Using genre to target your books to readers
How to use your book’s genre for effective marketing
In last week’s post I covered why it’s important to know the genre of your book, and whether it crosses or bends genres. That post applied to both traditionally-published and self-published authors, but today’s post is aimed more at those authors who are self-publishing, because today I am looking at how you can use your genre to maximize sales.
Whether you are trad- or self-published, you absolutely should be reading and researching the other books that are similar to yours. Only in this way will you know whether your book is just one of many identical books, or a trendsetter, whether it fits its genre or bends it. You will need to know what comp titles (comparison titles) to compare your books to in query letters or in book blurbs. But most importantly, you need to learn from what others are doing, so that you don’t waste time floundering around in the dark.
It’s not enough to simply make sales, but to sell to the right kind of readers. If your books are not branded correctly for their genre, they may simply not sell, but almost as bad is to sell to readers who don’t usually read your genre because they are less likely to enjoy the book and therefore more likely to leave bad reviews. And bad reviews put readers off, which leads to a downward spiral into oblivion.
So I am sharing 4 tips today to help you connect your books to their right audience by understanding your genre.
1. Book Covers and Titles
As a self-publishing author, the first thing you’ll be looking at after writing the book is a title and a cover. Once you have identified your genre and found a few bestselling books that are similar to yours, navigate to the Amazon bestseller list for that genre. Take a look at the covers and the titles of the Top 100 books in that category.
Are there already books in your genre with the same title? While titles aren’t copyrighted, having the same title as a wildly popular author is going to make your books even harder for readers to find. Also, will your title attract the interest of the right kind of readers? Are the titles short and punchy or long and flowery? Do they contain a play on words (as if often the case in cosy mysteries)? What are the conventions of the genre? For example The Prince’s Secret Rendezvous might put off thriller readers as it sounds more like a romance novel, but Midnight Rendezvous will say ‘thriller’ far more clearly.
Before you brief a cover artist or buy a premade cover, take a look at the majority of bestselling covers in your genre. It isn’t enough that you think a cover looks nice to you, or that it’s affordable. If that cover doesn’t convey the right kind of information to readers, you’ve wasted your money. Are the majority of covers dark, light, colourful, muted, illustrated, bold? I’m not saying that you can’t break out and do something different, but if you’re going to be a trendsetter you need to know what trends you’ bucking! Otherwise you’re running the risk of missing rather than hitting your target audience.
2. Blurb Copy
After the title and cover, the next thing readers see is the book description (blurb). Blurb writing is a special skill that takes practice, and you can’t spend months crafting your book only to toss up a blurb you write in ten minutes. Because this copy will not only convey to readers what kind of books this is, the genre, style and central plot line, but online retailers search for keywords in your copy and algorithms use that data (known collectively withy your title, categories etc as metadata) to position your book for readers. Use the wrong keywords, or not enough keywords, and you aren’t maximising that benefit. Use too many and your blurb will sound ridiculous and put off readers.
Read the blurbs of at least twenty of the bestselling books in your genre. What words and phrases are most common to signify the genre to readers? What do they include or exclude, what style do they use? Now write at least three of your own, and market test them among your readers or fellow writers. Ask for critiques and polish, polish, polish until your copy is working as hard as it can to sell your book.
The fantastic thing about self-publishing is that all these elements (except the book’s title) are not set in stone, and can be changed at any time. While you don’t want to be constantly changing covers and confusing readers, as your budget grows, or as you learn more, you can update these elements whenever you want to make them stronger and more targeted to the right audience.
While it’s not impossible to change the book’s title, it could cause you to lose existing reviews and sales rank, and annoys loyal readers who buy the book thinking it’s a new one, only to discover they’ve already read it before, so it shouldn't be done lightly.
3. Categories and Keywords
When you upload your book to Amazon, or any of the other online retailers, you are able to choose the categories your book will appear in. These relate to the BISAC booksellers’ codes which have been around since the dawn of the digital age, though they are occasionally updated (you can read the latest list here). The genres listed are quite broad and simmple to navigate, and since by now you’ve already done the research I recommended in last week’s post and above, it should be fairly simple for you to decide which fits your book best. If in doubt, look at what categories your nearest competitors are in.
Amazon have taken this a step further and created a long list of sub-categories which help readers connect with the books they most want to read. These sub-categories aren’t always accessible to authors, meaning that you can’t simply select your own sub-categories - Amazon’s algorithms will do it automatically for you. In order to ensure that your book is shelved in the right section, you need to ensure that you select keywords (Amazon allows you to list 7) that will guide the algorithm to place your book in front of the readers who are most likely to buy your book. Amazon also helpfully provides a list of categories with keyword requirements that you can include in your list and/or blurb.
Your sales ranking (and therefore the visibility of your book) is hugely affected by the size of the category you’re in. If you’re in a very large and popular category, such as contemporary romance, chances are you're going to have to sell tens of thousands of books to make the Top 100. But if you are in a niche category, such as Time Travel Romance, you have a much bigger chance of ranking higher and by extension being seen by more readers.
It would be tempting to ‘game the system’ and label your book for a niche genre just to boost ranking and visibility, but this is a no-no for two reasons:
Amazon doesn’t like it, and if they think you are deliberately misleading readers they will send you straight to Amazon Jail, do not pass go and do not collect R200 (yes, Amazon Jail is a thing. It’s when Amazon bans you from publishing with them!)
If you place your book in a misleading category, either your book simply won’t sell because it won’t appeal to that audience, or the kind of readers who buy your book are going to be expecting something different. They’ll read yours, be disappointed that it wasn’t what they wanted, give you scathing reviews, and you’re on that downward spiral I mentioned above.
Another no-no that Amazon does not allow is using other author’s names or brand names as keywords. So even if you write books like Stephen King’s, using his name as one of your 7 keywords ois also likely to get you sent to Amazon Jail. That’s where your blurb comes in handy. In your book’s description you can say things like “For readers of Stephen King” and that’s a safe way to slide that in as a keyword. See now why getting that blurb just right is so important?
4. Targeted Advertising
This final tip is a little more advanced. Once you’ve uploaded your books to the retailer websites, and maximized your title, cover, blurb copy, categories and keywords, you may want to start looking at doing paid advertising, perhaps through Facebook or AMS (Amazon) ads. Running these ads is a specialist skill which I don’t teach (there are plenty of experts who can teach you way more than I can) but I can tell you that you are most certainly going to need to know who the most successful authors in your genre are, who they are targeting, and how they are targeting readers through all the above stuff, so that you can mimic their strategy for your own success.
Being a professional (and successful) author is about so much more than just writing a book. It can be scary, especially since most writers are creative types who don’t know marketing or algorithms or keywords. But that’s okay. Take it step by step, learn as much as you can about everything in the publishing industry, treat it like a profession rather than an amateur game, and you will get there!