First things first: It's no secret that it is harder to sell novels than non-fiction self-help books. The author of a non-fiction work is more apt to have specific readers in mind along with a coherent message that will help them. The first-time novelist is more likely to be writing for the fun it, perhaps with the vague hope that readers to be identified later will find the book and send it shooting up the bestseller lists.
Here's the thing: You are more likely to be successful as a novelist if you start with someone—your core reader—in mind. At the very least, identify a genre and stay with it. Rookie authors have an unfortunate tendency to try to hit multiple genres, figuring I suppose that the more potential readers you can identify the more actual readers you will have. This does not work—not if the potential readers are confused about what you're doing—and they will be if you are trying to appeal to readers of thriller, romance, western, fantasy, and horror novels. Someday, when you are rich and famous from never-ending book royalties, you can try your hand at crossover fiction.
Two of my literary customers have had success, specifically by keeping their core readers in mind.
Cleon Ochsner, in the course of doing some family history work, obtained official Russian documents relating to the trial and execution of an ethnic German landowner in Ukraine during the Stalinist purges in 1938. His interest was piqued because the man had his own surname—he was probably the brother of one of Cleon's direct descendants. The documents became the basis for a novel called Kulak: Love and Death, a German-Russian Tragedy—Ukraine, 1938. The book has a natural audience: ethnic Germans with Ukrainian roots. It has has done well in English and is now in the process of being published in German.
Colette Holbrook Sheets, a descendant of a Mormon pioneer, had a similar story. She happened onto the detailed journal of Joseph Holbrook, including his trek from Nauvoo, Illinois, to the Mormon Zion in Utah. Sheets, a psychologist, used the medium of the novel to add flesh to the bones of the journal. Sheets died shortly after completing the draft of the manuscript, but her husband Robert saw the book through publication as Intrepid Faith: Joseph Holbrook's Trek to Zion. Robert Sheets is doing well selling the book to Joseph Holbrook's numerous descendants.
Both of these examples were what I would call "non-fiction novels," but the principle of identifying a narrow but coherent readership should work for fictional novels as well.—The Publishing Pro.