Why Sparkling Vampires Make More Money

March 14, 2012 in General Topics

A story goes that Ray Kroc, the man that made McDonald’s a giant, was asked how he made so much money making hamburgers. He answered the question with his own, asking if anyone thought they made better hamburgers than he did. They said yes. Kroc replied with an important point: he wasn’t in the hamburger business. His strategy was simply using burger sales to pay the mortgage on much juicier commodities — prime real estate locations.

Kroc made millions with a business that appeared only to be a burger chain.

Fast forward and one of today’s hottest authors, Stephenie Meyer, can lay claim on her own “millions and millions sold” moniker. Long-time horror writers are full of righteous indignation, as am I, as are many horror enthusiasts. Vampires that sparkle in the daylight? Hunky werewolves that stepped out of a Calvin Klein add? Hair three stories tall, like a latter-day 90210 revival? Slay me now.

How could this drek be successful? Simple: Meyer’s not in the horror business.
Is this annoying? Sure. Can you learn from it, though?
You want fries with that, horror-fic purist? Okay, I’ll bite.

Meyer’s success has come from, knowingly or not, tapping into an audience that isn’t paying to read (or watch) horror. They’re here chasing classic romance tropes: the misunderstood bad boy with the heart of gold, for example. All that horror stuff is just window dressing to them. The Twilight “Saga” isn’t, at its most fundamental level, a horror piece. It’s a soap opera with stick-on fangs. Its audience is fine with that. Meyer seems fine with that.

And while traditional horror audiences decry Twilight, Meyer is raking it in. If you’re a genre fiction writer and the success of these stories is disheartening to you, then you missed the point.

Meyer and/or her team identified a target audience, chased that target audience, and ultimately sold to that target audience. More than anything else, this was the key element of her success. And any of us can do this. This should encourage us all!

Meyer’s not selling howls at the moon and stormy nights; she’s selling what her customers didn’t even realize they wanted until it hit shelves: namely, a series that borrows as-needed from romantic literature, YA fiction, and other fertile ground. If one is honest, they’ll see the same pattern elsewhere in genre media: the worms crossing the fence into different genres are those really attracting the birds. Are Scott Sigler‘s “junkies” who dig the GFL series really in it for just the sci-fi? You sure there’s not a classic sports drama in there?

The Tyrant Strategy series, coming out later this year (keep an eye on this blog, or my Facebook fan page) is also written as a cross-genre piece. At its core, the elite, enhanced solider named Reed Barowe and his counterpart, the charismatic and unstable military genius, Ramelan Fujita, don’t trapse across a traditional science fiction novel. It’s more of an accessible, character-driven, contemporary suspense thriller with military sci-fi overtones. And though I’d love the respect of science fiction readers and my associates in the biz, make no mistake: my target audience is much broader. It’s those folks that Barowe, Fujita and the other characters are really engaging.

Maybe you want to make a work tightly-focused on one genre; you want to make a great burger. Go right ahead. But isn’t it also important, if you want to make a living writing, to ask who’s going to buy that burger, and why? Shouldn’t you keep your target audience in mind when writing your fiction intended for mass-market release?

I’m not saying sell out; I’m saying sell smart.

I’ll bet you a Big Mac you’ll do well. Take your fangs out before you bite, though.

Stay tuned.