Demystifying Market Research

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Most authors start out their careers knowing diddly squat about how to run a successful business. Things like budgeting, market research, business planning, and taxes are so far removed from the act of creating worlds from words, that a lot of author types simply ignore this aspect of their writing business. After all, people pay authors to write books, not balance them, right?

Well, sure. People will pay you for your book... if they can find it.

This is why I think it's important for every author to understand the basics of market research. And yes, I hear you groaning in the background. I know it sounds just about as exciting as eating soda crackers for a year straight, but if you approach market research (and all aspects of your author business) with the right mindset, you may find yourself surprised at how easy it actually is.

That's why today's blog post is focused on demystifying market research. We will look at what market research really is, why it is important for your author business, and three easy ways you can get started right away. If, by the end of this post, you still have questions, feel free to post them in the comments.

What is market research?

Market research is discovering who your customers are and what they want. Beyond that, it shows you how to market your products (your books and your platform) so you can reach those customers.

You are your own ideal reader.

This is an incredibly simple answer, but let's be honest, you don't need more. As an author, you are already on your way to being a marketing guru. Here's the proof:

  1. You already know your product is marketable: people read books; you write books. #marketable

  2. You are likely your own ideal reader. If you read books that are similar to what you write, you also have an insight into what sells that specific genre and sub-genre of book.

  3. You probably use (or are planning to use) the tools you need to conduct your own research: Amazon, Goodreads, social media, newsletters.

That's right, you already know who your customers are and what they want. Beyond that, you know how to market your books to customers just like you, and you are likely already active on the platforms that will help you improve upon this base knowledge.

Why market research is important to your author career

When it comes to your book cover, title and blurb, originality is your worst enemy.

The world of publishing has changed dramatically since I was a serious five-year-old with a dream. Authors have more choices in how they publish, and the market is flooded with novels that years ago never would have seen the interior light of a bookstore. It's a beautiful new world out there for writers, and there is lots of money to be made.

What hasn't changed is how readers choose their next book. Just like generations of greedy bookworms that came before us, readers select books based on three things: cover, title, and maybe blurb. This means it is our job as authors to do the research and make sure these three things are exactly what our readers expect.

When it comes to your book cover, title and blurb, originality is your worst enemy. There is nothing worse for a reader than picking up a book that looks like it will be one thing, only to discover it's not what they wanted to read at all. A half-naked man on the cover of a sweet romance will get you one-star reviews for days. An abstract title on your middle grade adventure novel will have young readers bypassing your book for The World's Greatest Adventure Machine. And don't get me started on blurbs as long as my sleeves.

Creative license is a beautiful thing until it gets in the way of you succeeding in your business. And succeeding in the author gig means selling books. So instead of doing what I did when I first launched The Reunion at Halfpoint, and completely missing the mark(et), set your creative license aside, do your research, and make your book look like it belongs in the market you are selling in. (You can read about the mistakes I made in my first year as an indie author here.)

Which gets us back to market research. You need to know what sells books like yours, then you need to mimic the heck out of it. That way your ideal readers can easily find your books and become committed fans.

Three ways to implement market research and improve your career

Okay, so I've convinced you that maybe market research isn't as crazy difficult as it sounds. And maybe you're accepting that you can't just slap any pretty cover on that book of yours. But how the heck do you do market research?

First, figure out your sub-genres and specific niches. This should be easy if you read books similar to what you write. Just look up those books on Amazon, scroll down to the Product Details section, and see what genres that book is ranked in.

In the example to the right, you see my product details page for The Reunion at Halfpoint. My genres are Western Romances and Contemporary Women's Fiction. Do this with ten to fifty books that you think readers of your book would also read, and you've figured out your sub-genres and specific niche.

Once you know your niche, you can begin doing your research. This will help you define your cover, title and blurb, but it's only the tip of the iceberg that is market research. Once your book looks like what your readers expect, you need to make sure your content matches their expectations, too. You can do this with polls in newsletters or groups, by joining reader groups, and by connecting with other authors. You can also follow the newsletters of authors whose works are similar to yours and see what they are doing. Sometimes you can learn about the market just by reading their updates. And never underestimate the use of Goodreads groups and lists!

I know this sounds like a lot. It is. But it doesn't have to be overwhelming. Just like writing a book happens in steps, so does learning your market.

Here are three easy ways to do that research:

  1. Go to the Amazon Best-Sellers page for Kindle eBooks. Locate your niche(s) in the left-hand column, and see what's selling in both paid and free. Find patterns, make notes of images, titles and blurbs that really stick out to you... then mimic the heck out of those books.

  2. If you have a newsletter, you can poll your readers on their favorite sub-genres/tropes/etc. Here's the catch: limit the poll to what you have or plan on writing. This way you can plan future books to better serve your existing audience. A great way to do this is to find books with similar tropes and ask readers to vote on those. This lets you 1) get an idea of what other authors are serving the same audience, and b) use images in the poll options, which always encourages more interaction.

  3. Join readers groups as a reader. Not only will you be able to see what other people are reading and loving (especially in genre-focused reader groups), but you'll get to interact with fellow readers (and potential future fans of your work) on a peer level instead of that sometimes ominous gap between author and fans. Just please, dear, sweet Lord Jesus, DO NOT spam these groups with your books. Sharing is appropriate when you have received permission from the group moderators and/or have asked for special permission regarding a new release or great deal.

And that's it. Well, it's a start. Market research is a lot like chipping away at a never-melting block of ice, you have to start small and keep going. Persevere, and you'll see a slow but steady improvement in how well your books sell to your intended audience. After all, people will pay to read your book, but only if they can find it.

If you have any questions or market research tips of your own, don't forget to share in the comments! You may just be someone else's best resource for how to do this stuff.

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