it is hitting the same types of emotional highs and lows in both series but in their own unique spin.
Thomas: So let’s talk about how to do that. How does somebody write to market? OK you’ve convinced us this is the way to wealth and fortune and we’re saying if I actually want people to buy my books I need to write books that people want to read and that doesn’t seem like it would be a revolutionary idea but it is revolutionary by just speaking simple truth. So how do you do it. How do you write to market?
Chris: Well you start by studying the market and that means you need to understand what books are selling in that market right now. So not a year ago not five years ago but today what are people reading and so I will go to the Amazon list in whatever my target genre is I’ll take a look at what’s selling. And this next part is really shocking to a lot of authors. You actually have to buy the books and read them.
Jim: No. What did he just say?
Thomas: Can’t I just the little blurb on Amazon?
Chris: This is something that a lot of authors will do where they’ll read the blurb and they’ll kind of see what the genre is and make some assumptions about it and they’ll just start writing … what you need to do is immerse yourself in this genre if you really want to be successful let’s say a science fiction author read a bunch of sci fi the stuff that is selling today. You’ll start to see why it is selling why it is popular and what the kind of emotional responses people are getting. And once you’re done with a given book you can go to the reviews and read the one stars and the five stars and you’ll see this is what the author got right, this is what the author got wrong and then when you’re concocting your own story you’ll sort of know what landmines to avoid.
Thomas: And that’s also really good feedback to interact with the readers of that audience and the reviews are probably easiest way to do it. But listening to them talk to each other or even talking to them yourself and understanding. I would say you have to read two books in the market. Because you know what they are doing similar and you know what they’re doing different to know what the tropes are. If you just watch a TV show and it’s the only TV show you’ve ever seen you don’t know what the trope is or even what a trope is whereas once you see you know two or space shows you know that the Hot Shot pilot is a trope right. And you can make the decision whether or not you can include that trope in your book.
Chris: I would say a bare minimum of three books if you want to be able to make those comparisons and if you really want to do this right … the people that I know that are doing it they’re reading 10 or 15 or 20 bucks because you really want to understand the length and breadth of your genre. So you know you are not doing the same thing other people are doing but are still hitting the same right emotional highs that they’re doing.
Thomas: I know authors who are terrified to read other books because they’re afraid their book will become derivative. And it’s like, but you realize that that is exactly what may be all you need for your book to become more successful.
Jim: Well and if you don’t if you don’t read the book it is going to potentially become derivative because you don’t know.
Chris: Right, you have just as much chance at that point because many of us are drawing from the same sources. So you’ve seen all the same movies as the people who are writing books now and odds are good that a lot of the books that are being produced are being influenced by the culture that we’ve all consumed rather like let’s say the last 20 or 30 years so if you’re not reading other people’s books there’s just as much chance that you are going to be derivative as not right.
Thomas: One of the tropes that I see in a lot of books and movies. That’s a real pet peeve of mine is torture working. So I actually researched torture in college and torture leads to people lying to you. So you have somebody on the rack and you’re torturing, “You tell us you know where the hostages are!” and they’ll give you an answer. But it’s almost never the correct answer. And that is never portrayed in books because everyone’s drawing from the same sources and on TV. Torture always works, right? When in 24 when he’s torturing the terrorists to get the information, that, after he does a terrible thing the terrorist tells me the information they need to have an we’re conditioned in our whole society now thinks that torture works when in reality the Nazis studied this and published their research on torture. And if the Nazis couldn’t make torture work, torture doesn’t work. All right, rant over! But you’re exactly right in that people aren’t researching the actual topic very often …. occasionally I’ll come across an author where they’re torturing him and the person being tortured is lying and give them bad information and it’s like this breath of fresh air. But usually that’s not the case because like I’m going to read a bunch of other books and see what a bunch of other authors did. And you have this … and I feel like it’s doing something bad to us as a society because we’re lying to ourselves not even realizing it. OK. Now my rant is really over. Back to your book … you talk about hot categories in hungry categories. Can you walk us through what those are and why they’re important to understand?
Chris: Sure. So a hungry category. It just means that they’re reading a lot of books a hot category is typically more saturated version of that. So when you’re sort of zeroing in on a category you kind of have two choices you can pick a smaller niche that is not currently flooded with content but maybe has fewer readers so you know it’s lower hanging fruit and you have more of a chance to get noticed in a category like that whereas you could go with something that’s really really hot like military science fiction is a great examples tons and tons of people are writing it it’s very very difficult to break into the top 100. But if you do, you are absolutely going to have a five figure month on that launch. So you kind of have to pick what your risk tolerance is and decide what you want to do. Do you want to do something with a lower readership like let’s say steampunk where you know you’re probably going to stand out … you won’t have much trouble getting your book on the front page but even if it’s really successful you might only see let’s say a mid 4 figure month versus that five figure amount you would have a military science fiction studio.
Jim: So Chris do you recommend people go for singles and home runs at the same time where you’re maybe working in in categories at the same time?
Chris: I try to to double down in one existing category. The problem that I’ve run into with my own personal career is that I keep switching gears and going from genre genre. And every time I do that I sacrifice a ton of momentum so probably the smartest thing you can do is just pick one and drill down as deep as you can and do that you know make a long series of books that people are interested in and you know write that kind of all the way to a successful six figure income.
Jim: Well that was going to be my next question … was switching genres, right? I’ve always been an advocate of … man, you write science fiction … it’s going to be a big leap to get into romantic suspense. Talk to us a little bit about that a little bit more … about that …
Chris: If they are adjacent genres like let’s say fantasy and science fiction. Any of those flavors? Then typically I advise people to do it under the same pen name. Otherwise if you were going to do a romantic suspense and then your other pet name was something completely different like you know hard sci fi then I probably would use a pen name to do that … romantic suspense, and it’s fine that you’re writing in both genres, but you want to be careful that you’re not getting a lot of bleed between those those audiences because they are very separate and it’s important when writing to market you kind of drill down into your perfect readership because that’s how Amazon is going to go out and find more readers if you can tell them this type of person really loves this book, they’re happy to help promote your book to all sorts of different types of people. But the moment you start mixing in multiple genres it becomes very difficult for Amazon to do that for you.
Jim: Yeah the adjacent I guess that’s the key word. Like a guy I grew up reading a lot of was Orson Scott Card where he did a lot of fantasy and a lot of sci-fi. In my mind those are very adjacent categories whereas romantic suspense and hard sci fi is definitely not …
Thomas: … the Amazon algorithm is very smart but it’s also very stupid. So making the job easy for the algorithm makes a lot of sense. But I think that that’s to underline is that the cost of switching genres and getting a new pen name is starting over. You’re not bringing you’re following you’re not bringing your reputation, you’re not bringing your readers from the old pen name to the new pen name you’re starting over with a new brand, it’s almost like becoming a new author and you still have your mailing list and you still have all of the knowledge that you’ve gained. But that’s a big cost and you’ll lose a lot of momentum it’s like yeah it’s like starting over with your career from scratch. That is a hard hard thing to do. So what it’s sounding like you’re saying is that picking a genre is really critical when it comes to the success of your entire career. And so how does somebody not mess that up? It feels like if somebody picked a bad genre they now are, you know, five years from now they’re going to have tough questions.
Chris: Absolutely, I think they are going to have some very very tough questions about what genre is going to be best. But what helps me is that if you mess up all it’s done to slow you down. I’ve written in three different genres. I have three different readerships. They don’t often bleed over. But at the same time I’ve got some momentum in each area I’m still making a great living. So the fastest way to success maybe is doubling down in one genre. But just because you are writing in two or three it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t be successful it’s generally just going to take longer.
Thomas: Yeah that makes sense. So what about doing the research how do I find out how popular genre is. What’s the best way to do that.
Chris: So again I would start with Amazon. Amazon is something like 80 percent of the online book market and growing. They’re a great ecosystem to look at. And there are a meritocracy in that the more books sell closer to the top that they are. So I go to their top 100 list for my chosen genre. And you can drill down typically into some category … so I’m looking at science fiction I can drill down into space opera or military science fiction and I’ll go as low as I can into the lowest subcategory that Amazon offers me and then if you start looking at the covers for the top 100 bucks. And when I find one on the first pages of the top 20 that interests me, I’ll click on it. I’ll take a look at the blurb I’ll see what it’s about. And then as you’re scrolling down the product page you’re going to find about midway down something that shows you the rank of the book, it will say overall in the Kindle store and that it will say what it’s rank is in the best ranking categories that it’s in. And I’m looking at that number and the lower that number is the hotter that book is. So if you see something that’s under 100 it’s one of the top 100 books in the world and is probably selling a minimum of 500 copies a day. And the better that number is the hotter the category. As you’re scrolling through these books, the deeper in you get, let’s say you get to page three and you’re on book number 50 and 100. If that book is still on the top 1000 you’re looking at something like romance where this is a voracious readership. They are constantly looking for new content and there’s endless churn. Whereas if you were looking at a smaller category you got to book number 58, it was ranked number 25000 in the store, that’s something that’s a little bit less competitive and maybe has some room for you to break into.
Thomas: So ultimately you know we all want to write for popular genres. But is it possible that a genre is too hot to get started in and the competition is too fierce?
Chris: It’s definitely a larger risk so it’s always possible to break and even if you’re a brand new author and writing in a supersaturated genre if you do everything right. But it’s way way harder to do so. So I recommend if you’re just starting out and writing your first genre you have to hit between something medium size and something large? Maybe start out with the medium size thing and get your feet wet and try writing a book that are genre and sort of see how it does and then measure your overall success and try moving on, rather than jumping into the hottest genre you can find initially.
Thomas: That’s good. Okay so we’re nearing the end of the episode but I want you to give us some quick tips for somebody who’s wanting to get started in writing for market or who wants to adapt a story they have and they’re like oh I need to think about the market as I revise this. What are some quick tips you have for that person?
Chris: I would focus 80 percent of your efforts on your cover. Even even if your book is not written to market, if you can adequately convey to the audience what your book is about and what emotional notes is going to hit based on that cover, that’s going to be the vast majority of your success, especially if that cover is viewable as a thumbnail. So if you’ve got a great … like my first novel was a werewolf on the cover with a pyramid … you can see the werewolf and the pyramid in the thumbnail image and that got a ton of people to click on it even though it wasn’t written to market.
Thomas: Any other quick tips?
Chris: Keep experimenting. If the first thing doesn’t work when you try writing to market don’t give up writing to market just try to do it better next time.
Thomas: Excellent. OK so final question, you’re going to like this one. Why should people buy your book, Write to Market?
Chris: Because it’s going to give you a new perspective. If you’re not familiar with writing to market and even if you don’t want to write to market yourself, understanding how it works is going to help you to market to your audience whatever it is that you actually are writing. The book is short, it’s maybe 20000 words long, you can read it in an hour and a half and hopefully it’s going to change your view of the market enough so that you can kind of make a living at this the next in the next couple of years.
Thomas: Yeah that’s one thing I appreciate about your books, since you’re writing them to be sold online primarily, you don’t have that expectation that all nonfiction books have to be the same width, so almost all nonfiction books are 200 pages whether, they have 200 pages of content or not, and your books are exactly the length they need to be to communicate to topic which I really appreciate. They’re they’re not fluff free but they’re nearly fluff free and what little fluff there is does add to that, you know, it helps make it more digestible so I really do enjoy enjoy your books. And where can people find out more about you and your other books?
Chris: Everything about me, my YouTube channel, videos for writers and my books are available at Chris Fox writers dot com.
Thomas: All right and we will have links to both the book Write to Market, and Chris Fox writes dot com in the show notes and we have a featured a patron our featured patron is Danny R. Smith. Jim.
Jim: So Danny R. Smith … he’s actually a retired homicide detective from the LA County Sheriff’s Department so I love this. This is a guy that’s actually lived this stuff and now he’s writing about it. His book is called A Good Bunch of Men. Here’s the pitch: Dead prostitutes can seem like part of the landscape in South Los Angeles. What then could render two veteran homicide detectives speechless as they stand over their latest victim? Ooh he’s got me, Thomas, right there … Danny’s got me! A Good Bunch of Men will take you beyond the yellow tape and into the tormented minds of those who hunt evil. So Danny thank you so much for being a patron of the novel Marketing Podcast.
Thomas: And if you’d like to become a patron we have a couple of spots open for folks who want to be patrons and have their book listed on the show. If you don’t want to have your book listed on the show there’s much cheaper Patreon options available and you can find all of that at novel marketing dot com or patriarch dot com, forward slash novel marketing. Chris thank you so much for joining us today. You’ve been listening to James L. Rubart, Thomas Umstattd Junior, and special guest Chris Fox on the Novel Marketing podcast, giving you novel ideas on how to promote yourself and your writing, off line online, and everywhere in between. Thanks for listening.