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Tuesday, August 28

COMP LIT: Claiming Your Place on the Genre Shelf

By Damon Suede, @DamonSuede

Part of The How They Do It Series

One of the first thing any credible marketer will ask you is where your books fit. What are your comp titles and also-buys? As genre authors we write within a framework which we are constantly stretching and testing.

Even for authors working in the same genres and subgenres our books, our voices, and our fan bases often differ in wonderful (offtimes wacky) ways. Whatever their approach, all authors face the task of clarifying why their books are extraordinary. Attracting your unique readership starts with claiming your spot on the genre bookshelf: your niche.

Niche covers a wide spectrum of differentiators: subgenre, scale and setting, voice and vibe, heat/violence/suspense level, intensity, tropes, types, tone, and more. Some authors hunker down in a very narrow patch and never budge. Some folks wander the woods…peeing on trees all over the publishing forest, constantly marking out new turf for their fans. Essentially your niche is the stretch of the virtual bookshelf that your books fill perfectly and that your ideal audience and likely allies seek out instinctively.

Genre publishing is above all things an industry that aims to meet and exceed expectations. A winning author brand pinpoints that unique place you occupy within your genre community as a personality, a vibe, and a voice. It's one thing to say you write suspense, another to say you write police procedurals, and still something else to claim comedic time-traveling serial killers in Anchorage as your personal fiefdom. What’s important is that you plant your flag where you intend to stand.

Every one of us must find ways to stand out from our peers, but we need to stand out for healthy, professional reasons not as trainwrecks or dumpster fires. Perhaps no press is bad press, but in a crowded marketplace the wrong kinds of attention can put your career six feet under in a couple hours. Publishing is part of the entertainment business, and that means you’re in show business, baby. The nature of popular entertainment requires you to find the right population and then entertain them.

For the most powerful, tangible results,cultivate a niche in a section of the market you find inspiring and inviting. It should represent an area of excellence specific to your talents and passions. Your audience knows full well when you put your heart into a book and when you're phoning it in. Nailing your niche requires significant research, intuition, and self-awareness because you’ll need to convey your respect for its traditions AND your ability to expand its boundaries. Stake out your turf on the genre shelf by communicating:
  • your knowledge of and affection for the niche.
  • your ability to claim a distinct space within the niche.
  • your singular appeal to the niche.
  • your options for engaging the niche authentically.
  • your value as a talented and trustworthy professional within the niche.
By articulating what you do best, you signal to readers, colleagues, and the media what they can expect from you, attracting the right kind of attention to your work from the folks who will find it most resonant. That's a win–win–win for all parties involved.

Know your work. 


Niche acts as the bedrock of every author brand, establishing the tone, topics, and terrain of your creative output. In today’s genre market over 700 books are published EVERY DAY. You must stand out or adjust your expectations accordingly. If you plan to be successful, then start building a career that can support and sustain that success.

Claim your turf. 


Claiming your niche needn't pigeonhole you, but rather flags fertile terrain within the genre for your promo efforts. Likewise, drilling down into what you've written needn't limit what you plan to write. If anything, conveying a clear sense of your niche allows you to expand your audience gradually and organically over the course of your career.

Do your homework! 


Once you’ve zeroed in on your unique niche, learn as much about it as you can. You’ll learn which classic warhorse tropes keep folks one-clicking your work on the regular…while sidestepping the dead horses that have been beaten to death. Besides gauging the market and zeitgeist, this awareness will help you to network with colleagues, promote, your projects and set trends rather than chasing them.As your niche expands and your career allows, you'll annex additional areas of the genre, but first you need to face your base. What makes you special to them?

Support talented colleagues. 


By default, your niche will reinforce your brand and attract similar folks into your professional orbit. For best results, make every effort boost the efforts of folks you respect, and they might do the same. Not only will you steer readers towards the best in your genre, you’ll also tacitly signal your niche to like-minded readers. No two authors are the same, but you have genre neighbors that face similar challenges. These folks:
  • share a subgenre, tone, setting, or style with you.
  • get compared to you and your books, for good or ill.
  • will be recommended to folks buying your book online.
  • showup alongside you in articles and blogs about the subgenre.
  • appear regularly on genre panels with you at multiple cons and workshops.
  • Grapple with the same tropes and clich├ęs, gripes and headaches, fans and pros.
Your colleagues know stuff so make friends with folks who can either help keep you on path or help you survive in the dark woods. Niche allies can spark synergistic promo, because their zealous fans are likely to resemble yours. And far from competing for readers or poaching marketshare, cooperative promotion can improve readership for all concerned by boosting the best of your subgenre.

That said, readership within a genre or subgenre tends to be a Venn diagram so don’t expect perfect parity. Instead, learn where you match and differ from the books around yours. When it comes to selling fiction, putting the right books in the right hands is almost the entire battle.

Find your neighbors. 


Identifying your niche will help you collaborate with peers and distinguish yourself from them as well.As you gain a reputation for knowing the rules and playing the game expertly, you’ll attract authors in that stretch of the genre shelf willing to cross promote and boost your signal.
  • Where do the members of this tribe gather and talk?
  • Why and how are they drawn to these types of books?
  • What other adjoining niches and subjects appeal to them?
  • What do they crave and avoid? Who do they trust to recommend titles?
  • How do you resemble and stand apart from your bookshelf neighbors?
  • Anything perennial or overused? What are the warhorses and dead horses?

No standing still! 


The industry evolves daily and a canny professional keeps abreast of developments as they unfold. Keep an eye on the upheavals and mutations in your genre and subgenre. Establish a basic measure of saturation and market access so that you can gauge when you’ve reached the next level in the industry. If you want your audience you grow, you’ll have to grow. And that means writing better, bolder, braver books…every time.

Most importantly, knowing your niche gives you a ringside seat as your career (and the industry) unfolds, as markets expand and contract, as trends explode and implode…affording you a chance to claim the kinds of success that mean the most to you and to write the career you deserve.

Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Though new to romance fiction, Damon has been writing for print, stage, and screen almost three decades and just released his first craft book: Verbalize, a practical guide to characterization and story craft. He’s won some awards, but counts his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year.

Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter |

About Verbalize

Verbalize: bring stories to life & life to stories

Fascinating fiction starts with characters who make readers care. This Live Wire Writer Guide presents a simple, effective technique to sharpen your hook, charge your scenes, and amplify your voice whether you’re a beginner or an expert.
  • Most writing manuals skirt craft questions with gimmicks and quick fixes rather than plugging directly into your story’s power source. Energize your fiction and boost your career with
  • a new characterization method that jumpstarts drafting, crafting, revision, and pitching.
  • skill-builders to intensify language, stakes, and emotion for your readers.
  • battle-tested solutions for common traps, crutches, and habits.
  • a dynamic story-planning strategy effective for plotters and pantsers.
  • ample examples and exercises to help you upgrade fiction in any genre.
Blast past overused tics and types with storycraft that busts your ruts and awes your audience. Whether you like to wing it or bring it, Verbalize offers a fresh set of user-friendly, language-based tools to populate your pages and lay the foundations of unforgettable genre fiction.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound |

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