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How to Track Down Profitable Niche Markets

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by Lynn Rosen, IBPA Independent contributing editor

The publishers in this month’s IBPA Independent Roundtable have had great success selling into niche markets. But it isn’t always easy finding these markets and, once they’ve been identified, figuring out the best way to reach them. Here are some extra tips and insights from experts in the field to help you sell into niche markets.

Jane Nutter Photo

Jan Nutter

Jane Nutter is a communications and marketing manager at Kensington Publishing.

What advice do you have about identifying a niche for any particular book?

Research, research, research! I like to really dig into the book and find what makes it unique, what is that one thing that makes someone intrigued; the one thing that will make them pick it up off the shelf. It can be a plot detail or something in the author’s background, but each book has their own fingerprint—you just have to find it.

Can you give me an example of books you worked on for which you were able to identify and reach a niche market?

I work with a lot of romance titles, which despite being a billion-dollar industry with voracious fans, is still sometimes considered a niche market, most likely because it has almost no crossover to male readers.

One helpful thing I like to do is come up with pop-culture equivalents. For instance, with the explosion of the show Outlander, if I’m working on a historical Scottish romance, I can identify that fan base and market the book to them via their shared understanding of a pop culture experience, something they are already predisposed to enjoy. So even if someone who watches Outlander hasn’t really read that kind of novel before, or simply hadn’t realized they enjoy that type of story, we can market our campaign to capture those readers.

I’m working on the start of an amazing series coming up in February 2016 called Mercury Striking by Rebecca Zanetti. It’s a romance series that’s unlike anything that is out there. A mutant bacteria has wiped out most of the world’s population. Most that survive the bacteria become crazy rage monsters and serial killers while our heroes, those who remain uninfected and those few that have emerged sane post-infection, search for a cure. It’s part apocalyptic fiction, part romantic suspense, part medical thriller, part zombie movie. With four really exciting niche audiences to capture, I can tailor the campaigns to emphasize each of those aspects. The series will appeal to fans of The Walking Dead, The Strain, romantic action movies, and romance.

Another example is a series of books by author Lin Stepp, which is all about the Smoky Mountains. Lin is from Knoxville, Tennesee, and is very familiar with the area. Her books are a nice blend of women’s fiction and romance with inspirational touches. Since her books have such a strong regional appeal, most of the marketing and publicity campaigns are tailored to readers who enjoy southern fiction with a deep soul. So in addition to Tennessee-specific media, we also focus on publications that a have a wide readership of Southern women.

What are some smart strategies to reach niche markets?

As for reaching those markets, I always recommend going down the Internet’s rabbit hole. There are publications, blogs, and groups for just about any subject matter, you just have to find them and reach out to them about the book.

I handle marketing and publicity for our inspirational fiction, which right now consists of mainly Amish romances. Early on in my research online, I came across a website run by author Suzanne Woods Fisher called Amish Wisdom. With an engaged readership, I began to partner with them via advertising and editorial coverage, and the exposure for our authors writing in that genre has dramatically increased, something we have seen translate into sales as well.

I’m also a huge fan of getting early reader reviews out there through NetGalley and Goodreads. Positive early buzz generated in the community is always beneficial. More and more people are taking to the Internet for reader recommendations and I find that people usually trust reviews on sites like Goodreads. I started a dedicated blogger group at Kensington called the kLovers. Specifically targeting romance readers, bloggers are eligible to sign up for the program in which they receive email blasts each month with information about our new books available for review, access to review copies, as well as bonus content from authors. They then take that content and post it on their blogs as well as post reviews on sites like Goodreads as well as on their social media.

Leigh Marchant Photo

Leigh Marchant

Leigh Marchant is vice president, director of marketing for Random House, Dial Press, Spiegel & Grau.

What advice do you have about identifying a niche for any particular book?

We always start our planning and brainstorming discussions with the target consumer in mind—who would want to read this book and why. Once we identify all of the audiences who might need or want to read the book, we strategize on how to best reach those readers. Often, we will think we know who the target consumer is but as early consumer reviews come in, they may direct us to reader niches for the book we missed. So we do a lot of early outreach with galleys to get people reading and reviewing so we can evaluate their responses. Combing through those consumer reviews can be incredibly revealing!

Can you give me an example of a book you worked on for which you were able to identify and reach a niche market?

For our publication of Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull (a business book), we realized that people who work in tech and at creative agencies would be interested in the book (Ed Catmull is the president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation). So we sent special packages with the advance reading editions to ad agencies in major metropolitan areas. We also did street team giveaways at the Google and Microsoft campus bus locations to get to that tech market.

What are some smart strategies to reach niche markets?

Social media can be an incredible tool for finding people talking about specific topics. There are social listening tools that make monitoring chatter online quite simple. We will often connect with people on social media to promote books or send physical copies to organizations or associations that we find through social media. Similarly, online consumer reviews on places like Goodreads and Netgalley can get extremely helpful in figuring out how to talk to your target consumer. You only need a handful of reviews to figure out general sentiment around a book and what market would be most interested in it.

Brian Jud Photo

Brian Jud

Brian Jud is executive director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales.

What advice do you have about identifying a niche for any particular book?

You are not selling books, but what the information in your book does for people. The first step in identifying niche opportunities is to think, “Who needs the information in my book?” Then define them demographically, including where they look for information such as yours. Your answers create your niches.

Can you give me an example of a book you worked on for which you were able to identify and reach a niche market?

For my book, Job Search 101, segments or potential buyers include people who are unemployed, students about to graduate from college or high school, and also state Departments of Labor could purchase it to increase their employment rate. Librarians want to help their patrons find work, too. I found additional niches among people in the military who were about to leave the service as well as their spouses who moved with them every two years, parents of prospective college graduates, high-school career counselors, outplacement firms and career-development officers in colleges. I also had it translated to Spanish. The result was more than 500,000 books sold.

What are some smart strategies to reach niche markets?

Step one is to find the names of potential buyers in businesses by searching databases such as manta.com. Second, qualify your list to eliminate those who are not likely prospects. Then prioritize your list to create the order in which you will contact them. Then start calling.

Suzanne Gibbs Taylor Photo

Suzanne Gibbs Taylor

Suzanne Gibbs Taylor is publisher and chief creative officer of Gibbs Smith, Publisher.

What advice do you have about identifying a niche for any particular book?

I know it’s trite, but you have to be able to objectively answer these basic questions:

  1. Who is the market for the book?
  2. How big is that market?
  3. Do I have market outreach to them?
  4. How does this book compete or stand out from what’s on the market?

You have to be able to separate “love” and “passion” for a person and/or idea and answer those questions with market in mind. Publishing is about passion, but there has to be a significant market you can reach or all the passion in the world won’t sell it. It’s very easy to fall in love. Applying good business to it is another story. Using tools like Google trends, social media analytics, and Bookscan data are very helpful in identifying market potential. The big magic happens when passion, data, and market collide.

Can you give me an example of a book you worked on for which you were able to identify and reach a niche market?

Our BabyLit and LoveLit brands are two examples of identifying a market trend and figuring out where the hole in the market was.

BabyLit started as creating board books for babies that were based on classic literature. I noticed that everyone was making money on the public domain works of Jane Austen and realized that no one had created anything for babies in board book format—thus, BabyLit was born and launched with Pride and Prejudice and Romeo and Juliet. The niche market is really two-fold: classic literature enthusiasts who have a tendency to buy anything related to their favorite author and young parents who want to feel like they are raising brilliant babies. It helped that it hit right at the wave of when board books were trending up. There are now 20-plus books in the series, interactive apps, and merchandise included in the multimillion-dollar brand.

LoveLit is a brand that launched as a need in the market for gift items for booklovers that could be purchased and merchandised with book products from the same publisher. We started by making buttons, dolls, and totes and have expanded and added new products each season to include puzzles, mugs, T-shirts, pennants, stroller cards, notebooks, blankets, posters, and magnets. It now represents 10 percent of our sales.

What are some smart strategies to reach niche markets?

Social media, social media, social media. Find out where your market congregates and reach out to them. If you identify and choose markets where there are big mouth influencers, get them to promote and advocate your books. Create giveaways, do cross-promotions, and events. Build a core group of fans and constantly feed them.

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