The 2019 edition of Writer’s Digest Annual Conference* featured a wide-ranging program covering the craft and business of writing, including several insightful sessions on marketing strategy and tactics. In “Beyond Comp Lists: Market Research for Novelists,” New Shelves Books’ Amy Collins demonstrated how to identify the successful authors in any genre and develop an action plan to find and engage their readers.
“Market research is a very dry, dull topic, but finding and connecting with readers is how we make money,” she said. Too often, market research is limited to the basics—high-level demographics (age, gender, income) and/or broad genre interests (science fiction, romance)—leading to target audiences that either don’t actually exist, or worse, reflect the researchers’ personal interests. To find the right readers for a specific book or author, Collins encouraged writers to set aside personal assumptions and dig deeper.
“Nobody needs your book… Everybody doesn’t read.” Citing data from the US Census Bureau and Pew Research, Collins posited that an avid reader lives in a household that purchases 9 books per month, and there are only approximately 7 million US citizens who could be considered avid readers. In order to identify the right readers for a specific book—and make money—you have to find the avid readers who actually read and buy books like yours.
“The smaller your target, the easier it is to hit.” Collins’ market research process begins with developing a detailed profile of a single reader, setting aside as many personal assumptions and biases as possible. “You are not your readership,” she cautioned. From basic demographics to detailed psychographics, the goal is to craft a three-dimensional sketch of one specific reader who would be likely to buy your book. “Once you have made up a human being, how do they spend their time? Where do they shop? What are their biggest problems?” This profile will evolve, especially once your book starts to sell and you can analyze your actual readership. But it’s a more effective reference point than something generic like “millennial sci-fi readers.”
“The people who would love your book, what are they reading now? Who’s on their bedside table?” The next step in Collins’ process is to create a list of 24 comparable authors based on what books your ideal readers are likely reading right now.
- Identify at least three authors your profiled reader currently enjoys, and search each of them on Yasiv.
- For each of those three authors, click on their most popular book from the results, and confirm its genre/category relevance to yours. (For multi-genre authors, choose the most popular title that is relevant to your book’s genre/category.) Identify three new authors from Yasiv’s “Customers often buy” results. Repeat for your other two authors, which should give you a total of 12 comp authors.
- From Yasiv, click through to the Amazon product page for your authors’ most popular relevant titles, scroll down to the “Amazon Best Sellers Rank” in the Product Details section, and click through to their best performing category that’s relevant to your book.
- Add the best-selling author in each category to your comp list—one for every author on your Yasiv list—for a total of up to 24 comparable authors.
- To flesh out your 24 comps, use USA Today‘s Best-Selling Books list, filtering by the relevant genres, to identify any relevant authors you may have missed.
- Monitor these bestseller lists periodically to identify new comp authors and trends in the market.
“Other authors are not your competition,” Collins explained. With your unique list of 24 comparable authors who are currently selling books, the next step is to connect with each one of them. Join their communities, follow them on social media, sign up for their newsletters,a nd read and review their books on your own platform(s). Read other reviews of their books, and make a list of potential reviewers for your own book. Identify their super-fans; follow and engage with them. Engaging with your comp authors and their readers will help you develop organic relationships, evolving your understanding of your own potential readership, while also enabling you to build a list of truly engaged reviewers and readers who will be interested in your book when you’re ready to start promoting it.
Bottom Line: Real marketing is more involved than simply having a platform. Collins’s in-depth process offers a practical approach that authors don’t have to spend money on, and it addresses the challenge of how to build and manage an effective platform by focusing on the readers you’re building it for.
*Disclaimer: I was Writer’s Digest’s marketing director and publisher from 2017-2019 and programmed the majority of WDC19, including Amy’s sessions, and also moderated a session, but I also covered several sessions for The Hot Sheet, per the note below. While you should take any of my thoughts on the conference with a reasonable grain of salt, trust that I wouldn’t have bothered writing about any sessions that didn’t go well—not positively, at least.
[NOTE: This article was originally commissioned, edited, and published by The Hot Sheet and is republished here with permission. If you’re an author looking for intelligent insights on the important issues affecting the publishing industry, you should definitely subscribe.]