Thursday, 31 December 2015

U is for...Unique Selling Point by Annie Burrows

On the first Friday of every month, Novelista Annie Burrows has been sharing a very personal view of what it is like to be a writer.  And is dealing with themes in alphabetical order.  This month, in spite of being hampered by Christmas and New Year festivities, she's reached U...which she has decided should stand for Unique.

When I started out as a writer I didn't want to have to do any marketing of myself.  In fact, that was one of the reasons I wanted to write for Harlequin Mills & Boon.  I thought I would just be sort of absorbed under the umbrella and become part of their brand.  I thought I could just concentrate on writing my stories, and my publisher would do it all the publicity for me.  And to a large extent, they do.

But I write in what is a very crowded market.  There seem to be dozens and dozens of other writers producing the same sort of book I do - Regency Romance.  And with the rise of self-publishing, the marketplace has become even more competitive.  Why should anyone want to pick up my book and read it, when there are so many others on offer?  What is going to keep a reader remembering my books, and coming back for more?

According to marketing gurus, what I need to do is offer a Unique Selling Point.  Something that will make me stand out from the crowd.

Fortunately for me, Mills & Boon have been brilliant about helping me develop my "brand".  When I first started writing for them, they had a reader panel, made up of fans of specific lines, who would send in a questionnaire about what they liked (or didn't) about each month's books, in return for being entered into a draw for free books.  This was a great piece of market research which I couldn't possibly have undertaken myself.  And eventually my editor contacted me with the news that what readers liked about my books was the humour.  One or two people had already told me that they had giggled when reading certain sections of my stories, so when she asked me if I would mind concentrating on that, rather than on what she termed "my dark side" (which made me feel as if I was perilously close to joining forces with Darth Vader) I agreed.

Because every writer needs to fulfil reader expectation.  If you pick up a Dick Francis, you expect the hero to be an unassuming chap who thwarts the bad guys within a setting which is something to do with horses.  If you read a Dean Koontz, you expect there to be something a bit spooky going on in the background of the thriller.  Even I could see, that within the Harlequin Historical line, some writers tended to create "bad girls", those of the demi-monde, who maybe turn to crime to survive.  Others are known for getting in a lot of historical detail.  Others write extremely tortured heroes, or go for unusual settings. 

I'd already had an Amazon review from a reader who was disappointed that the heroine of the book she'd just read by me hadn't been a virgin.  And when I looked back at previous books, I saw that this was something else I'd done without really thinking about it.  I'd made my heroines virgins, (at least, to start with!) and my readers had come to expect that from me.

So, thanks to the market research done by my publisher, and a disgruntled Amazon reviewer, I'd discovered what readers wanted from my writing, and I started going all out to provide it. It wasn't any hardship...just a slight adjustment to the way I went about thinking up my plots.  I can never resist deflating a pompous character, or inviting someone to share in a joke with me, and I'd already been doing that in my stories without really noticing I was doing it. 

But then my publishers did a series of webinars on marketing and branding.  By this time even I could see it wasn't enough to simply write the best story I could.  We've all moved into an era where we have to have an online presence.  Which, they said, should be consistent across all platforms.  Which meant thinking up a tagline which expressed what we stood for.

Ulp!  As if it wasn't enough learning how to write, and write to a deadline and a wordcount, now I had to promote myself too?

Fortunately, I'd recently had a revisions letter from an editor, saying that my current manuscript (at that point) lacked the "trademark Annie Burrows sparkle".

Aha!  That was it - that was what I wanted to offer readers, and what readers seemed to want from me - some sparkle.   So my tagline became "Sparkling Regency Romance".  Now a reader has a clue what they are going to find within the covers of one of my books.  Though I do aim for total historical accuracy, which demands a lot of research and double-checking, not a great deal of that actually makes it to the pages.  In the end, what I offer my readers is a light-hearted, fun sort of read.

That is my Unique Selling Point - the sparkle.

What is yours?

Annie's latest Sparkling Regency Romance is "The Captain's Christmas Bride", still available from Amazon, Mills & Boon and Harlequin, and other book stores.


  1. Very insightful, Annie. I had the same idea -- I didn't want to have to market myself, Harlequin's name alone would do that for me (so I thought). It hasn't worked out that way. So now I need to find my own "sparkle." Thanks for the advice!

  2. I found this post enlightening. I've struggled with the notion of "brand," but you've explained it in a way I find more helpful than just about anything I've read.

    I recently drafted my first historical fiction novel, when I typically write contemporary women's fiction. Yet the thread that runs through all of my stories is, my heroines are tough women, sometimes too much so...women who, due to circumstances, have had to shove aside their vulnerability to survive in the world, and who manage to find that vulnerability in the end to create more balance. I try to make the stories very different so I'm not rewriting the same book over and over, but this is what fascinates me...and I hope to find readers who are fascinated by these women as well.

    1. I know - we're writers, now marketing experts, right? The prospect of having to give myself a "brand image" gave me the chills, too, until I realized it's just a question of finding out what it is about my books that sets me apart from anyone else's. ANd then letting readers know that this is what they can expect when they pick up one of my books.
      Glad my blog has helped

    2. sorry for typo - that should read NOT marketing experts!

  3. I write contemporary mysteries with a female protagonist - genealogist, Esme Quentin, and so the solution always has an historical connection. Although my novels might be categorised as 'crime fiction' I'm wary of that label, believing people might assume the content is violent and/or gory. It's not but neither is it really 'cosy' crime either (I aim for tension and intrigue) and it's been difficult to come up with a sub-category which falls in between the two! Family historians enjoy my books for obvious reasons but using 'family history' or 'genealogy' in any USP can put off those who aren't into family history, even though I know from my feedback that non-family historians love them just as much.
    So I shall take a tip from you, Annie, and read through my reviews to see if there's a comment there which transcends the two types of readers and use it!
    A very interesting post and very inspiring for 2016! Thank you. :-)

  4. Excellent post! I'm still trying to find myself as a writer, I suppose. Maybe I should make that my new year's resolution, eh? Then perhaps the marketing would be easier. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. It took me several books to find out that it was the more light-hearted aspects to my writing that attracted readers the most. Once it was pointed out to me, it made sense, but I'm not sure if I would have worked it out for myself.
      Hope you find your own USP soon, Amalie - it certainly will make marketing yourself much easier.

  5. Hi Annie, I'm with a small e-house, MuseItUp, and there's a limit to how much they can help with marketing. One thing has been the books' covers which are all by the same cover artist in similar colours and feature the head of the heroine. I think this helps to say the books are about the women, although there is a man shadowed in to hint at romantic troubles. It's so hard. I enjoyed your post and will now think about what links my books rather than what separated them. Anne Stenhouse

    1. Glad to have given you something to think about Anne! x


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