A trip around the edges of the Kenai Peninsula just taught me a valuable lesson. As most writers who have been plying the trade for over a decade, if you’d asked me who were my customers, I’d probably have looked at you as if you were missing something, and I’d probably have responded with a smart-assed retort like “I’m a writer. My readers are my customers.” And I’d have been off the right track by a great distance.
At book signings, I can sell maybe a book to a reader. If really lucky and the reader wants to give one to someone while keeping one, maybe two to the unusual reader. And then I learned after trying a few cold calls to toy stores, learning tools for homeschool stores, and small bookstores, I could sell 12 to 15 books to single retailers in less than 15 minutes. It startled me, so I took the Kenai trip. It was like taking a 300 to 400 level college course showing me who my customers really are.
I do what’s called science writing with Arctic Dinosaurs of Alaska. It’s an off-beat genre. The book contains a chapter book story, “Pakky’s Story,” in the middle of non-fiction. Overall, it is interdisciplinary and a disguised text book. Unlike scientific writing, which is peer-reviewed scientist-to-scientist—science writing is pop sci to people who want to read a less rigorous approach to popular science topics. I had already learned that my middle-grade book appealed not only to the middle-graders who were fascinated with dinosaurs but also to people from middle grade to 96 years old. What?
I discovered that my customers were stores with temporary lodging for books that would reach the readers who were already primed to like or even love the book. My customers are stores that sell items to my readers, not my readers themselves. Living in a touristy state, Alaska, I began to target tourist trap places but mostly places that either had dinosaur bones from these Arctic critters or had a science bent.
The book was launched from The Alaska Museum of Science and Nature in Anchorage. I realized from the launch that people were there because they already had established interest in the Arctic dinosaurs. There was a different atmosphere from book stores where their customers were far more general in interest. That experience set me up to learn what was coming.
So, being on the Kenai, I began to see my customers more broadly. I could take a look at a nature conservancy, a coastal studies organization teaching science in their various locations, museums that featured dinosaurs—in other words, science spots of interest. Places where people with an interest in science go. It was a revelatory experience. And these places invariably contained gift shops. They provided the bridge between me and my readers, for they already had the science focus. They are MY customers. How had I overlooked this fact?
I was never taught writing as a career. My career was so different. But when I could no longer follow my professional life, I could write. And write I did, untrained, but with an almost obsession to share what I learned in research. I didn’t know it at the time, since I wrote a novel series and a short novella series on the peopling of the Americas before the ice age, but these books were also science writing. Different from the dinosaur book, but science writing nevertheless. Readers noticed it, and it showed in reviews, though I missed what they saw at the time.
What I learned on the Kenai is my customers are science-focused points of interest where tourists and Alaskans go to expand their love of science. They make the bridge for my readers to find my books. That’s where I should place my time, for the return on investment is greater than my attempts to sell one-on-one. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to meet readers—just that my time reaches more readers by aiming at these customers who provide temporary lodging to my books. They are not my only customers. I will learn the others in time. It is a great adventure to discover who they are.
And does that solve my customers for the next in line book, Sanctuary? Not at all. Sanctuary is not science writing; it’s spiritual. So, Sanctuary will have an entire customer base befitting the vignettes it contains. This is fascinating learning for me. It’s a good thing I get great enjoyment out of research and meeting new people.