For self-publishing authors who want to succeed, understanding how and why readers buy books and ebooks online is vital information.
Writing fiction or nonfiction books and hoping they will sell is not a great business strategy. But it is one that is very common.
You can’t possibly sell books online by luck alone. You have to first make your book discoverable in your niche genre, and then give readers good reasons to buy it.
Publish for pleasure
A lot of new authors publish for enjoyment and satisfaction. You are content with some sales and a chance to engage with a handful of readers.
To accomplish this, it is quite easy. It requires very little investment other than the time it takes to write your book.
Very often, it is a matter of wanting to have your say or releasing your story from a bottom drawer. Or perhaps, leaving more than footprints in the sand.
Personal memoirs, a collection of short stories, local history, and real-life family stories might fall into this category.
For new fiction authors, it is also a way to test the water. You want to see if it is possible to get readers and maybe some book reviews.
You can use free ebook campaigns to find out if a story can gain any traction.
Publishing for pleasure as a hobby, or as an experiment, can be very fulfilling. But it rarely produces a reliable income.
Publish for profit
The second form of self-publishing is to publish with the expectation of making a lot of sales and money.
Such a goal needs investment in both time and money. You have to develop a placement and marketing strategy in your genre to have any chance of success.
In other words, how many readers are there that will be interested in reading my type of books?
What percentage of that market do I need to get a return on my investment?
What are the great titles in the same niche genre, and what makes them so attractive to book buyers?
How do I select a competitive price?
Where can I find this information? How can I produce a book that will compete with other booksellers in the market?
In other words, it is deciding to make self-publishing a real income-producing business.
Book buyers are fussy
Self-publishing a book is easy, but getting book sales is not.
Readers who buy books online are incredibly fickle. Very often, they make purchases by name recognition or celebrity status.
Think here about bestselling authors such as Dan Brown, JK Rowling, Stephen King, or Salman Rushdie.
For both fiction and nonfiction, a household name will always have a huge advantage.
Books labeled as Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Man Booker Prize, National Book Award, or New York Times bestselling will sell.
If Taylor Swift wrote a book, it would sell. Would it be a great book? Would it be one of the best books of all time?
Perhaps not, but who cares?
She could write about her high school days, and it would sell like hotcakes. Readers would add it to 100 reading lists on Goodreads.
But a lot of book buyers are niche genre addicts.
For some, it is detective mysteries, World War II, sci-fi, horror, or vampires. While for others, it is a cozy 19th century or Civil War romance.
Very few bother with book recommendations other than perhaps a glance at the book reviews and ratings.
It is with this type of modern-day book buyer that self-publishing authors can compete. For some authors, they do very well, indeed.
There is no doubt that romance is one of the most popular genres. It can also be extremely profitable if you know how to write for the market.
However, most people see romance as the strict domain of women writers.
You might think that romance novels written by men are rare books indeed.
But it is not entirely true at all.
Male writers of romance have had a lot of success.
You probably wouldn’t associate names such as Harold Lowry, Thomas Elmer Huff, Bill Spence, Peter O’Donnel, and Frank Brennan with romance.
Would you be surprised to discover romance novels written by Australian men?
There is a long list of over 100 books identifying romance titles written by men on Goodreads.
According to an article by Electric Literature, the vast majority of gay romances are written by women.
So why are men writing romance and women writing gay fiction?
Because they are both popular genres and offer a lucrative reading market, gender doesn’t matter when it comes to identifying market opportunities.
It is an old business expression – go to where the money is.
Many successful self-publishing authors use gender-neutral author names, and sometimes with initials. Others use pseudonyms, or genre adapted pen names to open the door to succeed in a specific niche.
The Guardian writes – “Women writers have long disguised their gender hoping to get taken seriously, but a few male authors pretend to be female to hopefully sell more books.”
Know your niche market
The key to making money from self-publishing and selling on Amazon is to write for readers, no matter your gender.
Good authors are good authors. But planning to sell means researching what readers buy and why they buy books.
Yes, you need to write a terrific story and have a good book editor.
But the most critical element for selling a book is a cover that corresponds to your specific genre.
Do a quick scan of any genre on Amazon. You will find a distinct similarity between the covers of the bestselling titles.
It is because readers of specific genres expect how a cover should look. They are unlikely to be attracted to a cover that doesn’t match their taste.
Your understanding and selection of cover colors and fonts are critical for your niche market.
Here are a few screen grabs from Amazon of five popular genres.
Notice how similar the covers are in each of these selections.
If you scroll further down through each genre list on Amazon, you will come across many weaker selling titles.
Very often, they have low-quality covers that do look typical for the genre.
Your book cover is the first and most vital element in attracting the eyes or a potential book buyer.
If you cover fails to get readers to click, you won’t make sales.
Your cover has to attract the attention of fussy genre readers before you can hope to start selling books.
Categories and Amazon search keywords
Another major factor in market research for a new book is finding out what genres readers really buy. You also need to know what genres don’t sell very well.
Sometimes success can be as simple as listing your books in the right competitive categories and then finding associated search keywords.
If you are publishing self-help, information about which categories produce the most sales can give you a clear advantage.
Here are some examples of category and keyword research.
I used Publisher Rocket to access the following data from Amazon.
In the example above, self-help>motivational and self-help>happiness are prime categories with 90 sales a day between them.
But then you need to find ranking search keywords to complement the category.
The best possibilities are motivational quotes, motivational books, and motivational books for women to match the category of self-help>motivational.
The example above is basic. But you can do simple research like this for any kind of book.
For a highly competitive genre such as romance, a little research can help position a new book much higher on Amazon.
Book buyers won’t scroll down a long list of entries. So the secret to getting sales is to get your book to appear as high as possible in search results.
A quick look at competitive titles can give you a few clues.
I selected a romance title that ranks at just over #500. Then I scanned the categories of competing titles.
The daily sales of Romance>Mystery & Suspense look the most promising.
So if I selected this category, all I need now are some solid search keywords.
Trying the keyword sleuth gives two very good romance possibilities.
Then using detective for a new keyword search, it gives me four more excellent suggestions.
The quick research above would help position a new title much better. You would avoid listing it under the very broad categories of Romance or Contemporary Romance.
Finding the right niche categories and keywords is the best way to get sales from readers searching Amazon to buy books.
You can use Amazon and Google search to help you search for free.
But if you want real-time Amazon sales data, you will need to use a pro tool like Publisher Rocket.
It doesn’t matter if the book genre is a mystery, poetry, alien gods, horror, native American history, or overcoming divorce.
There are always categories and keywords that will help position a book higher for better search results.
Sound and accurate market research can make all the difference between success and failure for a new book.
You need to understand what readers think are the best books to read. Then you can position and produce a book to suit their buying preferences.
You can self-publish for pleasure or a profit.
But if profit is your aim, there is no short-cut to achieving your goal.
You have to understand the particular preferences of your potential readers and book buyers.
What do they want, and how can I keep the customer satisfied?
When you can answer those two questions, you are going to have a chance of succeeding and selling books.