Gay romance fiction

Knowing Your Niche: finding your genre fit  

by Damon Suede

(A-game Advice was a monthly column offering practical tips for winning promo that fits your personal style, strategy, and measure of success.)

Where do you fit on the genre bookshelf?

As members of RWA, we all write romance, but our books, our voices, and our fan bases vary wildly. In our promotional efforts we need to stand out from our peers for the right reasons. Some authors specialize by subgenre, some by heat or suspense levels, others jump between every category on record and several that haven't been invented yet. Whatever their approach, all authors face the task of clarifying why their books are extraordinary, so building your audience begins with establishing your place on the genre bookshelf: your niche.

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. Niche acts as the bedrock of every author brand, establishing the tone, topics, and terrain of your creative output.

A winning author brand pinpoints that unique place you occupy within your genre community as a personality and a voice. It's one thing to say you write paranormal, another to say you write vampires, and still something else to claim comedic middle grade steampunk vampires as your turf.

For best results you should cultivate a niche in a section of the market you find inspiring and inviting. Fans and colleagues know when you put your heart into a book and when you're phoning it in. It is the area of excellence specific to you. Nailing your niche requires significant research, intuition, and self-awareness. Stake out your turf on the genre shelf by communicating:

  • your knowledge of and affection for the niche.

  • your singular appeal to the niche.

  • your options for engaging the niche authentically.

  • your ability to claim a distinct space within the niche.

  • 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. By default, your niche will reinforce your brand and attract similar folks into your professional orbit. No two authors are the same, but you have genre neighbors. These authors:

  • share a subgenre, tone, setting, or style with you.

  • appear regularly on genre panels with you at multiple cons and workshops.

  • get compared to you and your books, for good or ill.

  • will be recommended to folks buying your book online.

Niche allies can spark synergistic promo, because their fervent fans are likely to be yours as well. And far from competing for readers or poaching marketshare, cooperative promotion can improve readership for all concerned by boosting the best of your subgenre.

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.

Find your unique niche and learn as much about it as you can. Besides gauging the market and zeitgeist, this awareness will help you to network, promote, and set trends rather than chasing them. You’ll learn which classic warhorse tropes keep ‘em in the saddle and sidestep the ones that have been beaten to death. Identifying your niche will help you collaborate with peers and distinguish yourself from them as well.

  • 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?

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? Establish a basic measure of saturation and market access so that you can gauge when you’ve reached the next level in the industry.

Most importantly, knowing your niche gives you a ringside seat as your career unfolds, as markets expand and contract, as trends explode and implode…affording you a real-time snapshot of Romancelandia that cannot be beat.

A professional development article for writers by M/M author Damon Suede

Copyright 2016. Damon Suede. All Rights Reserved

Originally published as part of A Game Advice for the Romance Writers Report.

If you wish to republish this article, just drop me a line.