Today, the female has asked me to give the Furred & Frond’s opinion on market research, advertising, and stuff like that to other authors hoping to build a viable career for their books. Honestly, we started laughing when she said that. Then we realized she was serious, and we stopped laughing.
Advertising, understanding the market, and basically… anything to do with the publishing industry is a work-in-progress, much like the progress of the female’s crochet project. She is hoping this will eventually become the first stripe in a lightweight blanket she will cuddle with in the hot summer months. She really enjoys the yarn this is made of. It’s called Twirls, and it’s a gradual gradient yarn. She picked various shades of pink that gradient to purple or reds.
She is hoping it will be very pretty when done.
Anyway, take a look at her project. Right now, there’s not much to it, is there? That is how everyone’s writing career starts. There’s not much there, and only through hard work and effort will you ever build on new rows to turn ‘not much there’ to something worth your while.
It takes time. It takes effort. It takes patience. It also takes money or a ridiculous amount of luck. It usually takes money.
So, this post will be long. Readers, we love you. Before I dive in and start sharing the female’s secrets, here are things relevant to you:
1: Playing with Fire is still $0.99 at all vendors, and will be for an unknown period of time.
2: Burn, Baby, Burn, and Shammed are pending audio review, which is the final stage before an audiobook is published. We’re expecting them to pass through review sometime at the end of January unless we get lucky.
Note: As of January 9, Burn, Baby, Burn is back in production due to an encoding error in some of the files. It’ll be back in pending audio review soon. It’s being fixed. Bonds is now available for download.
3: The audiobook version of Claustrophobic is with the proofreader. Once it is proofread, corrections are sent to the production team, they’re implemented, and the book is approved for the pending audio review stage.
4: The audiobook editions of Double Trouble, Ginger Snapped, and Bat out of Hell audiobooks are in production. Unknown timeframe for completion.
Okay, now that we’ve gone over that, it’s time to dive into the authorly stuff!
Know Your Market. And Your Audience.
This is one of the hardest things you must learn as an author. Market and Audience, to complicate things, are dramatically different beasts. Your audience may read from different markets. In its simplest form, a market is a cluster of customers who like to purchase the same sort of book.
So, Urban Fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy/speculative fiction, but it’s also a major market. The Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) books, because of its common Urban Fantasy tropes, fits nicely into this market while also belonging to the fantasy humor/humorous fantasy market. Some markets are larger than others.
Understanding where you book fits into the market is important.
Magical Academy novels, for an example, are not a market. They may belong to the Urban Fantasy market, if they consist of the appropriate tropes making it an urban fantasy novel, but in and of themselves, do not make up a market. Magical Academy novels are a trend.
Trends come and go.
Markets stick around.
That is the primary difference between them.
It is easier to sell a book to trend than it is to build a market name. Consumers will snatch up trend books because that is what has collectively grabbed the attention of readers. These trends will die away as quickly as they popped up.
Market books stick around for a long time and books that just keep showing up over and over and over and over.
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher is an excellent example of market Urban Fantasy.
When you write a book to market, you are hoping to build that level of longevity. You are playing the long game.
The long game, if you get lucky and get your branding right, play a smart advertising game, and get out in front of the readers who stick with the market, can build you an excellent and vibrant career.
It is okay to write to trend. There is nothing wrong with feeding an audience what they want to devour. Do not allow the mentality of market or bust to dictate what you write.
Just be aware that market books, while they may not make you more immediately, tend to outlive trend titles.
Trend books tend to flash; they burn brightly, but six months later, people have grown bored of the trend and return to market titles.
Please note that this majorly simplifies the differences between trend and market books.
The female writes neither trend nor market books, although some of her books do naturally and accidentally fall into market or to trend. She cheerfully views her writing efforts as making her own market.
And for her, it’s working. However, this probably isn’t a good idea for most people.
As an author, you will need to decide what kind of career you want. You can either write what you want or you can write what other people want. On one hand, writing what others wants can lead to better earnings. But, and here is the big but… there are zero guarantees.
You can be an amazing writer and fail to find your audience, You can be an amazing writer and fail to build your market. In reality, with hundreds of new books releasing every day and a finite number of consumers to buy those books, making a living at writing is difficult. Either you need to spend a great deal of time self-promoting or you need money to pay for advertising. Neither is guaranteed to sell your book or make you money.
Identifying your market and your audience is only the beginning, although it is critical if you want to succeed as an author.
The main consideration here is knowing who your readers are. If you don’t fit to market or trend, or you’re writing something with no present market or traction, it is going to be very difficult to find people to buy your book.
It is great to want to be unique, but if you do not have a market or a trend relation, you have to trail blaze, and dear humans, trail blazing is hard. You need luck, you need a hustle (be it paid or unpaid advertisements,) and you need a book that stands heads over the rest.
It’s very hard to write a book that stands heads over the rest and defies market or trend. It can be done, but it will be a battle. A very expensive battle.
If you write to market or to trend, there are a lot of non-paid advertising options open to you.
If you don’t, it will be very, very difficult to market your book because your book simply won’t fit anywhere, so you won’t appeal to many of the groups that allow author takeovers… and if you *do* get in for a takeover, the chances the readers will want to buy will be very low.
The important thing is to understand the difficulties before you start trying to market your books.
It can be done. It’s just a lot harder.
Learn to Identify Your Market Authors.
Wait, what? Market authors? What are those?
Market authors, in this context, are the authors who write market books in the same general market you write in. Urban Fantasy market authors include people like Jim Butcher. Paranormal Romance authors include people like Lyndsay Sands. Military/Spy Thriller authors include people like Tom Clancy.
The big name authors who write books similar to what you write are your market authors.
Identifying your market authors is how you learn to advertise to your new readers.
If you don’t understand how readers, well, read, you’re not going to be able to advertise your books. It doesn’t matter if you’re using paid or free promotions. If you aren’t aware of your market authors, your trend authors, or any author that writes books similar to what you write… you can’t reach the readers.
That’s a bitter pill to swallow. Grab a glass of water to help it go down.
“Fans who like Tom Clancy will also like my books” is what you’re looking for.
How are your books similar to the market authors you’re targeting? Why would readers of these market books like your books?
You need to make a list of why each author shares similarities with your books, and you need to learn how to attract readers of those books to want to buy and read your titles.
So, as an example, the female has a lot of readers who also read Faith Hunter and Ilona Andrews. we think the Faith Hunter fans enjoy the fast-paced plots she often includes, with just enough of an edge to give the book bite without straying too far from the ‘I’m having fun’ read category. As for Ilona Andrews, that’s… a very good question. It probably relates to the feel-goods that reading an Ilona Andrews book offers. Plus romance with edge.
Faith is more of the female’s urban fantasy market author, and Ilona Andrews is more of her paranormal romance wheel house. That said, the Kate Daniels/Magic series is a very well-done hybrid between urban fantasy and paranormal romance. The Furred & Front management feel that specific series fits very comfortably in either wheel house. It has the edge of urban fantasy, it has the appeal of urban fantasy and it has the romance elements the female likes about paranormal romance.
On Identifying Market/Trend Authors
Now that you have a vague idea of what it means to seek out market authors, you can start hitting the various websites for help. The female uses two in particular: Amazon and Goodreads. If she wants pure market with less independent influences, she goes to the local bookstore and starts browsing the offerings.
There is something to be said of being aware of what is a traditional trend/market and an independent trend/market.
Please note that trend authors are identified in the same way market authors are, so simply apply this logic to your trend authors to find your advertising marks. That said, it is much harder to advertise to trend because there is a limited volume of authors and readership. You may not be able to get the appropriate advertising metrics on places like facebook if you advertise to a trend.
Proceed with caution.
So, here’s the methodology the female uses when pursuing leads for advertising.
1: The female checks her core authors for their book categories, and she only checks the relevant categories. Look, I know people like the orange banner, but it is a useless piece of junk. Being #1 in a category isn’t going to sell you extra copies if you’re writing a supernatural book and you are placed in interracial romance. If your book isn’t an interracial romance, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.
You will not get sales from people not interested in your title. Nobody buys a book because you had an orange banner.
Get over the orange banner already. It isn’t going to sell you extra books. It isn’t going to magically give you a good reputation. It isn’t going to help you. At all.
It’s not going to improve your writing skills, it’s not going to earn you any fans. It’s just a pat on your back. It’s not going to put money in your wallet or food on your table.
The only time you want to be number one in a category is if you are in a relevant category.
That means people already interested in your type of book may see it, click, and buy.
But nobody looking for an interracial romance is going to buy your spy thriller with a pair of white folks on the cover.
That is bad advertising. Don’t do it.
Once you have found a list of three relevant categories, it is time to start looking at the books.
Get out a spreadsheet. You will need it.
On this spreadsheet, you want to have several columns. Your first column should be genre. This is what the main market genre the author (or series/novel) belongs to. Then you need sub-genre if applicable. I would also include a column for trend. This will allow you to further segment your market data. After that, you will want author name, book title, series name, and publisher. Publisher can be important. Traditional publishers follow different market/trend guides than independent publishers/authors. Indies can often do whatever they want, as they have more flexibility. This allows them to chase trends more efficiently.
However, large, traditional publishers tend to have a seriously strong lock on market books. Traditional publishers understand the market and how to manipulate it exceptionally well.
You may also wish to include the source of your information, such as Goodreads, USA Today, or Amazon. That can help frame the reliability of the data. USA Today is an excellent way to see currently high-performing books with a wide appeal, which typically translate well to market titles. (Trend titles can make lists, but they’re usually books in KU, and readers are less likely to want to pay more than $2.99 for these titles. Yes, trend books can do exceptionally well in larger markets with higher prices, but this is only if the author is particularly skilled.
That’s on the author. (And please learn this lesson now, authors. You can’t just do market research and expect your book to do well. You have to bring a book people want to read to the table, and they need to like your writing.)
I hope none of you are offended by that, but skill really matters. You can’t just toss a book up in the wilds and expect it to do well.
You need that intangible ‘thing’ that makes readers really love someone’s writing style. And the bad news is? It’s a skill that’s very difficult to teach and learn, because it’s so individualistic to the reader.
But a reader can spot a poorly written book a mile away.
And they may read a poorly written book in KU, but they won’t buy it.
So, back to the main subject, humans. Almost.
Have a picture of me napping on the female, first.
Nap time is my favorite time.
Okay. Back to work. Really.
When the female does market research, she will gather a list of approximately 1,000 titles or authors in her relevant market. She usually hires one of her PAs to do the work unless there’s a reason she wants to do it herself. (There is, sometimes.) But this is often time-consuming work, so she prefers to hire someone else to do the grunt work so she can focus on writing.
1,000 different books is a lot of work, but it is work that will pay off later.
Working with Market Research Data
Once you have your list, you need to put it to good work. Author names, series names, and genre/sub-genre will form the foundation of your ads. These people are your targets. Here is something exceptionally important: you need to identify why the READERS of these authors will like YOUR books.
I will showcase Shelly Laurenston for this, as the female is too embarrassed to do a comparative of authors she’s spoken to before. She’s never met Laurenston, which is probably a good thing. There would be a lot of internalized screaming and effort to not make a complete fool of herself.
Anyway, I got distracted. That’s nothing new. I am a cat, after all. I do what I please.
Readers who enjoy Shelly Laurenston novels may read the female’s Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) series because the books are funny, in the paranormal romance genre, and provide happily ever afters. Readers who enjoy shifters may enjoy the Mag Rom Com series, although not every title features shifters, whereas Laurenston’s books typically include shifters of some fashion or another.
Shelly Laurenston is a very close match in terms of what readers want when reading books with one exception: Laurenston includes explicit content. The female does not.
Explicit content and sex scenes are very commonplace in the romance field, which makes the female quite unusual in a lot of ways. It makes her job of selling the books a little harder in some ways, as romance readers have been taught to expect explicit material.
That’s okay. The female won’t be including explicit content or on-page sex. She likes that parents will give the books to their teenage children. Also, humans, I typed chickens instead of children while writing that passage, and I almost left. But the female corrected it, and I do not think this is fair at all. From now own, human offspring shall be referred to as chickens.
The female doesn’t approve of this idea, and she is threatening to censor me! How dare she??
The key takeaway here is this: You are seeking authors and novels that have overlap with what you write. Readers like picking books from similar authors because there is something they enjoy about that type of title. This is why market and trend data is so important.
When a reader binges on a type of book, they want to read something ‘similar but different’ from what they just read. We recommend a column in your spreadsheet that ranks every author with how strong of a relation your titles are to the record title in your spreadsheet. Use “Weak, Average, and Strong” as your main categories, or do a sliding scale of 1-5; whatever works to indicate how close of a connection your book has to the readership you’ll be targeting.
In the female’s case, Shelly Laurenston would be a ‘strong’ connection.
Turning Your Data into Ad Targeting
Once you have your list of popular authors and their novels, it’s time to start making use of it. I will be separating this into two groups: Bookbub Ads and Facebook Ads. The female doesn’t much use Amazon’s Marketing Services because she never gets the performance she needs from it; it’s far better for those who are enrolled in KU.
As the female is not enrolled in KU, she doesn’t use AMS.
Bookbub Paid Ads
Compared to Facebook ads, Bookbub is simplistic, so we’ll start with that.
1: You need an image or a premade template for Bookbub to run an ad. Their ads are all image based. It will take a lot of experimentation, work, and effort. Honestly, we recommend you take Melissa Storm’s Bookbub Paid Ads tutorial. It will cost you $99 or so, but the information you get will give you the entire foundation you need to successfully use Bookbub Paid Ads. The female has done this course, and following the instructions significantly increased the productivity of her ads.
2: You will use your author list for your targeting on Bookbub. Do one author at a time. Yes, it will be a lot of ads. The female does her test batches in groups of ten, and she will copy each image and simply change the author targeting for her bulk batches. It works well for her.
3: Bookbub has the longest delay between testing and seeing if an ad is viable. She always gives an ad a full 24 hours to see if it might be viable, and she only checks the viability in the evening after all ads have been sent out and given time to mature over the day. Time of day matters for Bookbub because the ads are sent as part of mailing list operations.
Be patient with your Bookbub efforts. It takes time (and money) to figure out. the female tends to drop $100 on a test group of ads before finding some that work and get run for a while.
$0.99 or KU titles work best in Bookbub, but you can promote new, full-priced titles on the platform. It’s just a harder sell.
1: The female uses this format to build her ads:
Snippet from the book, a collection of links to all retailers, a link to the audiobook if audiobook is available.
2: The female starts with no more than $5-10 a day of budget for the initial learning process, and if the ad does well post learning, she will give it more budget until the CPC is too high for her liking. At that point, she will ‘renew’ the ad (which means duplicate it, turn off the old ad, and do this until the replacement ad has good metrics.) In her experience, she can get between a week to a month of productivity on a higher-budget ad.
Your mileage WILL vary.
3: Here is the exact targeting she used for one of her better performing ads. I literally logged into the female’s facebook business manager and stole the entire ad targeting bracket. You’re welcome. :: indicates a comment on the category/why it was picked.
Title of Ad Group: Reading – Spec Fic Auths – Spec Fic Genre/Romance – Myths – Humor
Location – Living In:
:: Right now, the female is trying to build her US readership. She may eventually branch out into other countries, but while this results in a higher CPC, she is able to keep her ads targeted to a location she can easily monitor. Mixing countries can give you a cheaper CPC, but it makes the ads harder to track.
International readership is great, but that isn’t the female’s goal with this specific ad.
21 – 60
:: While 60+ readers do enjoy the female’s novels, the issue is typically finances; they’re usually on fixed income and rely on KU and similar services. They’re a much harder sell, even at the $0.99 bracket. As such, the female uses 21-60 as her primary target age, as there is the highest chance of readers having disposable income to spend on books.
:: This helps make sure only people who read in English (of the US variant) see the ads; while she loves her English (UK) readers, she doesn’t want someone who speaks Spanish getting ads for a book in a language they won’t be reading in. It wastes their time and her money.
People Who Match:
Interests: Oprah’s Book Club, Storytelling, Public library, Reading, Creative writing, IBooks, Author, Bestseller, Kobo eReader, Barnes & Noble, E-books, Bookselling, Writer, Amazon Kindle, Library, Goodreads, Literature, Fiction books, Librarian, The New York Times Best Seller list, Book discussion club, Books, Penguin Books, HarperCollins, Kindle Fire, The New York Times Book Review, Novel, Barnes & Noble Nook, Simon & Schuster, E-book readers or Penguin Random House, Behaviors: Owns: Kindle Fire, Employers: Libraries, Bookstores, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster or Barnes & Noble, Job title: Novelist or Bookstores
:: We always recommend making your top tier about books. If there’s no overlap in this category, the person seeing the ad probably doesn’t read books. Don’t spend your money on people who won’t be interested in books. Interest is critical. You want a warm (willing to buy) audience, not a cold one.
And Must Also Match:
Interests: The Vampire Diaries, Twilight (series), Lora Leigh, Sylvia Day, Twilight (2008 film), The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Karen Marie Moning, Laurell K. Hamilton, Jeaniene Frost, Patricia Briggs, Witchcraft, The Vampire Diaries (novel series), Twilight (novel), Charlaine Harris, Stephenie Meyer, Paranormal, Christine Feehan, Kim Harrison, Cassandra Clare, Kresley Cole, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Paranormal Activity, Magician (fantasy), Nalini Singh (author), Ilona Andrews, Supernatural, Magic (paranormal), Spell (paranormal) or The Mortal Instruments, Employers: Fantasy
:: For this specific ad, she used a mashup of various genre-related authors and keywords, trying to make sure she has a good lineup of strong authors.
Please note that facebook does not have an ad target for every author out there, so you have to work with the big name authors as a general rule. The female is not a target in facebook, much to her dismay. Perhaps one day she will become an ad target.
And Must Also Match:
Interests: romantic comedies, Romance novels, Romantic fantasy, Urban fantasy or Paranormal romance
:: We were serious about only wanting people who likes things she writes. This helps accomplish that.
And Must Also Match:
Interests: Mythology, Greek mythology, Unicorn or Myth
:: Since the Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) series includes these things in high quantity, they make an excellent audience narrower. The narrower the audience, the better off you are, as it makes sure that the right people are seeing your ad.
And Must Also Match:
:: Surprise! We want readers who like to have fun.
Detailed Targeting Expansion:
:: this setting is shit and we hate it. Basically, if you click this, it will send your ad to any damned person, no matter what they actually like, and you just flushed money down the drain. The female has never had a strong ad with this setting enabled.
You’re welcome. We recommend you don’t use this specific ad targeting unless you happen to be writing books just like the female. If you do write books just like the female, you’re welcome. She did use some ‘weak’ author connections in this ad grouping, as she’s had good performance with them in the past. (Weak connections can be, due to trends or current market conditions, strong connections. It’s weird. People are weird. You humans are weird.)
Rinse. Repeat. Learn.
Here is an example of one of the many images the female has been testing in recent days. On average, she will test 20+ new images for every ad combination. And it’s never consistent on which image works. Like the market and trends, what catches attention changes. The female does really like this whimsy of this painting, which she licensed from DepositPhotos.
You need a license for every ad image you use, or proof it is creative commons (available for no royalty without credit.)
Check with your cover designer if they allow splices for ad purposes. Some don’t.
Please note that this is by no means a complete and thorough course on any one of the subjects covered. This is a starting place.
This is also more meant for paid advertising, not free promotions. You can use the same logic for free promotions, but realistically, you’re using it in the sense of “Where can I go where these readers also go?”
And even then, there is a cap to the effectiveness of free forms of advertising. It’s good to do and learn how to do, but time is money, free forms of advertising often take a lot of money, and if you don’t make back at least $15 per hour of work, your free form of advertising hasn’t paid your basic wage.
Nothing free is actually free, and you need to decide for yourself what the value of your hour is.
For the female, it’s a hell of a lot more than $15 an hour, and so she uses paid advertising, which can reach many more readers for far less than her hourly rate that it would cost to do those ‘free’ forms of advertising.
She’d rather be writing.
Good luck, and we hope this post was useful for getting you started on understanding the market and reaching your readers.
Thank you for the information, Zazzle and other management team members. Good luck with the move.
I’m guessing I’m atypical of your readers then! I’m from the UK, I’m 65, and I absolutely love your books, especially the Mag Rom Coms – I have all of these – and the Jesse Alexander novels. I really appreciate the work that you put into your writing, and you are an author who is on my automatic buy list. Rather sadly, I have a spreadsheet that lists what books I want to buy in any particular month – at the moment it lists books up till Dec 2020 – and all of your forthcoming books are on it.
I know from your posts that things aren’t always easy, but rest assured that your books are greatly loved and appreciated by me.
Thank you Zazzle. There is nothing like a furry purry cat for comfort and encouragement!
The Sneaky Kitty Critic
I have a lot of UK readers! I just haven’t begun the hefty work of learning to advertise to them on facebook yet. That’s going to be one of my next steps. I know very little about the economics of my UK fans, but I believe they’re far more likely to buy books than older American counterparts, and it’s a purely financial problem. (And a sad one at that, one I’m not sure I can address while still being able to provide books for readers of most websites and not just Amazon!)
I do like to be accessible. I just need to find the time to start experimenting with ads targeting my UK fans. <3 (I'll get there, though!)
I came off Facebook following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and am not likely to go back onto it in the foreseeable future – but again, I’m probably atypical in that respect. However, you’re probably right in your financial analysis. I ‘m lucky in that I have my own pension so I can afford a monthly budget for book-buying. I’ve loved reading since I was a small child and am exceedingly fortunate that I am in a position to be able to indulge myself in what is pretty much my sole vice.
The Sneaky Kitty Critic
The way I figure it, the instant I log onto the internet, I view most of my stuff as somehow compromised, and just take precautions. So many of my readers use facebook that it’d be a pretty hefty mistake to leave it for me. But, do what you need to feel safe. <3
(It's part of why I try to keep the website updated, although I'm not as good about it as I should be!)
To be honest, it was easy to waste too much time when I was on Facebook. But mainly I found man’s inhumanity to man to be writ pretty large, whatever site I was looking at. Cambridge Analytica was the last straw, but realistically I don’t think I would have stayed there much longer. I just don’t see why so many people think that just because they’re commenting online that it’s acceptable to belittle and demean someone who doesn’t share your point of view. There have been times when I vehemently disagreed with someone’s views, but I would defend their right to express themselves. Whatever happened to reasoned argument? There’s only so much wading knee-high through sewage I could take! ☺️
The Sneaky Kitty Critic
Yeah. Nowadays, I just ramble about what I’m doing IRL, what I’m eating, and things for authors, like this post. And pictures of the cats and giveaways. I removed or unfollowed any toxic people, which made facebook very pleasant for me in general. 🙂 But I aggressively removed the toxic people.
Life’s too short to spend it with toxic people.
And now I’m going to stop taking up your time and let you go and be creative. (Or go and talk to the cats. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion they talk a good deal more sense than us humans! 🤣🤣).
Great post! Thank you for such detailed information. I saved this post so I can come back to it.
In my free time at the day job, I’ll start that spreadsheet you recommend too.
Very interesting post. I’m in your target age group, and routinely purchase almost every author you have listed for Interests – I guess that is why I like your books! I’m not sure how I found you, but it wasn’t Facebook because I have never even noticed that it had ads. I’m very good at ignoring extraneous information. If I had to guess, I’d say it was probably a free book promotion on Amazon. However it was, I’m glad I did find you. 🙂
The Sneaky Kitty Critic
I stopped doing free books several years ago, but if you use bookbub, you likely found me there.