Today’s post is based on the podcast by The Merriweather Council titled Your Market is Not “Too Saturated”, Here’s Why. It’s less than 8 minutes long, so I recommend you check it out.
There are a ton of books out there. And yes, visibility is going to be an issue. You can’t get away from the fact that there are already more books in the world than any one person will ever be able to read in their lifetime. But there is something you can do to separate yourself from the crowd. It doesn’t mean people will magically find you, but it will mean that when people do find you, they will remember you because you dared to be different.
I know the big theme in selling lots and lots of books is, “Write to market.” This is code for, “Write the same thing everyone else in your genre is writing.” What is the basis behind this thinking? It’s the idea that readers want the same thing. They don’t want to read something different.
And the result?
Your books aren’t any different than the other stuff that is already out there. There is no compelling reason any reader has to invest in YOU. If your book sounds just like the other gazillion books already out there, then any book will do. You are replaceable. I’ve come across people who’ve said that they don’t remember what happened in the books they’ve read. They can’t remember if they even read a certain author/book or not. And why is this? Because the books weren’t memorable. They are just a blur on the horizon. This is the downside to writing to market that very few people ever talk about.
I guess if your goal is money, this is fine. Who cares if people remember your stories or not? All that matters is how much is rolling into your bank account. I agree that it’s nice to make money. I don’t want to be a starving artist. But does it really matter if you’re making a six-figure income? If you lower your expenses and live a modest lifestyle in an area that has a low cost of living, you don’t need to make $100,000+ a year in order to survive.
I think books have more value than money. Stories that have stuck with me through the years are those that touched me on a deeply emotional level. Good or bad, those are the ones I remember most. These weren’t cookie-cutter books. These were books where the author took a risk and did something unexpected. If I enjoyed the book, I immediately searched out what other books the author wrote. Writing for passion means you will write that kind of book. It just takes one book to pique a reader’s interest. There are no shortcuts. Every book must be the best you can do with that particular story, and if you’re passionate about it, that enthusiasm will show up in your work. Readers can tell when we like what we’re doing.
The best way to stand out in any genre is to make your stories different. It doesn’t matter how many books are in your genre. If you decide not to go the “cookie cutter” route, you will stand out. Yes, you will upset some people because there will be people who don’t like the direction you go in with your work. Those people don’t count. The reason they don’t count is because you’re not writing for them. You are writing for people who share your vision. The world is full of billions of people, and we all have different interests. That means we don’t all want to read the same type of stories. That’s good news. It means that there is an audience for your books.
Also, embrace your unique voice. The plot and characters you come up with are only half of your story. The other half is HOW you tell the story. That “how” is your voice. And your voice should be distinct. It should be like a fingerprint. Someone should be able to recognize your voice after reading several of your books. How you tell the story is the most important thing you bring to the book. So embrace the difference of your unique storytelling style instead of trying to conform to the writing groups’ version of perfection. Writing groups mean well, but they aren’t reading books like readers do. Writing groups look for stuff that would make an English teacher or an editor happy. Readers have an entirely different mindset. Readers read to be entertained. Tell your story to entertain, not to “wow” your English teacher or an editor. I’ll add the disclaimer here that it is important to have your book edited. You want your story to be the most polished up it can be, but it’s possible to take care of grammatical and proofreading errors without destroying the flavor of one’s voice.
Since I am a big proponent of authors embracing their unique voice, I want to give an example of how your voice can be the thing that will make you stand out in a saturated market. For this example, let’s look at podcasts. There are tons of podcasts out there, and there are a good number of podcasts that cover the same topic. In this example, let’s say the topic you’re interested in is cars. There are 100 podcasts that deal with this specific topic. You have searched through them all, and after a while, you realize that you gravitate toward one or two certain podcasts over the others because of the way the person in the podcast presents the material. Other people are giving out similar information, but for some reason, the other people’s “styles” doesn’t fit you. You end up subscribing to two podcasts (instead of the full 100) because the people making those two podcasts have a certain style that most appeals to you. Why is this? The answer is simple. They are bringing their personality to the podcast. Their personality will effect how the information is presented. It’s the same way when we write books. We bring our personalities to the stories we tell when we embrace our voice.
Another way we can distinguish ourselves in a saturated market is by daring to be different in our genre. Since I primarily write romances, I’ll use that as the genre in this example. Out of romance, there are sub-genres, and even those sub-genres can be broken down. I happen to do two main ones: historical western romances and Regency Romances. The difference I chose to pursue was mixing a Christian worldview with the characters’ sexual relationship within marriage. This is different. Rarely do I ever see this done in romance. I was hoping these types of romances were going to emerge when self-publishing took off, but most Christian authors stick with the “clean” romances. Why? I think it’s because they’re afraid of stepping out and being different. I think they fear that there isn’t a market for the kinds of romances I write. Rose Gordon and Carolyn Davidson are the only two other authors I know of that do this. If there are others who do this with each and every book they write, I don’t know who those authors are. I’d love to read their books if they exist. But pretty much, the standard in the traditional publishing world has seeped into the self-publishing romance world, too. Christian romances = clean. Secular romances = sexy.
In a world where authors have the freedom to publish whatever they want, they follow the path of the traditional publishers and focus on the market. But when people write the same things, how will they ever stand out? How will readers ever develop a connection to the actual author? The voice you have and the uniqueness you bring to your genre are your brand. Your brand is what people associate with you when they see your name. The market is saturated out there, but if you build your brand with every book you write, you can stand out. Being different can work for you. Again, this is not likely going to be something that will have you selling like hotcakes. I’m not going to promise that. What it means is that when the right reader comes along, that reader will want to invest in you and your books. It’s a slow build, but I believe it’s also one that is based on a solid foundation.
No other author will be “you”. You will be the only person out there who can write “your” books. Because of that, readers who resonate with your books will remember you and stay with you. Too many times we dismiss readers and think, “Oh, it’s only one, so who cares?” Every reader is important. Readers aren’t a dollar amount. They are people. Some of the most fulfilling conversations I’ve ever had have been with my readers. They are the reason I didn’t give up when I wanted to. Money didn’t convince me to keep writing and publishing. My readers did. And there are quite a few of them who are now friends. I don’t have an assistant to interact with them for me. I interact with them myself. I may not get to them right away because of my hectic life, but I try to make sure I personally answer them.
I don’t waste time on the negative people. I figure if someone wants to complain, they can leave a review on Amazon or some other retailer or tell the people they know that my stories suck. If they don’t like my books, that’s fine. I won’t argue with them about it. They’re welcome to their opinion, but I learned the hard way that I should never rewrite my books to please people who don’t like them. I made the mistake early on of doing that, and in the process, I upset the people who loved my books because of how I wrote them originally. I changed those books back to the original versions, and I have never changed my books since. You can’t please everyone all the time. It’s impossible. Taste is subjective. What one person likes, another doesn’t. So don’t get caught up in what someone who hated your book has to say about it. So what? That’s just their opinion. If you loved your book and you know you have pleased someone out there, the book is just fine. I know that’s not easy to remember when you come across negative feedback, so be sure to have the emails and blog comments on hand to read over when the negativity makes you doubt yourself.
I’ll stop rambling here. But I’ll leave this pose with a final note. In a saturated market, the one thing you can do to stand out is to do your own thing. Be different. Take risks. Do stuff those authors writing to market would never dare to do. That will make you memorable. The niche might be small, but those readers who love what you do will be invested in you. Your books won’t be read and forgotten. They’ll be remembered, and they might even touch another person’s life in a way that lasts for years to come. We never know what impact our stories will have while we’re alive or even after we’re no longer here. Some of the authors we’ve read from centuries ago probably had no idea their books would be read in our day, but their words are still making a difference in the world.