Market research means gathering information about a particular category of products—in our case, information about books in the genre that we want to publish. It’s scouting out the opposition, so to speak. Here are 3 suggested steps for conducting market research for your story. Pay close attention to the questions in step 3—they’re the meat of this post.
1. Identify the genre of your book.
- Are you writing young adult fantasy or thrillers? Mysteries or chick-flicks? Picture books or poetry? Dystopian? Scifi? Steampunk? Whatever it is that you write, try to identify its niche (or, in the case of a cross-genre book, identify the two or three closest genres).
2. Look at bestseller lists and select the top 5-10 most popular books in your genre.
- For this step, the more books you identify and the closer they are to your story the better. However, only pick as many books as you have time to read and study. Whether or not you’re planning to self-publish, be sure to gather a sample from the top self-published books in your genre.
3. Read the top books you picked and study them using the following questions.
- First, read them just for the entertainment value. Notice the places that make you laugh or pull on your emotional heartstrings. See if the ending satisfies you or leaves you hanging.
- Then, take a closer look at the components of the book: are the characters male or female? What’s their age group? Their profession? Their goals and dreams? What about the characters’ names—are they strange alien names with numbers, old-fashioned Dorothy and Maude, or something new and quirky?
- Next, what about the plot of the book—is it fast-paced or slow-moving? Does it end abruptly? Is the villain vanquished in the end, or does he/she survive to fight another day?
- What about the setting—where does the story take place? What details made the setting feel compelling or vivid to you? Was there a sense of being enveloped a new world?
- Take a look at the details of the formatting of the book: how long are the chapters, roughly? Are they specially formatted? What sort of titles do they have? Is the book divided into parts? What typeface does the book use? What colors are in the cover, and does it feature a person or art or computer-designed graphics?
- Is it part of a series or a stand-alone book? If it’s in a series, how many books are there in the series?
- In what media are the books available—libraries? Bookshops? Amazon.com? Smashwords/other online ebook stores? Were the majority traditionally published? For self-published books, how successful were they? If you have access to information on how these books were advertised, pay close attention to that and take notes.
You can also repeat steps 2-3 with books that weren’t in the bestseller category, this time asking “What prevented this book from being a bestseller?” and “What did these books do that the bestsellers didn’t, and vice versa?”
One last caveat: your goal for your writing might not be to write and publish an incredibly popular bestselling book. In that case, you’ll need to re-define “success”: does it mean being a bestselling author? Does it mean being less popular but receiving rave reviews from everyone who reads your book? Once you’ve set your goals, look for books that have achieved what you want to achieve (preferably in your genre). Then, using those books, ask the questions in step 3.
Now for you: have you done market research before? Any interesting results? Any tips or advice for those just starting out?