Finding Your Audience and Branching Out

Troy D. Smith is from Sparta, Tennessee. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, and teaches U.S. and American Indian history at Tennessee Tech. In addition to history, he writes short stories of all stripes, has written for several magazines, published poetry (but not lately), and writes western and mystery novels.

Over at Western Fictioneers — a professional writers’ organization that has been making tentative steps toward becoming a small publisher as well — we hit on an idea that I think is pretty innovative. In addition to our other publishing projects, which so far have involved short story anthologies, this year we have introduced a series of westerns, under the umbrella title Wolf Creek. They are collaborative novels — each participating writer has created a unique character that he or she writes for. Any give volume features six of those characters interacting in the same story, with the authors writing their assigned chapters from their guy’s (or gal’s) point of view. I think we’ve done a good job getting the series off the ground, and come up with some pretty good yarns. The nineteen writers involved include some of the most talented, and honored, authors working in the genre today.

The question is, how do we get the word out?

We’ve made great use of “social media” — touting twittery tweets, posting Facebook links, talking the series up with western fans on Facebook groups. Several of our members have posted on their own blogs about the series, and quite a few sites that specialize in reviewing westerns have given us some positive attention.

But I have been (pleasantly) surprised by the venues that have proven the most helpful, the most successful, and the most fun. Several blogs devoted to western romance fiction have given us free rein, usually for a full week at a time. In each case, they have devoted space to several members of our group — and with other Wolf Creek writers jumping in via the comments sections, readers could really get a sense that we are, in fact, a team, and one that has cohered very well. We have been so honored at Sweethearts of the West, Petticoats & Pistols, Romancing the West, and others. I was especially intrigued by the format of our appearance at Nighthawk Talks — over there they interview, not the writers, but their characters. Clay More (a practicing physician) introduced his creation, Wolf Creek’s town doctor Logan Munro. Interacting with readers, Dr. Munro answered several questions about frontier medicine. My character, the Black Seminole army scout Charley Blackfeather, ended up explaining aspects of Seminole spirituality and philosophy. It was enormous fun.

I have become increasingly aware in recent years that there is great potential for audience crossover between the traditional western and romance genres — after all, as Waylon Jennings so aptly sang, “Ladies Love Outlaws” — so in retrospect I should not have been surprised that our series’ promotion efforts would be so successful with fans of that genre. Western Fictioneers is fortunate to have several members who write in both categories and thus had the necessary connections to get us a forum, for which I am quite grateful.

A few years ago I was teaching history at a high school in Illinois, and — out of curiosity — asked all my classes how many of them had actually watched a western movie. I was saddened, but not surprised, to learn that only a handful of students had. I was shocked, however, to discover that almost all of that small number of kids were female. Each of the young ladies said that they watched westerns with their dads, and it was a bonding experience. A lot of women who have posted replies on my Facebook timeline about my various publications have said something similar — they don’t just like romance novels with western settings, they like traditional westerns in general. More than one has pointed to the classic Louis L’Amour novel Connagher, and the movie version with Sam Eliot and Katherine Ross, as a perfect example of a story that covers both genres.

So when you are thinking about ways to market your work, go outside the box. Look for connections with other genres and fields, and ways you can weave them together in the narrative you construct about your narrative — you will often find unexpected cases of your fiction being a perfect fit for audiences you never considered, with no advance planning. You could find a lot of new opportunities, and new readers.

2 thoughts on “Finding Your Audience and Branching Out

  1. Hi Troy,
    That's definitely where my love of western writing/reading came from–my dad. He read all kinds of books, but somehow he missed the Louis L'Amour novels. When The Sacketts came to tv, he loved it! As an adult, I began to buy Louis L'Amour novels from the local 1/2 price bookstore and would take them to him when I finished them. He was a voracious reader and finally, I gave them all to him first and just let him give them back to me to read when he was done with them. We had some lively conversations about those books, and it was really nice to share them with him before he passed. I definitely have enjoyed working on the Wolf Creek books, and look forward to what's to come with the series!

  2. Hey Troy,
    It is interesting that more ladies than gents had watched a western movie. But one wonders whether more women are interested in 'story' than men in general. Over in the UK one of our specialist crime shops (as you know, we call 'mysteries' crime novels) wrote a piece in Red Herrings (the journal of the Crime Writers Association) about the readership of the various crime genres. The main point was that 70 per cent of crime novels are bought by women. Of course, one is either a reader or not a reader. If you can catch kids early enough then they generally stay hooked as readers and will tend to diversify. Yet I recall reading about picture books and the types that kids like. Boys like facts and want fact books and girls want stories.

    And I totally concur with Cheryl, working on Wolf Creek – heck, I meant working in Wolf Creek, because it seems so very real now, has been the best and most enjoyable writing project that I have worked on.


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