Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Go ahead, free yourself from your rigid mystery genre and write a hybrid

Okay, the dirty little secret is out of the bag. You don't need to stick to those rigid genres anymore when writing your mystery or romance. Of course, many successful writers threw the genre straitjacket away long ago. Look at Janet Evanovich, who created the enormously successful  Stephanie Plum series, a hybrid of mystery and romance. It also is a humorous mystery and a pet mystery. I could go on, but I think I have proven my point about Janet's work.

Now, what Janet and the other uber successful writers do is one thing. They have been living in a "do as I say, not as I do" world, or at least you would be led to believe so by the agents and editors you talk to. We still are advised that cozies need to be cozies and noirs cannot have a sunny moment. The reason, the pros offer is that readers of specific genres will not tolerate deviations from the format. I have always thought that such thinking sells readers short. I believe Stephanie Plum's sales numbers prove that readers are plum smart.

Another reason, writers were told to stick to the genre straitjacket was marketing and distribution. A book had to fit in a category so it would be in the right place on the shelf, and the publicity folk could craft a succinct message to tout the new offering. Traditional media required short, unambiguous messages because ad space was expensive. To make this work, you had to focus on one audience, one group of well-defined readers. Locked room mystery readers. True crime readers.

Fortunately, cyber marketing and distribution have broken these chains, freeing us to spin blended plots and promote our books to all the audiences who might enjoy reading our work. Sure, the back cover blurb still has to be pretty short, but the book's description on Amazon and the other eStores can be as long as it needs to be, letting all appropriate readers know this book's for them. Moreover, tagging can address any niche audience or any subject area, such as the book's location or time period.

The best way to get a handle on the important niches for your hybrid book is to develop buyer personas. David Meerman Scott explains the use of buyer personas in depth, in his book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR. Buyer personas help us understand the interests, attitudes and behaviors of, in our case, a particular type of reader. Marketers often name these personas to put flesh on the demographics and thought patterns captured in the persona construct.

In my mystery, A POINTED DEATH, coming in August from CreateSpace, the main character is a woman amateur sleuth. Nola Billingsley has a high powered job in the biotechnology industry, so she is not a quilter, post mistress or owner of a bed and breakfast. Her world is the stuff of genetic engineering patents and clinical trials. However, she has spent so much time building her career, that she is forty-something, still single and living with her mother. Janie Belle Billingsley is a Southerner -- a bourbon-drinking, church going card sharp. Nola has a love interest named Harrison and a gas-passing dog named Skootch. Nola also has a love/hate relationship with her home city, San Francisco. It seems the city has a pesky way of tripping up her love life. Nola's pals are a diverse bunch of hyper educated, hard driving scientists and entrepreneurs. The dead guy in the piece hails from an important Bay Area Chinese clan.

You can see that there are a number of buyer personas who might want to read A POINTED DEATH. You could stick with amateur sleuth mystery buyers or dog mystery buyers, but it is important to go deeper and be more descriptive. Perhaps the most important persona here is a woman who likes to read about other women in professional, managerial and administrative positions in knowledge worker industries, such as high tech, biotech and high finance. I call this buyer persona Carly Meg Clinton. She is no wallflower and she doesn't like fictional characters who would take no for an answer, particularly if the naysayer is male.

You can see how a brainy buyer like Carly Meg Clinton might influence the development of the Marketing and PR plan for A POINTED DEATH. It affects promotional language on book jackets, web pages and press releases. It informs cover letters to reviewers. It directs author blogging subject matter. It impacts tagging.

However, another important facet of modern book marketing is that you don't have to chose this persona at the expense of all the others. You can reach out to personas who love pet mysteries and wacky Southern characters through special web pages, sidebars, outreach stories, links and tags. Not one of the significant themes or threads in your manuscript need go un-mined. I must emphasize significant though, because there must be enough substance in your book to hold a reader once she commits to you. And you also need to think about whether you are prepared to carry that thread into the second book and the third...

The cyber marketing reality has opened the door to richer, more innovative stories, and has provided a path, or actually a myriad of paths to reach the readers who share your passions. It is great to be alive today and writing!

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