The Challenge of Chick-Lit

(New post of book promotion advice for authors in the chick-lit genre, helping self-published or independently published women writers and novelists)

Cover of Can't Live Without by Joanne PhillipsIf you are a chick-lit writer, there are blessings and there are curses, from the book promotion point of view.

First, the blessings. Chick-lit is hugely popular. There are literally millions of women who read this genre, often voraciously, so there’s no shortage of potential readers. Plenty of these will be happy to read it in any format: hardback, paperback or e-book. Lots of women keep an e-reader in their handbag or have a Kindle app on their smartphone, reading to while away the wait at the doctor’s, the school gate or the hairdressers.

The curse of the chick-lit writer is that you are not alone. You are a minnow in a vast ocean of competition. Chick-lit novels by your rivals are everywhere, not only in a prime place in your friendly neighbourhood bookshop. A very select few populate the cut-price bookshelves of the supermarket; they’re given away free as cover-mounted gifts on magazines; they’re crammed into charity shops and remaindered bookshops. How’s a girl meant to sell her book around here? The chick-lit novelist has to work very hard – and smart – to secure even the smallest share of this massive market.

Get it right, and you’re on to a winner, because women who have enjoyed your book will almost certainly tell their friends, whether face to face over a coffee shop cappuccino or on Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads or whatever else is their favourite social network of the moment.

Where to Begin?

For a self-funding, self-published author, it would be prohibitively expensive to try to target the whole of this nationwide market – and that’s without a thought for the rest of the vast English-speaking, chick-lit reading world. So where should you begin?

First, stand back – and breathe. Try to distance yourself enough from your book to deconstruct your carefully crafted novel into separate strands. Then take each of these strands as a starting point to identify a small  and specific sector of the total market. Exploit each strand in turn for all its worth, before moving on to the next one. In time, those segments will add up to a greater whole, and word of mouth will carry news of your book further afield than you might imagine.

I’ll demonstrate just what I mean by dissecting one particular novel in this crowded genre: Can’t Live Without, the debut novel of Joanne Phillips. I’ll extract three separate strands below and bullet point the promotional ideas that they trigger.

Setting

Caldecotte Lake, Milton Keynes

Caldecotte Lake, Milton Keynes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The novel is set in Milton Keynes, and the author writes lyrically of some local landmarks that play key parts in the plot. Now, I think it’s quite unusual for an author (or indeed anyone) to declare such affection for this new(ish) town that so often serves as the butt of comedians’ jokes. (I come from another one of these myself – Sidcup – and I know how much I appreciate it when someone praises the suburb of my birth!) I reckon this theme would go down well with the local radio station, the local papers and with any official organisation that exists to promote the area as a place to work or live. So, task list:

  • approach the radio to offer a reading of the salient parts and an interview about how and why the author came to write about the place (especially as she doesn’t live there now)
  • write a press release or news story about it and send to the local papers with the offer to provide a signed copy for a readers’ competition, maybe on the theme of whoever can write the best ode to MK
  • research the local council, any local trade organisation, chamber of commerce, town website, etc and explore any similar opportunities there
  • see if you’re allowed to post a link on the town’s Facebook fanpage – yes, it exists and it has 22,000+ likes, so a post on there will appear on 22,000+ people’s timelines!
  • approach the local Lions or Ladies’ Circle or similar and offer to do a talk and a reading at their next meeting, signing copies for sale at the end
  • find out whether there are any local tourist attractions such as museums that include souvenir shops and offer to provide copies for sale in the book section – the Milton Keynes Museum (yes, there is one!), Bletchley Park, etc.

Achieving any of these tasks will in itself  create another news opportunity, after the event, to be presented to the local media – so that’s a double whammy, then!

Industry 

English: An image of a top estate agent in Roy...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The heroine works in an estate agency and there are lots of scenes to do with housing.  It’s a more fun read than I’ve made it sound there, sorry! One of the key men runs a very successful agency and is far from being the flash stereotype in shiny suit and company car, speaking fluent euphemism. This portrait of the industry would be refreshing to anyone employed in it and I think they’d like to hear about it. Second task list:

  • research dedicated estate agents trade press and websites and approach them with a story about how the book celebrates it as a profession
  • if the author has ever worked in an estate agency herself, there could be an interesting press interview  there

House Fire

A residential smoke detector is the most famil...

A residential smoke detector is the most familiar piece of nuclear technology for some people (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story opens with a house fire, gutting the heroine’s house but not physically harming anyone. Even so, this is an issue to be handled extremely sensitively to guard against upsetting anyone who has lost loved ones this way. The heroine then has to rebuild her life, starting off with the list alluded to in the title of the things she Can’t Live Without. I would avoid tackling the more serious issues involved here because it is a light-hearted novel, not an epic tragedy. But even so, I am sure that it could be presented in a way that would intrigue and engage people. Task list number 3:

  • Take a look at the various websites that include a discussion forum for women, such as Mumsnet or Netmums. A discussion thread on the theme of “What could you not live without?” is just the sort of question that they post on their Facebook pages and Twitter to draw people in. (The author has thoughtfully provided a blank list at the end of the book for the reader to create their own list!) This kind of  website usually has a books section, so approach its editor to see if you could build up a feature including a profile of your book and maybe an interview. If you’re feeling really brave, go straight to the top and pitch it to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour producer! Or try to get it trending on Twitter against a relevant hashtag such as #ICannotLiveWithout or #ThingsToSaveInAHousefire
  • Approach insurance companies who have experience in helping people recover from household fires – and who, of course, are eager to sell household insurance (which this book’s heroine neglects to have). Maybe you could offer to produce a survey, easily done via your established readers with a little help from MailChimp or SurveyMonkey. (Why do these services both have primate themes, by the way?!) It’s the sort of material that would be a gift to them, PR-wise. Survey stories are  meat and drink to news reporters, easy fuel for witty headlines and jaunty stories. “In a house-fire, 95% of women aged 20-40 would rather save old letters from ex-boyfriends than their wedding photographs”, maybe?
  • Create a themed gimmick for an online give-away competition on Twitter e.g. free smoke alarm with the 1,000th copy sold!

Over To You

Cover of chick lit novel Girl Cop by Sandy OsborneThis is by no means an exhaustive list of the many facets of Can’t Live Without, and any decent chick-lit novel will offer up similar opportunities upon careful dissection. If your book is in this genre, I hope this case study will provide a useful template for you to follow. Treat the marketing challenge as a game of Cluedo. Think laterally.  Is your book a case of Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Revolver or Professor Plum in the Conservatory with the Lead Piping?

Once you start thinking along these lines, you’ll find it hard to stop. Supposing I tell you that a little later this year, the novelist Sandy Osborne will be making her debut with a chick-lit novel called Girl Cop, inspired by her own experiences as a police officer in Bath, where the novel also happens to be set? I think you’re getting ahead of me already…

Joanne Phillips’ debut novel, Can’t Live Without, is now available on Amazon, where it is collecting an ever-growing number of 5-star reviews. You can read her fascinating account of her journey from aspiring writer to published novelist on her website here.

Equally promising is Girl Cop by Sandy Osborne, to be published towards the end of 2012 by SilverWood Books. I’ll post a link to where you can buy this book as soon as it has been published!

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14 thoughts on “The Challenge of Chick-Lit

  1. Pingback: Selling Chick-Lit – How to Segment the Market | Joanne Phillips – a writer's journey

    • Thank you for your comment, Fiona, I’m glad it’s helpful to you. Please feel free to share the link to this blog (and my book!) with any other authors you know who you think might benefit! Always keen to help more authors sell their books!

  2. This is completely brilliant, Debbie, and thanks so much for featuring my book. What I can see now is that with fiction you have to focus on the content for finding segments of the market, not so much on the habits of the target readers. A lightbulb moment for me, and for many other authors I’m sure.

    • Thanks for commenting, Pauline! This is a fun game to play with book promotion and I hope it gives other authors plenty of ideas to promote their own books too. By the way, when I clicked on the link to your blog just now, my computer wouldn’t let me go further, suggesting it contained some malware that might damage my computer – eek! It may just be over-sensitive (and I always prefer computer security systems that err on the side of caution!) but you might like to get it checked out! Best wishes, Debbie

  3. Pingback: Chick Lit- Why? « The Sexy Politico's Blog

  4. Pingback: Inside the Writer's Studio with Susan Buchanan - Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

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