By Kenton Kilgore
2019 ESWA President-elect
Bay to Ocean is a one-day writers conference held by the Eastern Shore Writers Association every March. BTO has been going strong for 21 years, and somewhere north of 150 people show up for it each time.
I’ve attended BTO several times, and had the honor of presenting two seminars this past year. Each time I attend, I learn new things and meet great people. This year, the best thing about BTO was what I learned from master writer Robert Bidinotto in his presentation on “Targeting Your Readers to Maximize Sales” (which you can find here). In it, Robert discusses “positioning” and “branding.”
Positioning is about getting your books into the appropriate categories of genres and sub-genres, so that fans of those can find your books. Branding is about attracting and keeping readers by being authentic to one’s self, and thus being different from other authors. Or, as Robert puts it:
True fans don’t love your books because they fit some demographic profile of age, race, sex, location, education, etc. True fans buy and read your books because they identify with you, your “voice,” what you believe.
Robert asked each of us at the seminar:
What is your purpose, belief, cause—the reason why you are motivated to write what you write? That is your “why.” Your goal is not to target everyone. Your goal is to target those readers who already believe what you believe.
Your target readers are those who connect emotionally with your worldview and values, like what you like, believe what you believe. To reach them, you must communicate your “why.”
When Robert said this, something went off in my head. Since I started publishing, I had prided myself on writing fiction that was different from the typical young adult sci-fi/ fantasy you find in the chain bookstores. Something other than Harry Potter and Hunger Games and Twilight, and all their many, many copycats.
And while it has been and is still true that my books aren’t like anyone else’s, I’ve realized that it’s not novelty of characters and plot that inspires me. Despite what I may have been telling myself for a long time, I don’t stay up late tapping on a keyboard because I’m trying to come up with something no one else has (an impossible task, anyway).
No, come to find out, what motivates me is expressing emotions through my fiction—and it’s that emotion that, for most of my reviewers and fans, has been the element that’s hooked them. I haven’t had many people tell me they enjoyed Lost Dogs because of its premise (dogs struggling to survive after humans have vanished from Earth). But they have told me they enjoyed Lost Dogs because of how it made them feel:
I loved all the characters
I felt that this must be what it’s like to be a dog
This book made me laugh
This book made me cry
After hearing Robert’s presentation and coming to my epiphany, I know I need to change a few things about how I present my books to readers. I don’t know exactly what shape those efforts will take, but I’m excited to find out.
If you missed Robert’s talk, take a look at his presentation, and if you get the opportunity to see him speak, take it. He’s a pro who knows his stuff, and he always has something valuable to teach.
2019 ESWA president-elect Kenton Kilgore’s website is http://kentonkilgore.com.