Testing Your Product: Gain Early Readership by Publishing Small First

It’s time to put the Lean Startup method to the test. But how does a writer take the lessons: 1) write something readers want to read, 2) start small so that you can revise before you commit to writing an 800 page masterpiece that no one wants to read, and 3) be prepared to revise/rethink your book if you don’t attract the initial readership you need to build your audience, and apply them to their writing? There are two ways that I see this working: either by writing a short story set in the world you’ve created or use the first chapter as a short story that will introduce your characters to your readers. This gives you a test product to use in figuring out if you have a world that readers want to spend time discovering through your characters. [Next weeks blog post will focus on how to release these early test products, but for now I’m going to focus on how to create your early test product.]

Once you’re sure of what you’re going to do (write a short story or use the first chapter of your novel), then you focus on who your audience is. The most irritating query was always one that came in promising that “everyone will like this book,” and “it can’t be pigeonholed into one category”. How am I supposed to sell it if you can’t tell me whether its a romance/mystery/fantasy/family saga/women’s fiction/fill-in-the-blank? More importantly, how are readers supposed to find it? Consider this: my tastes are similar to those of my husband, but I wouldn’t necessarily pick up one of his philosophy books and he wouldn’t pick up one of my romance novels. That’s not to say we both don’t enjoy World War II history books or Tom Perotta novels, but those both fit into distinct categories that we can find on our own.

Be conscious of how long your work will be. You’re not writing a novella. You’re not writing a novel. You’re writing a short story. Keep it short. Years ago, J.A. Konrath released a four pack of short stories on Amazon that featured the supporting characters of his Jack Daniels mysteries. They were short, punchy, and fun. They weren’t epic pieces, just long enough to give readers insight into his world. It was a great tool to grow his audience (for those who hadn’t read his books before) and a way to keep fans happy between books (for those already familiar with his books). This is what you’re aiming for because this is what you’re going to pitch to your early adopters, those looking for the next best writer of [whatever your genre is].

Next week I’ll be talking about finding the platform to release your test product on for your early audience.

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