Áine Ryan is a Marketing Executive at Jessica Kingsley Publishers, where she looks after their list of books on autism and neurodiversity. She has previously worked in theatre publishing and in talent management. BookMachine meets Jessica Kingsley Publishers on Thursday 30th May at Carmelite house and you can book your tickets here.
When I started working on JKP’s autism list, I didn’t have any more knowledge of the subject than the average person on the street. I knew vaguely what autism was, of course, but had little understanding of the major topics of discussion, research or concern within the community. Was I going to say the wrong thing? What did all these new terms really mean? And who exactly was the audience for these books?
Now, about 18 months later, I regularly catch myself discussing some research I’ve read, or a heated debate I’ve been following online. While I’ll never know all there is to learn about autism, I have had a crash course in getting to know a niche market, and have learned a few things along the way…
Know what you’re offering
Getting to know your product should be the first step. Understanding what it is about the product that makes a customer loyal to your brand gives great insight into your company’s identity and USP.
At JKP I was able to learn from editors and other colleagues who’ve nurtured this list of books for years and are experts themselves. We all feel passionately that autistic people and their families are at the heart of what we do, and that their trust in our brand and our books is paramount. Get to know your company’s stance on key issues, and the reasons behind that stance. You should be clear on why a customer would choose your product over a competitor’s.
Get out and about
Attending conferences with a stall and selling books directly to the end consumer has been a great learning experience for me. Sitting at a desk most of the time, it’s all too easy to lose touch with what the customer wants and needs. I attend about ten conferences each year, all over the country, and the conversations I have there about everything from cover design to commissioning are invaluable.
If you have the opportunity, tag along with your Sales team to a meeting with book buyers, or pop along to a relevant local event and get chatting to your customers. You might discover a gap in the market you never knew existed.
Follow your followers
Social media can be harder to crack than some people think. While you might have similar numbers of followers on each platform, do you know who they are? If you fail to identify each market, you can’t be expected to cater for them, so understanding who ‘hangs out’ where is imperative.
Most social media platforms have built-in analytical tools, where you can find out more about the demographics of who’s connecting with you. We can see obvious differences in our Twitter and Facebook audiences, for example, and this data informs the content we share to appeal directly to those markets.
Language is crucial
With many of the subjects we publish in at JKP, for example gender diversity or mental health, there are preferred terms to describe people or conditions, and terms that are falling out of use. Autism is no different, and the debate over person-first or identity-first language (i.e. person with autism or autistic person) was something I had to get to grips with very quickly.
If you find yourself having to write about any community you’re not a part of, check how they like to be referred to. Even some everyday terms people use without thinking can be insensitive to certain communities, and anyone writing copy in a professional capacity should be aware of how throwaway phrases can affect an audience’s trust in your brand.
This is key for any frequently marginalised group and is undoubtedly the number one way I’ve learned about autistic people – just by listening to them. I follow so many blogs, Twitter accounts and YouTube channels where autistic people talk about their varied views and experiences. From them I’ve learned not only what books they might like, but more importantly I’ve learned an enormous amount about accessibility, language politics, neurodiversity, gender identity, pathological demand avoidance and so many other fascinating and enlightening things.
If you’re trying to cater to a niche market and find yourself asking ‘what do they want?’, they are probably already telling you: you just have to listen.