Self-publishing is a business. A successful business looks to see if there’s a demand for what it’s trying to sell…before it starts the selling process. I ignored this truth for all my books, thinking that I could write and publish whatever I wanted and still make money. None of these books currently give me a consistent income except one. Now I know why. It’s because I unintentionally wrote it to market.
What is “writing to market?”
What experts talk about “writing to market” what they mean by the term is writing what you love for people who love it, too, preferably a lot of people. Knowing the market has always been a key part of becoming a successful author. This doesn’t mean you can’t write a book that isn’t currently popular, just that you might waste time and money trying to sell it.
So, in general, what actually sells when it comes to self-publishing?
Non-fiction is easier to sell than fiction. This was mentioned years ago in Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, and it still holds true. The reason is because non-fiction addresses a specific, pressing problem in someone’s life. It’s also easier to find out what people need because those needs can be put in specific, concrete terms.
Fiction is more difficult to market because those who read fiction are looking for a particular emotional experience. However, you might be able to make a good living if you write genre fiction, especially if you write romance or another popular genre. Literary Fiction, and what was once called “mainstream fiction” are very difficult to sell through self-publishing. Literary fiction has moved over to universities, while mainstream is doing well with Amazon Imprints or has been absorbed into YA and genre fiction.
Finding the market.
Figuring out the market for your non-fiction book could be as simple as talking to people directly about what they need and want. Join groups, both online and in-person, make friends, start talking to people.
For both fiction and non-fiction, it’s also possible to use Amazon’s Bestseller lists and Goodreads to find out if there’s a market for what you love, as well as how big that market might be. Details on this method can be found in the book Write to Market by Chris Fox.
Here are a few tips from my own experience researching online:
– Search and browse in a private window. If you use your regular browser, there’s a chance Amazon will alter what you see based on what you’ve already searched for, or what you tend to buy.
– Look for patterns and keywords in the descriptions. What’s the problem being solved? What are the basics of the story?
– For fiction: Read, read, read. As Chris Fox points out, you’re not copying tropes or characters or plots. You’re recreating the emotional experience. Take notes as you read. What’s working for you? What isn’t?
– On Amazon, don’t forget the Customers Also Bought feature. I’ve found some great subgenres through that.
– Read reviews on Amazon and Goodreads for the books you find in your topic or genre to find out what worked, and what didn’t, for readers in already existing books. Goodreads is a great source for detailed reviews.
– For fiction: Look to see if there’s a forum on Goodreads devoted to your chosen genre. Often, groups will have group reads as well as discussions on books they loved (or hated). Reading those discussions, and participating as a reader, can tell you a lot about who reads your kind of book and what else they love or hate.
Amy Keeley is a freelance writer and self-published author of fantasy (under her own name) and science fiction (under a pen name). She lives in Texas.
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