Part 3: The Ultimate Guide to Market Research

Welcome back for Part 3 of the Ultimate Guide to Book Marketing! If you’re just stopping by and want to start from the beginning, you can find the complete series here. Each part stands alone, though, so if you’re just interested in a particular topic, feel free to jump in wherever you see fit.

First, a little refresher on our Ultimate Book Marketing Formula, which forms the backbone of the guide:

In this section, we’ll be examining the first, and most important, component of this formula: market research.

Yes, it sounds boring. But it tends to be enlightening and interesting.

Even if you hate it, market research is mandatory. An hour of time up front can save you hundreds of frustrating hours on the back end. That’s a pretty good deal.

Alas, this critical marketing step is the one that most writers skip. For a first novel, or a third, this is okay: at the beginning, it’s more important to start (and finish) than it is to get things exactly right. But if you want to go full-time, you must deeply understand what your readers want. This is what good market research entails: diving into why your readers pick up certain books, their expectations, the covers they respond to, and more.

Some authors learn this by osmosis: they’ve read heavily, and have commercial tastes themselves. As such, understanding what their target readers want is easy, because it’s what they themselves also seek. Most have to dig a little deeper, and actively uncover just what their target reader expects.

This section will not examine which genres are hot right now; such information would be outdated within the month. Instead, it supplies you with the tools and framework necessary to perform your own market research. This way you’ll be able to analyze any market with ease and generate your own up-to-the-minute analysis whenever you so choose. Best of all, market research can be performed for free, right on Amazon.

In Part 3, we’ll cover:

  • The two types of “writing to market” (and why it’s not a new concept)
  • Reader expectations and how to identify them
  • Why positioning your book properly is critical to standing out in a crowded market place
  • How to start building a sustainable, long-term author brand

Market Research = Writing to Market, Right?

Yes and no.

“Writing to market” is a dirty phrase to some, so we should take a moment to go over what it is (and, perhaps more importantly, what it is not).

For the uninitiated, writing to market means actively writing your book’s story and designing its packaging to fit a specific sub-genre’s expectations. This may sound like a wildly new Internet-age concept. But it’s really just writing commercial fiction to a preexisting audience. This has long been known as “genre fiction.”

The bulk of novels sold fall under genre fiction. Think romance, thrillers, cozy mysteries, urban fantasy, military sci-fi and so forth. These genres & sub-genres all have established fan bases that want certain things from their books. These core expectations are known as tropes. As a professional author, your job is to deliver this expected experience in a satisfying way. You’re providing a service (entertainment) to readers. And what you want matters far less than what they want.

As a brief thought experiment, imagine ordering a lobster in a restaurant, only to be given flounder. Would you accept the chef’s “innovation” or explanation that they’re both “seafood”? Absolutely not – you’d never eat there again. This is what you’re doing when, say, you don’t include a happily ever after (HEA) in a book marketed as a romance. A reader ordered lobster, but you delivered flounder. Maybe the flounder was delicious. Doesn’t matter; you broke the implicit promise your cover/blurb made.

Market researchor writing to market, if you preferis all about learning your genre’s tropes and expectations so that you understand what makes a thriller different than, say, a romance.

And also gaining an understanding of why leaving out key elements is a recipe for disaster.

The major genres are as follows:

  • Romance
  • Thriller
  • Mystery
  • Crime
  • Sci-Fi
  • Fantasy
  • Horror
  • Westerns
  • Literary

A genre, however, is not homogeneous. This means that your research must extend beyond the umbrella genre and dive into specific sub-genres. Beneath the umbrella of sci-fi, for example, lies a variety of sub-genre readers seeking different experiences. Cyberpunk (Blade Runner, Snow Crash, The Matrix, Deus Ex) is a different sub-genre than space opera/military sci-fi (Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, The Expanse, Dune, Foundation). Study what makes Snow Crash (cyberpunk) a different reading experience than The Expanse (space opera), despite sharing some tropesor a billionaire romance different from a bad boy rock star one.

Often, this is an emotional feeling, rather than “include tropes X, Y & Z.”

For example, James Bond, Jack Reacher and Jason Bourne are all trained killers, but they feel different. The reading demographic has a ton of overlap, but the takeaway experience from each is different. James Bond has an aristocratic, escapist elegance; Jack Reacher is an imposing physical presence and eternal wanderer; Jason Bourne is an adept improviser and master of his environment.

These distinctions might strike you as granular, but they’re criticalnot just for selling books, but for writing good ones that resonate with readers. Aim to understand the principle behind why a hero is dark and brooding, or a wanderer, or an aristocratwhat emotional hot button that presses in your target demographicrather than blindly copying a trope.

You can identify reader expectations by reading the reviews, studying the blurbs and analyzing the coversbut the best method is reading books from your sub-genre’s Top 100 list.

That’s all there is to understanding your genre.

Still not convinced that this process is necessary?

Selling authors have done this for over a hundred years. They will do it for a hundred more, long after your books are forgotten. If you are going to write a romance, understand what readers expect. Thriller? Understand what those readers expect. Want to mash up the two genres into romantic suspense? Fineunderstand which elements must be present to craft a satisfying cocktail.

There are two basic approaches to successfully writing genre fiction:

Writing to market: writing a book in a well-defined genre/sub-genre, using many of the tropes, expectations and common characters within. E.g. disaster fiction, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance.

Writing to trend: writing a book in a well-defined sub-genre that’s currently hot & selling well, using all of the tropes, expectations and common characters within. Trend books are often laser-targeted toward a very specific sub-genre (in a popular larger genre) that has suddenly grown to a size that outstrips normal demand. Often they’re simply sub-genre books that are enjoying a sudden swell of popularity. E.g. LitRPG or reverse harem.

Most genre fiction falls under the writing to market category. While certain genres ebb and flow in popularity over the years, the major ones have been around for upwards of a century or more. They’re not disappearing any time soon.

Writing to trend takes market research to an extreme, where authors identify hot genres and then write tropes exclusively the way people like them now. This is often what authors envision when you mention “market research”: checklists of tropes, recycled characters and generally indistinguishable books. Such titles are mostly churned out as pulp commodities to capitalize on a sudden (and brief) spike in reader interest. People’s broader tastes don’t change much (romance has been around for almost two centuries), but niche sub-genres can fall in and out of favor rapidly. By focusing only on these tropes, your book will sink when that sub-sub-genre is no longer hot.

Weigh the pluses and minuses and factor in your writing speed when making a decision. Writing to trend demands fast releases, but it’s the quickest way to go from zero to making a living. Once you step off the book-a-month writing treadmill, however, your earnings are likely to nosedive. Writing to market allows more creative latitude and is a better path to building a long-term, non-commoditized brand. I think you’re best off somewhere in the middle (although hewing toward the “write to market” end of the spectrum): where you’re writing in a genre with current commercial appeal, but which has also held readers’ interest for, say, longer than the past ten minutes.

And, finally, find an intersection between what you enjoy writingand write welland what readers will buy. Because consistent production is impossible when you dread visiting the keyboard.

F*** That, I Want to Be Original

Let’s address the elephant in the writing room. Because authors often dismiss market research before they try it by saying things like I want to write anything I want. This is for my soul. This is for fun.

That’s fine. Making money is hardly the sole reason why people publish books. For even the most intransigent artiste, however, I’d suspect that sales matter a lot. And writing whatever you want is unlikely to make you money no matter how good your book is, unless whatever you like to read and write happens to be in a commercial genre/sub-genre. Most successful authors who tell you to write what you loveto pen the book of your heart, and that readers will connect with that passionwere fortunate enough to love a super commercial sub-genre.

Passion means nothing. Quality means very little if you miss genre conventions.

What readers want is the only thing that matters.

Let me be clear: a book that misses the market faces an uphill climb at best. More commonly, your book is dead in the water the instant you press publish.

Too often I see writers using the “I wanna write the book of my heart” refrain as a lazy excuse to not read or understand their chosen genre. These same folks tend to whine about how readers don’t buy their books. Market research doesn’t have to be a straitjacket; instead, it can be liberating. You can lampshade tropes, break expectations and turn things on their head once you understand the rules and boundaries of your chosen genre(s)e.g. Firefly, which is a space opera western.

In the immortal words of Charlie Parker: Master the instrument, master the music and then forget all that shit and just play.

But mastery comes first.

You earn the right to “just play” by immersing yourself in your chosen genre. Again, you are a service provider offering the reader entertainment. It is not entertaining for a reader to pick up a space opera, only to find that it’s a philosophical treatise on the merits of dust. This is a bad product, and your reviews will reflect as such. And even if your book is totally off-beat or off-genre, you still need to understand what standard genre fare promises so you know how to communicate to readers why your book is different. The absence of certain types of fiction/characters/plots on a sub-genre’s Top 100 list can signal gaps that a fickle muse can fill. This is risky, as often what doesn’t appear is simply unpopular or not in demand.

Skip the research process at your own peril.

Ready to start? Let’s talk about how to find a good sub-genre to write in.

How to Find Your Target Sub-Genre

You may have already written a book (or three) without much commercial success. If this reflects your current situation, then your first order of business is simply identifying a viable sub-genre in which to build a career. Perhaps it’s the genre you’re writing already; perhaps a significant change in approach is necessary to achieve your main goals.

Whatever the case, this research process will help you figure things out. This process is still useful if you’ve already written a book, as it can help troubleshoot why a title is under-performing.

Identifying potential sub-genres to write in involves the following steps:

  1. Research your sub-genre on the Kindle Bestseller charts (nicholaserik.com/top100).
  2. Assess the level of competition—how well are the Top 100 books selling/ranking?
  3. Write down the ranks of the #1, #5, #20 and #50 ranked books.
    • Everything in the Top 50 ranked between 1 – 15,000 overall in the Kindle Store? That’s enough of a reader base to carve out your niche and make a living. Expect competition, however, from plenty of other books.
    • 1 – 5,000? Big reader base, really good money, but very competitive.
    • 1 – 2,000? Voracious reader base, potentially huge money, but hyper competitive.
  4. Determine whether this sub-genre can meet your financial goals.
  5. Determine whether your writing style and production level are a good fit for the audience’s expectations.
  6. Determine whether you’re actually willing to write in this genre on an ongoing basis.
  7. Determine whether you can realistically “break into” the Top 50/100 of this sub-genre’s bestseller list with your current resources (time/money).
  8. Write down 10 indie authors and 10 traditionally published authors in the sub-genre.

Important: Amazon’s charts are skewed toward the preferences of Kindle Unlimited subscribers, since a KU borrow counts the same as a sale when calculating your Amazon sales rank. Thus, if you’re going wide, then repeat this exercise on each bookseller. You can also check the Australian and Canadian Amazon storesreason being is that there are no Amazon Ads in those regions (yet), so the bestseller lists are more “organic” than their US/UK counterparts.

The eight steps above are just rules of thumb. Obviously it’s possible to make huge money in a smaller sub-genre. Eventually, you’ll be able to eyeball a genre/sub-genre and determine how well the books are selling—and if there’s ample opportunity for your own work to find a niche. But this exercise builds that skill, so I recommend doing it at least once.

Breaking into a sub-genre’s Top 100 charts is not the be-all, end-all goal. Nor do you have to hit it with your first book (or at all). But it’s a good gauge of the competitiveness. A sub-genre like contemporary romance—which has a Top 100 chart featuring a ton of books ranking below 1,000 in the Kindle Store—demands substantial resources to establish a readership.

After you’ve done the exercise above, you should have some viable sub-genre candidates. But let’s drill into this on a more philosophical level. While this guide is designed to be somewhat paint-by-numbers, those who infuse the exercises with a sliver of free will and pinch of rational thought will immediately separate themselves from the pack.

I find that many authors simply copy what others have done or gravitate toward what’s hot. A recent example is LitRPG, a fledgling sub-genre which is trending toward saturation. When I wrote a previous edition of this guide, one could launch a book with a substandard cover and minimal advertising into the Top 5000, simply because the readership was voracious and the supply of LitRPG was still (relatively) low. In indie author terms, this was  an “under-served niche.”

There are many sub-genres that have been long ignored by traditional publishing that have flourished in the indie world. But if your only advantage is that a genre is “hot,” then you’re sitting on thin ice. Eventually competition will enter the market, and the quality level will rise. If your books do not meet this new watermark, they’ll drown.

Instead of copying, it pays to sit down and work out the principles behind why certain things work. Then put your own spin on them. This helps you build a brand and stand out in a crowd of lookalikes.

If You Already Have an Established Pen Name

Even if you already have a book available, market research pays big dividends. You’ll often find that your book is under-performing not because it sucks, but because your cover and blurb are off-base. Or you’ve placed it in the wrong category.

If you’re struggling to sell, the exercise outlined in the previous section should be completed before moving forward. It’s possible that the sub-genre you chose is simply unpopular – or it’s so popular that the amount of money you’re currently investing isn’t enough to compete.

But once you’ve found a solid, viable sub-genre and have an established pen name, ongoing market research involves the following process:

  1. Research your sub-genre on the Kindle Bestseller charts (nicholaserik.com/top100).
  2. Analyze your fellow authors’ covers, blurbs, and categories. What’s popular? What’s working? What’s not?
  3. What are they pricing at?
  4. Read their reviews. What did readers like? What did they not enjoy (this represents a potential open niche for your books to fill)? Look for commonalities and patterns—if one person mentioned something, that’s often just an opinion. If ten people say it, it’s worth diving deeper.
  5. Sign up for their newsletters and skim their websites. Look at their social media profiles. How are they building a platform? How do they interact with readers?
  6. Scan Amazon and other sites: are they running ads? If so, what does their copy look like?

All of this takes time. But over the months and years, you should have a clear picture of what the biggest names in your sub-genre are doing (and aren’t). And you should be using everything you learn to improve your own books.

Wide or KU: Which to Choose?

Deciding whether to make your book(s) exclusive to Amazon (frequently called “being in KU”) or publish them on all retailers (called “going wide”) is one of the most hotly debated topics in all of indie publishing. We’ll revisit this subject in greater detail later in the guide, but this overview should suffice for informing your initial distribution decision.

For those curious why you’d make your book exclusive in this new age of publishing, the answer is simple: Amazon offers exclusive authors perks. Here’s what you get in exchange for making your book Amazon exclusive for 90 days:

  • Enrollment in Kindle Unlimited, which is a library of 1m+ titles that Kindle Unlimited subscribers (an all you can read eBook service; think of it as Netflix for books) can read for free. You, in turn, get paid per page read for these borrows (usually around $0.0045, but that number fluctuates on a monthly basis). If someone purchases your book, you still get paid as you normally would.
  • 5 promotional free days per 90 day exclusivity term to use whenever you’d like.
  • Access to Kindle Countdown Deals, where you can discount your book to $0.99/$1.99 in the US/UK markets (other regions aren’t currently eligible) for up to 7 days and still receive 70% royalties.

Note that you do not have to have your entire catalog in Kindle Unlimited to participate; you can choose to have some titles wide and others exclusive. Indeed, you’ll probably find as your backlist grows that certain titles perform better wide than they do exclusive. You should, of course, choose the same distribution option for all the books within a series—having Books 1 & 3 exclusive, and Book 2 wide, will only frustrate both KU and wide readers.

One of the biggest perks of being exclusive is the visibility you can generate through a combination of your own effective marketing + free runs and Kindle Countdown Deals. These two tools are very useful for promotional purposes, and their effectiveness is enhanced by Amazon’s algorithms which, as noted earlier, counts each borrow by a Kindle Unlimited subscriber the same as a sale when calculating a book’s sales rank.

Thus, a Kindle Unlimited title does not need to sell nearly as many copies as one of its wide counterparts to rank high on the bestseller charts.

When you’re performing your initial market research, you can identify a sub-genre’s relative popularity in Kindle Unlimited by skimming through the Top 100. If most of these titles are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, putting your own titles in KU will likely give them the best chance of success.

You’ll find that Kindle Unlimited’s popularity varies widely by genre. This is one of the many reasons why market research must be done on a series-by-series basis if you write in multiple genres. What is true about mysteries may not apply to contemporary romance. Some genres (e.g. LitRPG and urban fantasy) have huge Kindle Unlimited audiences. Their Top 100 charts are dominated by Kindle Unlimited titles. Going wide in such situations usually makes less financial sense, although it’s good to explore alternative waters when your books aren’t killing it KU (some of my own urban fantasy titles are wide for this reason).

Other genres are far less Kindle Unlimited dependent.

Another bonus of exclusivity is simplicity. You only have to upload your books on one store, then track the numbers for Amazon. If you make an update, it’s a simple matter of changing something on Amazon—rather than doing it in five or six location. This cuts down on administrative time.

Wide, of course, allows you to publish to all retailers, thus getting your book in front of readers on Apple Books, B & N, Kobo, Google Play, and a host of other smaller stores.

Advantages include not being as dependent on Amazon for income (although Amazon will still likely produce the majority of your sales) nor being subject to fluctuations in the Kindle Unlimited payout rate. Finally, if you sell a significant number of copies overseas, other retailers have a larger foothold in those markets—Kobo, for example, is actually the most popular eBook retailer in Canada.

Which to choose, then?

I generally recommend for new authors—regardless of genre—to put their titles into Kindle Unlimited. There are exceptions to this, but it streamlines the publishing process, and the visibility tools are useful for building a bit of momentum.

Ultimately, whichever option you choose, I don’t think this decision is all that controversial if you follow a simple rule: do what works best for your books and genre.

When Should I Switch Genres?

Those struggling with their initial publishing efforts and considering a genre switch might be wondering when to make the jump.

On the one hand, doubling down on a sinking ship is not advisable. Waiting too long wastes valuable writing time and money on a lost cause.

On the other, if you’re constantly hopping genres, it’s hard to get a feel for what truly matters to a genre’s fans. You never develop a mastery of the sub-genre, nor do you hone a distinct voice. And much of the money in this gig is in the backlist. Without that, you’ll have trouble making a living. Indeed, there have been surveys indicating most six-figure indie authors had more than 25 books available. If you have a solid author brand with a cohesive, quality backlist, even a modest hit can elevate your career to incredible new heights, as the visibility from that title spills over to your quite similar older ones. Each new reader is gently encouraged to pick up the others, because the writing, packaging and other marketing elements suggest readers can expect a similar experience.

Far too many authors try to hop on what is hot at the moment, without any semblance of a long-term strategy. The problem with seeking quick hits is this: if you have a disjointed backlist, or no backlist (because you’ve started five or six different pen names), then even a single mega-hit does you little good. Readers who picked up your breakout will have nothing to read – either because your other books aren’t similar, or simply because they don’t exist. And when the spotlight fades, your platform and brand are right where they started, at flatline levels.

What, then, to do?

I wrote about 15 sci-fi novels under this name (Nicholas Erik) before I tried my hand at urban fantasy, which proved a much better fit for my voice and style. While I did hop on something that was a bit trendy at the time, this change made sense for two reasons: A) sci-fi readers weren’t resonating with my books, and B) I’d given sci-fi a good run.

In fact, I probably waited a bit too long. Of course, it’s incredibly easy to fall victim to shiny object syndrome and hop blindly into the latest hot trend. Subsequently, my suggestion is to write a minimum of six novels in a sub-genre. That can be one series or two trilogies—but six novels gives you enough of a backlist and taste of the genre to know how readers are responding to your work.

This does not mean you should be expecting to make a huge income from just six novels. It will likely take about 20 – 30 to generate a consistent full-time income. But if the potential isn’t there after six, you should reassess your publishing strategy.

How to assess potential? I’d make profit my main metric: are these books generating income? If you’re in a sea of red ink, trying a different genre might be one fix (but, to be clear, it’s not the only fix—or necessarily what’s wrong). If, however, you haven’t made any effort to promote your books (covered in Parts 4 and 5), that would be my first order of business.

Positioning: How to Build an Author Brand in Your Niche

Ultimately, the goal of market research is not to create a homogeneous, cookie-cutter product. Once you understand your audience, you can craft marketing materials that position your books uniquely within your sub-genre. Thus, proper market research allows you to craft a distinct author brand. However, we don’t create our author brand using the same methods as Coca-Cola. We don’t have millions of dollars for branding campaigns that go up in Times Square or air during prime time TV. In recent years, direct marketers have started to preach the “brand advertising is dead” mantra. I wouldn’t go this far; the marketing people at Coke or Apple are not morons.

However, as indie authors, we do not have the funds for large-scale, mass-media awareness campaigns. But we can still develop our brand. What is a brand, after all? A brand is a promise of a consistent customer experience. Many authors and business owners mistakenly believe their customers want novelty. No; they want consistent quality. As Ray Croc, founder of McDonald’s said, “People don’t want the best burger in the world; they want a burger that’s just like the one they had last time.”

You know exactly what you’re getting from Starbucks or McDonald’swhether it’s located in London, Tokyo, Sydney or Seattle. Such is the power of a great brand.

Likewise, your name on the cover implicitly promises a specific reading experience. But it’s easy to shatter this promise by genre hopping or breaking expectations.

Thus, I recommend adhering to a simple rule: one pen name, one genre. This sets clear expectations for the reader and ensures that they will never be surprised (by the genre; the story can have twists and turns galore, of course). Many readers are more genre and sub-genre loyal than author loyal. There’s unlikely to be a ton of crossover between your urban fantasy and techno-thrillers, even if they really, really like you as an author. Some readers read almost exclusively in a single sub-genree.g. they’ll devour historical romances, but have no interest in contemporary or billionaire romances.

Certain genres are symbiotic; you can get away with writing science-fiction and fantasy under the same name, and enjoy some crossover. But this can easily muddy your brand and confuse expectations; hence the elegant simplicity of the one pen name, one genre rule. This has the added benefit of focusing your efforts with laser-like precision; managing multiple pen names is a huge pain in the ass and a time suck that I do not recommend. Each pen name is like a little sub-business that you’re starting from scratch. Unless you can support each one with four releases apiece per year, stick with one and build a sizable, quality backlist of books.

The heart of your brand is your unique selling proposition (USP). A classic USP example is Domino’s famous “30 minutes or less” guarantee. In the indie realm, a USP is something your books offer that no other author does.

In other words, getting to the heart of your brand is as simple (and difficult) as answering this question: what makes your books distinct?

The USP operates on two levels:

  • AUTHOR: What do you offer that no other author can? What makes your work distinct? This is often a matter of craft/voice, although not always (e.g. Elmore Leonard’s dialogue). And beyond your take on genre tropes and your voice/style, your brand is about delivering a certain emotional experience.
  • BOOK: The hook, concept, or tagline for each individual book. If you can’t translate your concept into a snappy tagline, killer one sentence hook, or pithy 80 – 90 word lead, your book will likely be perceived as a commodity.
    • The Matrix: what if reality was actually an elaborate computer simulation designed to enslave humanity?
    • Groundhog Day: romantic comedy where protagonist is caught in a time loop
    • Her Last Tomorrow: Would you murder your wife to save your daughter?
    • The Hunger Games: children/teenagers fight to the death in a live gladiatorial arena for the entertainment of the wealthy
    • 11/22/63: a high school teacher travels back in time to prevent the assassination of JFK

Is a hook necessary to sell your book? No. If you want to transcend your sub-genre and generate massive appeal, it can be a big help, however. Thus, when you have what’s known as a “high-concept” idea, it pays to sharpen that hook to a razor’s edge.

Of course, it’s wise to remember that mass appeal isn’t necessary to sustain yourself as an author—and, often-time, writing genre books that never break out beyond their core fandom can be more lucrative (even if no one outside said genre knows your name).

The majority of novels won’t have hooks, especially in genres with well-established tropes and standard story structures like mystery or romance. Most successful books in these genres don’t have some earth-shattering concept drawing readers in.

A cop investigates a murder.

A girl and guy fall in love.

These are timeless stories that readers love. They’ll enjoy them long after we’re all gone. Your job is to present such stories in a slightly different manner.

As such, these books rely on snappy taglines or well-written leads (the first few sentences of the blurb) to differentiate themselves from millions of similar titles. Much like the story itself, it’s not so much the content of the tagline or the lead, but how you write it that proves to be the difference maker.

And why 80 – 90 words for the lead, specifically? That’s the visible area “above the fold” on Amazon before a reader has to click read more. If readers don’t like what they find here, they’ll move on.

We’ll discuss taglines and leads further when we dive into blurbs later in the guide.

If you’re stuck coming up with taglines or hooks for your book, here are a few ideas:

  • Analyze your favorite fiction, particularly whatever’s stuck in your mind for months or years. The elements drawing you to these books, movies and shows are often strong hooks.
  • Read other books in your sub-genre. Read their reviews/comments. How do yours differ?
  • Read your reviews/comments.
  • Survey your readers.

This takes work and revision to get right; don’t expect to think up a great USP and brand in five minutes. It’s worth revisiting from time-to-time, however, because a quality brand is one of the best ways to make your books and author name stand out in readers’ minds. Then, next time they see one of your books, they’ll say, yeah, that author’s the one who does [x]. And you’ll have risen above the fray of similar titles into the realm of books that readers anticipate and think about long after the final page has closed.

What’s Next?

We’ll explore the most powerful book-selling force on the planet (and how they work) in Part 4: The Amazon Algorithms. By understanding how Amazon sells books, you can leverage their massive reader base to sell more books and amplify the effectiveness of all your marketing.

Summary

  • Genre research is critical. If you mess up your book’s genre/sub-genre targeting, it’s often difficult to sell.
  • Writing to market: writing genre fiction that follows an established audience’s tropes and expectations (e.g. contemporary romance or urban fantasy)
  • Writing to trend: writing in a hot sub-genre of fiction that’s currently enjoying a spike in popularity that may not last for a long time (e.g. reverse harem)
  • For new authors, enrolling your book(s) into Kindle Unlimited for at least one 90 day period is recommended – it’s simple and has visibility tools that help you build momentum.
  • Some genres are dominated by Kindle Unlimited; others aren’t. Do market research to determine whether your title essentially needs to be exclusive, or whether wide is a viable (or even preferable) solution.
  • Brand: a promise of a consistent customer experience.
  • USP: what’s your book’s hook? what do you offer as an author that no one else can?
  • Identifying potential sub-genres to write in involves the following steps:
    1. Research your sub-genre on the Kindle Bestseller charts (nicholaserik.com/top100).
    2. Assess the level of competition—how well are the Top 100 books selling/ranking?
    3. Write down the ranks of the #1, #5, #20 and #50 ranked books.
      • Everything in the Top 50 ranked between 1 – 15,000 overall in the Kindle Store? That’s enough of a reader base to carve out your niche and make a living. Expect competition, however, from plenty of other books.
      • 1 – 5,000? Big reader base, really good money, but very competitive.
      • 1 – 2,000? Voracious reader base, potentially huge money, but hyper competitive.
    4. Determine whether this sub-genre can meet your financial goals.
    5. Determine whether your writing style and production level are a good fit for the audience’s expectations.
    6. Determine whether you’re actually willing to write in this genre on an ongoing basis.
    7. Determine whether you can realistically “break into” the Top 50/100 of this sub-genre’s bestseller list with your current resources (time/money).
    8. Write down 10 indie authors and 10 traditionally published authors in the sub-genre.
  • Once you’ve found a solid, viable sub-genre and have an established pen name, ongoing market research involves the following process:
    1. Research your sub-genre on the Kindle Bestseller charts (nicholaserik.com/top100).
    2. Analyze your fellow authors’ covers, blurbs, and categories. What’s popular? What’s working? What’s not?
    3. What are they pricing at?
    4. Read their reviews. What did readers like? What did they not enjoy (this represents a potential open niche for your books to fill)? Look for commonalities and patterns—if one person mentioned something, that’s often just an opinion. If ten people say it, it’s worth diving deeper.
    5. Sign up for their newsletters and skim their websites. Look at their social media profiles. How are they building a platform? How do they interact with readers?
    6. Scan Amazon and other sites: are they running ads? If so, what does their copy look like?

Action Steps

  1. Research your sub-genre on the Amazon bestseller charts (nicholaserik.com/top100).
    • Write down the ranks of the #1, #5, #10, #20 and #50 book in two sub-genres that fit your series.
    • Write down ten indie authors and ten traditionally published authors who represent your target market (e.g. authors who can realistically complete the statement, my book is for fans of [Author X]).
    • Write down character names instead, if the character is more recognizable than the author.
    • You’ll use this list of authors and character names for PPC (pay-per-click) ad targeting, your blurb, cover inspiration and more down the line, so save it (Excel tends to work best).
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