Crossing the Chasm for Self-Published Authors – Part 2 : Target Market Initiatives

In my previous post, I discussed the principles of Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm  and identified five different user categories along the product adoption curve. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, you can do so here. Don’t worry; we’ll wait for you to get back.

Back already? Read the entire post? Good. But just in case you’re fibbing, I’ll briefly summarize it:

  • Your product (book) falls somewhere along the Product Adoption Curve.
  • At different points along the curve, different types of users (readers) will be interested in buying your product.
  • These users are (in order):
    • Innovators (Dreamers)
    • Early Adopters (Visionaries)
    • Early Majority (Pragmatists)
    • Late Majority (Conservatives)
    • Laggards (Luddites)
  • Between the Early Adopters and the Early Majority lies the chasm. Crossing this chasm is your major challenge in achieving mainstream success.

That’s all very interesting, but how does that help me sell more books?

I’m glad you asked, because that is the topic of today’s post:


Look, you can’t be everything to everyone. At least not at the same time. As we’ve already established, different users have different motives for buying a product. At some point, they may all end up buying the same product (hopefully your book), but for very different reasons. Understanding these reasons is the key to successfully marketing your book to each user category.

What is a Target Market Initiative?

Target Market Initiatives (or TMIs) are highly focused attacks on a very specific market. In poker parlance, it’s going “all in” to win a user category by concentrating all your efforts on that one, and only that one, user category. The idea is to first “win” the users in one market before proceeding to the next with an equally focused attack.

So, how does this help me across the chasm?

In theory, it’s rather simple. To successfully navigate your way to the other side, you must first answer me these questions three…

What is your favorite color?

What is your favorite color?

Sorry, strike that… The producers responsible for the previous comment have been sacked.

Now, where were we? Ah, yes. To cross the chasm, you must win each of the first three user categories (in this order): the Innovators, followed by the Early Adopters, and finally, the coveted Early Majority.

The secret is that you don’t have to win them all at the same time. In fact, you shouldn’t even try. Instead, focus on the market at hand. Once you’ve conquered that specific market, you can then move on to the next.

With that in mind, let’s see if we can’t put together a Target Market Initiative for each of these three user categories.

Target Market Initiative 1 – The Innovators

If you’ll remember from my previous post, the Innovators are going to be your earliest readers. In most cases, these will be your beta-readers, and you probably won’t be selling them anything. (Not for money, anyway. In some sense, authors are always selling themselves). But just because the Innovators won’t be buying your book doesn’t mean they won’t be buying your ideas, so it’s still very much your job to sell them.

The key to selling any product is understanding the buyer. Or more precisely, understanding what the buyer is looking for in a product. So let’s look at an Innovator’s motivations:

  • Innovators are conceptualists. They love to shape new ideas. This is fortunate for you, because at this stage your book is probably more of a concept than a finished product.
  • Innovators are creative, or at least they admire creativity. Being part of the product development is very appealing to them.
  • Innovators are willing to take a risk on an untested product. The possibility of success is a greater motivation to an Innovator than the fear of failure.

Sounds like a fantastic customer, no? So, what’s the downside? Well, unless you’re name is Stephen King, you won’t have Innovators lining up around the block to help you finish your novel. You need to court the Innovators, and you just might have to give them something in return.

So, let’s get more specific. Just who are these potential Innovators?

  • Friends and Family – This is the obvious group for your earliest readers. After all, unless your friends and family hate you, they’ll probably be receptive and encouraging of your endeavors. The downside is that they might also be less than honest with you, so don’t rely on their feedback too much. But it’s a good starting point. Try to focus your efforts on people that actually have a passion for reading. (I wouldn’t go so far as to forbid your non-book-loving spouse from reading your novel, unless you have a very comfortable couch.) If you have a friend that’s always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, try to get him or her to read your book. They’ll give it to you straight!
  • Writing Groups – Groups that meet in person or in an online community can be invaluable for providing objective feedback on your novel. Try to find a group that fits your genre (e.g. Sci-Fi/Fantasy).  They’ll be more interested (and more forgiving) in reading your rough ideas, and more experienced in the nuances of that particular genre.
  • Development Editors – These are paid professionals who help you craft and structure your story. The upside is that they are professionals (they should know what they are doing). The downside is that they are professionals (they expect to be paid).

Ok, now that we’ve identified some potential Innovators, let’s put together some TMIs:

Target Market Initiatives for Innovators

  1. Write an Appealing Book – I know it sounds obvious, but if you write something no one wants to read, it will be difficult to get anyone to look at it, even if it’s free.
  2. Collaborate – Let your early readers know that this is just a developmental draft, and you’re looking for detailed feedback to improve it. Not just “I liked it” or “I hated it.” Before you even give them a copy of your book, let them know the level of feedback you’re expecting. Provide them with a list of questions such as: “Did you like the characters?” “Did the plot make sense?” “Was the dialogue believable?” “What didn’t you like about the book?” The purpose of these questions is not just to get their feedback, but to let your Innovators know that their opinions really do matter. In effect, you are inviting them to be a part of your development team, and this is nigh irresistible to an Innovator.
  3. Stack the Deck – Only target readers who enjoy other books in your genre. I’ve said it before, but don’t expect your biography-loving uncle to like your paranormal romance.

Okay, now that you’ve won over the Innovators, they’ve delivered their feedback, and you’ve revised your draft, what’s next? It’s time to go after the next market: The Early Adopters!

Target Market Initiative 2 – The Early Adopters

Who are the Early Adopters?

  • Visionaries – Early Adopters are the wide-eyed optimists of the group. They’re willing to take a risk on an unproven product.
  • Trail Blazers – Early Adopters love to be the first to discover the Next Big Thing. Furthermore, they love to trumpet the fact they have discovered the Next Big Thing. You can use this to your advantage.
  • Collaborators – Early Adopters want to feel instrumental in taking a product to the next level.
  • Price Conscious – Although they are risk takers, Early Adopters expect a discount in exchange for taking a chance on an unproven product.

Now that we know a little about the Early Adopter’s motivations, let’s put together some TMIs:

Target Market Initiatives for Early Adopters

  • Refine Your Writing – The main purpose in getting the Innovators (early readers) involved in the previous TMI is to refine your book to the point that it’s now ready for the Early Adopters. So, work out the kinks, clean up the bad dialogue, and eliminate the plot holes. If you can afford it, hiring a copy-editor at this stage is highly recommended. Having a professional and objective third-party go over your writing line-by-line can really do wonders for your book.
  • Improve Your Discoverability – Discoverability is key to attracting the Early Adopter. Here are some things you can do to improve the discoverability of your books:
    1. Put On Your Best Face – I’m talking about your cover. Have a professional, attractive cover designed that suits your genre. Even Early Adopters will be scared away by a homemade cover. Invest some money in a graphic artist who specializes (or is experienced) in designing book covers.
    2. Nail Your Blurb – After your cover, this is the next thing readers will see. Try to make your blurb compelling without giving too much of the plot away. Let your readers know what your book is about, and try to throw in a hook or two to capture their imagination. A blurb should not be a synopsis of your book!
    3. Perfect Your Presentation – If your blurb and cover haven’t driven your potential readers away at this point, they just might click on the “Look Inside” feature. When they do, you don’t want them to find an amateurish mess. Take the time to format your book so it looks nice and professional. If you can afford it, hire someone to format your book for you.
    4. Pick the Right Shelf – I’m focusing on Amazon here since it’s the most popular ebook store. When you upload your book, you get to associate it with two categories. Make sure the categories are as specific as possible while remaining relevant. The smaller the category, the less competition you will have for eyeballs.
    5. Optimize Your Search Results – Again, at Amazon you get to associate seven keywords (actually, it’s seven phrases) with your book. Make sure these keywords are appropriate to your book and genre. Try to choose keywords that complement each other (e.g. “Victorian mystery,” not “romantic thriller”). If in doubt, use longer phrases that incorporate multiple keywords. If you’re still struggling to come up with keywords, go to the Kindle bookstore and type into the search box (e.g “fantasy”). As you type, Amazon will display the top 10 keyword searches that begin with the same letters. These keywords are popular with book buyers, so use them!
    6. Engage the Public (Social Media) – This includes Facebook, Twitter, your blog, Goodreads, KindleBoards (now KBoards), etc. The most important rule here is be a good netizen. Readers don’t come to these places to get blasted by ads for your book. Be friendly and professional. Only post information that is relevant and useful to the community. Make sure that links to your book are easily discoverable, but don’t push your book on others without solicitation. Believe it or not, most people are nice (even on the internet) and want to help their community out, so don’t be obnoxious. Give, and you shall receive.
  • The Price Is Right  – Like I said earlier, you probably won’t have much success with the Early Adopters if you’re charging $11.99 for your unknown ebook. I know the arguments that cheap prices devalue your work, but remember that we’re targeting Early Adopters specifically. They expect a discount. Once your book starts climbing the charts, you can play around with higher prices. But for now, we have a war to win. That being said, there are still a few different price points to consider:
    1. Free – This is the easiest way to get your book to as many people as possible, but there is a downside (besides not making any money): just because someone downloads a free ebook doesn’t mean they’re going to read it. Many people simply “collect” free books, amassing huge collections that they’ll never get around to reading. But if your heart is set on going free, there are a couple of ways to do it at Amazon. First, you should know that the minimum price you can directly set at Amazon is 99¢. If you want your book to be free, you’ll have to upload your book to some other bookstore for free and have Amazon price match it. The second way is by enrolling in Kindle Select. This allows you to make your book free for 5 days out of every 90, but your ebook must be exclusive to Amazon.
    2. 99¢ – This is the minimum price you can set through Amazon without using one of the strategies above. Also note that if your book is less that $2.99, you only get a 35% royalty instead of the usual 70%. This is Amazon’s way of encouraging higher minimum prices.
    3. $2.99 – This is the minimum price you can set through Amazon and still receive a 70% royalty.

Some thoughts on pricing your book to entice Early Adopters – There’s not a single best strategy on pricing your newly launched ebook. Some authors have had great success at 99¢, while others have reported that their sales actually took off after increasing prices. Check out other books in your genre to get a feel for current price trends. Feel free to experiment with different price points, but I would encourage you not to change prices too often. Sales are often unpredictable, so if your book is not selling at a particular price, give it some time before hitting the panic button. I would recommend at least a month.

One strategy you could employ is to launch at 99¢. The hope with this strategy is to attract 5 or 6 solid reviews from Early Adopters. At this point, you could enroll your ebook in Kindle Select (assuming you’re exclusive to Amazon). Kindle Select allows you to give your book away for free for five days out of every ninety. Use these days in conjunction with a book promotion service like BookBub to let potential readers know your book is free for the next X days (up to 5). Most of these services won’t promote your book if it doesn’t have some good reviews, so I would avoid using Kindle Select until that time. Of course, if your book has been languishing for months at its current price point anyway, there’s no harm in trying something different. (If you have a different experience, please let me know about it in the comments.)

Your entire goal in targeting the Early Adopters should be garnering reviews, not money. Once you have enough good reviews, you can attempt to leap the chasm.

Target Market Initiative 3 – The Early Majority

Okay, you’ve made it this far. Your book is polished, available, and receiving some respectable reviews from the Early Adopters. Now you need to reach for the golden ring: the Early Majority.

Who are the Early Majority?

  • Pragmatists – Unlike the Early Adopters, the Early Majority are more averse to risk. They’ll still take a chance on a relatively unknown product, but they want some assurance that the gamble will pay off.
  • Trendsetters – When the Early Majority see a trend forming, they want to be among the first to get in on it. They’re not trailblazers, but they’re not far behind. If the Early Adopters are Lewis and Clark, the Early Majority are the waves of pioneers that followed behind (and in much greater numbers).
  • Cost Friendly – The Early Majority are more willing to pay full price for a product that has proven its potential.
  • Herd Mentality – The Early Majority seldom move first, but once they do start moving, it’s likely to be a stampede.

Okay, now that we’ve gained some insight into the Early Majority, let’s put together some TMIs:

Target Market Initiatives for the Early Majority

  • Improve Your Discoverability – Like the Early Adopters, discoverability is still key for the Early Majority. But it’s a different type of discoverability. While the Early Adopters are willing to trudge through a massive catalog, looking for the unknown gems, the Early Majority will watch the best seller lists (and “Hot New Releases”), looking for signs of an early mover.
  • Pick Your Battles – Getting onto the Top Seller lists is not easy. One thing you can do to improve your chances is target a smaller category. For example, it might be difficult to break into the Top 10 General Fantasy list if your name isn’t George R.R. Martin, but maybe you can break into the Top 10 Fantasy->Arthurian subcategory. Try to categorize your book as specifically as possible. Don’t worry; if you sell enough Arthurian fantasy novels, you will top the General Fantasy list as well. But let’s take one battle at a time.
  • Win Reviews – Reviews are the “secret sauce” that the Early Majority can’t resist. Without it, your book will appear bland to them, having little appeal to their refined palettes. That’s why it’s so important to get the Early Adopters involved (see Target Market Initiative 2 above). You can’t leap across the chasm until you first reach its edge. The Early Adopters (with their reviews) can clear the path to your launch point. Which leads to the next strategy…
  • Actively Solicit Reviews  – At the end of your book, include a note asking your readers to review your book. Include a direct link to your book’s review page to make it as easy as possible. Remember, Early Adopters are collaborators in search of the Next Big Thing, so use this to your advantage. The reviews from these Early Adopters will really help you capture the Early Majority.
  • “Free Beer” Promotions – As mentioned above, once you have enough good reviews, you can take advantage of services like BookBub in conjunction with a temporary price drop to spike your sales. This will, in turn, boost your ranking on the all-important Top Seller lists. After the promotion is over, you can return your book to its regular (i.e. full) price, and enjoy the “free” advertising you receive from its newly prominent position on the list. After all, these are the lists the Early Majority are watching. If you catch their eye, you will be well on your way to mainstream success!

What’s Next?

At this point, you’ve leapt across the chasm and captured the Early Majority. You can now move on to the Late Majority, but quite frankly, these will be much easier sells. The Late Majority basically rides the coattails of the Early Majority, so there’s little marketing for you to do. Just being on the Top Sellers lists (courtesy of the Early Majority) does most of the marketing for you!

Then, of course, there’s the last user category: the Laggards. My advice with the Laggards is to just keep writing. Once you have an extensive back catalog and have been around for many years, the Laggards will finally come aboard, but there’s no use marketing to them. They’re immune to it.

Kindling the Fire

At some point, your sales will begin to lag. No one stays on top forever. This is when you release your next book, and you can use it to jump start the sales of your back catalog, but that’s a subject for another post.

Have questions or comments? Or just want to share your own experience? Leave me a comment! I’d love to hear from you.


About thewoodlander

Kirk Watson is the author of The Grey Tales series of novels featuring squirrel-of-action John Grey. He resides in Austin, Texas.
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