publishing business

Market Research

I’ve been doing some studying about how to make a living publishing your own books and treat it like a business, since I came to the realization that it would be difficult for me to get a real job, so I have to make this work. I haven’t been very businesslike about it. I’ve just written what I feel like writing and thrown it out into the world. I’ve griped about how the traditional publishers have never done all that much for me, just throwing my books out there with little to no marketing support, but I’m doing the same thing. I’m trying to be more focused and strategic and learn what I can do to make this work as a business.

One thing I’ve never done much of is market research. At best, after I’ve written something I’ll look around for other things kind of like it to get cover ideas. I’ve never really been all that systematic about it. The guide I was reading suggested looking at the Amazon bestseller list that best reflects your subgenre and looking at whether you could imagine your book fitting in there. Then look at the sales rank for the #1, #5, #20 and #50 books. If they’re all really high in the overall rankings, that means there’s a good market for what you’re writing, but it also means it’s a competitive category.

The mystery series I’m working on fits perfectly in a couple of categories, and I could see those kinds of covers fitting it. It’s a moderately strong category, with the top-selling books really high in overall rankings, but once you’re down around #50, they’re fairly high but in a range I’ve hit with some of my previous books. So, that’s good. I seem to be on target there.

Then I tried looking up things that might fit the fantasy series I have in mind. I could swear that I’ve seen books that fit my general category and that have the sorts of covers I envision, but I only saw one or two of these on any of the category bestseller lists I tried. I’d been thinking they’d fit into romantic fantasy, but it looked like most of those books were really dark and sexy, and more contemporary than a traditional historical fantasy setting. Although these wouldn’t be actual fairy tale-based stories, I do think they’d have a fairy tale feel and I’m drawing on some tropes from fairy tales, so I tried the fairy tale fantasy chart, and it fit a little better there. But that seems to be a really competitive category. Everything in the top 50 was way up the overall charts. There was also no real consistency so that you could look at a book and know it was that kind of book. I may need to look up the books I know of and see how they’re categorized, then work backward from there.

I suspect in that area I may have the problem I’ve had with a lot of my other books, which is that they don’t fit neatly into any one category and there isn’t a lot like them on the market. That’s made it difficult for me to sell to the major publishers, since they want comp titles and are leery of something that doesn’t readily compare to something else that’s selling well. And I’m afraid it’s making it harder for me to sell these books independently. It turns out that writing what I want to read but that I can’t find isn’t a great business strategy. Go figure.

I’ll still write these books because I want to and I think there are readers. I may write one series more for money and the other more for love, and I’ll have to be strategic about marketing.

The other thing I’m seeing in everything I read about the business is that you really need to have a mailing list and newsletter. I’ve resisted because I hate them and I feel like everyone is totally bombarded by them, but if absolutely every book on publishing says this is the #1 thing you need to do, it may just be possible that they’re right. So I guess I need to find a mailing service and figure out how to add a link to my web site, and then I need to come up with content.

3 Responses to “Market Research”

  1. Emmely

    I think mailchimp will work for what you need. It provides the option for adding a sign-up thing on your website and automation options that make it less of a hassle to deal with things, like an automatic welcome e-mail after someone has signed up for your newsletter and quite easy formatting to make your newsletter look attractive. You can already do quite a lot with the free version. For topics I think you could do something you are already doing on your blog. I assume most of the people who sign up for your newsletter love to read so you could for example share what you have read this month and whether you recommend it.

  2. Pmm

    Just stumbled across your site when checking whether you had any new books. This post is fascinating: that “fantasy romance” and UF are so different in their attributes. (I had what you write pegged as UF, btw, though with fewer werewolves and more fairies.)

    • Shanna Swendson

      Yeah, somewhere along the way, “urban fantasy” got defined as having a harder edge and being closer to horror, as opposed to a general “fantasy set in a city.” That makes finding the books I want more difficult, especially when paranormal romance went in a similar direction.

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