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Market Research for Authors in 5 Easy Steps:

Updated: 1 day ago

Insights from Author Ash Bishop


As an author, there’s nothing like the words “market research” to give you that feeling of having been on a roller-coaster ride one too many times, all those little micro-tears in your brain joining hands to form a massive headache. Unfortunately, it’s necessary in order to sell your beloved work. How does an author do this without getting a migraine?


Ash Bishop's 20-year journey as a writer saw five books written but none sold. It wasn’t until, advised by his literary agent, he rewrote an unmarketable young adult novel, to adult sci-fi, that he was able to finally sell his book, Intergalactic Exterminators, Inc. The process of rewriting was fueled, in part, by Ash’s market research. This strategic shift capitalized on his book's existing sci-fi foundation, finally leading to his first success. Here we break down his market research into easy, doable steps. No staring at long, boring lists of sales figures required.

Photo of author Ash Bishop

1. Study Successful Books:


Whatever you’re writing, a good place to start is always simply to read recent books in your genre. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn simply by doing this. Ash says,

It's a constant push and pull between your impulses to be original and wholly creative, and your impulses to recognize what the market's doing and give people more of what they want. … Not only was I seeing those books, I read them, and I started study what made them successful. … I let them influence me and my style.

By analyzing the themes, character dynamics, writing styles, and unique elements that set these books apart, you gain a holistic understanding of what captivates your reader. This can empower you to craft stories that resonate with audiences while infusing your own creativity. Where can you find these books? Goodreads, the NYT bestseller list, the library, and bookstores or bookselling sites are a great place to start.


2. Observe Trends and Popular Genres:


Feel the need to take an Advil? Bear with me. Watching trends doesn’t have to mean staring at a spreadsheet full of sales data. Ash Bishop was able to leverage his day job as a high school teacher by simply paying attention to what his students were reading. He observes, “I was looking around and every single student was carrying a book. … I was seeing these stories were so familiar. I put a love triangle in my sci-fi YA because, guess what? They're in every single one.”


If, unlike Ash, you don’t happen to be a high school teacher, one way to observe trends could be listening to podcasts such as The Book Review by The New York Times, or The Shit No One Tells You About Writing, a podcast hosted by an author and two literary agents who, during their query letter analysis portion, often share insider market tips. Consider signing up for your favorite publishing houses’ newsletters, such as Macmillan, to gain valuable insight into what books are selling well.


You could also consider joining a silent book club. This is an amazing resource for covert market research. Readers get together, silently read their own book (rather than an assigned one) and discuss afterwards. This is the perfect opportunity to not only see what other people are reading but to engage directly with your audience and ask why they chose that book. This ties directly to our next point.



3. Engage with Readers:


Ash had written four other books by the time he was published. He says of the first three,

The reason that I haven't gone back and published the first three [books] is because they were ridiculously self-indulgent and goofy and fun, but also not marketable necessarily. I kept hearing from everybody, ‘I really like this. We don't know where it'll fit on bookshelves.’

Ash's journey reveals a critical lesson: not all writing is immediately marketable. Professional opinions matter; and feedback from editors, agents, and genre enthusiasts can guide your revisions towards market appeal.



4. Participate in Writing Groups:


Writing groups aren't just for critique; they're windows into market trends. Ash says of his monthly writing group, “Everyone talks about their genre. … If you're writing something that’s about a wizard at a magical wizarding school, that plays a cool sport on a broomstick. You may say to yourself, Hey, not only does this look likely to succeed, but a lot of people are going to realize that there might be some money in this.”


Engaging with fellow writers helps you gauge the marketability of your ideas and understand the preferences of readers within your genre. These interactions can be particularly enlightening when navigating niche versus broad audience appeal.



5. Monitor Social Media and Online Discussions:


Although many authors may find it difficult to engage with social media, it can be an invaluable resource for market research. Ash says,

My publisher basically said, ‘You have to have a social media presence so that your fans can connect with you somehow.’ Whether that be Twitter, /X, or Facebook. You need to have some way that they can reach you, and you can correspond with them.

By actively participating in these platforms, you can directly connect with your audience, providing a window into what resonates and gaining real-time reactions to different themes or genres. If you’re not ready to build your own platform consider simply scanning Reddit or Twitter. Finding your specific genre, such as mystery, is a great way to learn specific market trends.



Conclusion:


Ash’s journey underscores the significance of market research to enhance the chances of publishing and selling your work, but it’s also a delicate balance between maintaining artistic integrity and aligning with market demand. He says, “You're really just asking yourself ‘How much do I care specifically about staying fully true to my own vision versus noticing and studying the marketplace and providing some of the things the marketplace wants.’”


By using these steps, you, like Ash, can make more informed decisions, increasing the odds of successful publication and sales without compromising your creative authenticity.


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