Targeting genre

Joe’s Post #158

cs lakinToday, I want to repost an article by one of our followers. C.S. Lakin.

Actually, I could probably repost about 10 of hers as she is one hell of a blogger. No. Seriously. She rocks.

Now, this is a bit ahead of where we 5/5/5 are at currently, but I love reading about what to do when we reach the publishing stage. It’s like chocolate for the soul. Keeps me thinking about the future and not the past.

If you want, please check out her other articles here on Linkedin. Or here on facebook.

cs lakin bookOr, check out her website. It’s amazingly well done. I am super envious of her abilities. She won the 2015 award for being one of the top 10 blogs for writers, and one look at her site or her posts and you’ll see why. She’s good. Very, very good.

She also has a newsletter that’s worth signing up for and a few pretty cool books, even, dare I say it, quite a few novels.

Anyway, here is the article.

Targeting Genre Using the KDSPY Chrome Tool

I always wondered just how much genre had to do with a novel’s success, and when I did my “experiment” a couple of years ago by writing in a genre that purportedly “sold itself,” I proved to myself (and perhaps to many others) that genre really matters. (If you didn’t read my blog post on The Book Designer that went viral in the writing world, take a look at it here. )

My aim was to write a novel that carefully fit a big-selling genre and see if it would sell with little effort on my part. I used a pen name, and although I did a little bit of marketing—similar to what a new author would do—I was astounded by the sales I saw. Way more than all the sales I got from my other half dozen self-published novels.

Whether You’re in It for the Money or Not

You might not care about making money off your books. But some of us have families to support and bills to pay. I felt guilty for years writing novel after novel that didn’t sell, “wasting precious time” (my assessment) when I could have been working at Wal-Mart for minimum wage and at least bringing some money in.

Before throwing in the towel and giving up what I loved most—writing novels—I decided to give this writing life one last-ditch desperate effort. I promised myself that if this new book I planned to write did not make me any money, I would never write another novel again (believe me, this wasn’t the first time I vowed this, but I really meant it this time!).

You may be in a situation to write whatever you want, regardless of market potential. You may not need the money. You may, like me, love experimenting and mixing genres and fleshing out those crazy ideas and structures you know probably won’t turn into best sellers.

For you, maybe it’s not about the money. Maybe you want the recognition. You want lots of super fans and for your peers to acknowledge what a great writer you are. Most of us want this, regardless of profession. We want to be recognized for our talents and abilities. We want to feel successful, that all our hard work shows. I don’t believe there is anything at all wrong with this. We need validation and to be encouraged by results. We don’t want to feel like failures.

So regardless of the reason, you might want to achieve some success with your book sales. And targeting genre is a great way to do it.

The Difficulty in Researching Hot Genres

In the aftermath of my viral post on targeting genre, a lot of writers contacted me and asked me how they could figure out which subgenres sold the best. I knew basically that some general genres sold well on Kindle: romance, mysteries, suspense, fantasy. But those are very general categories, and the niche I targeted was a very specific subgenre.

I asked experts in marketing what their thoughts were on this, and basically, after all my research, I came up with a blank. The bottom line is it would take a lot of participating in K-Boards and Goodreads discussions to find the threads that showed readers decrying a lack of novels in their subgenre.

This implies greater demand than supply. Which is a factor in big sales, to me. If there are a gazillion readers clamoring for books in a certain subgenre, and there aren’t all that many books being released, those few authors are cashing in. This is what I see in the sweet Western Historical Romance subgenre (although now the competition is growing—probably the result of my blog post!).

The Best Tool I’ve Seen for Authors

So imagine the thrill I felt when I learned about KDSPY. It was exactly the app I needed to uncover all the info—accurate data, not guesses—on which subgenres sold well and why.

Called “The Ultimate Kindle Spy Tool,” KDSPY is probably one of the most valuable tools an indie author can utilize. This unique software application essentially reverse engineers the Kindle marketplace and shows you which niches sell well, which have much or little competition, and how much revenue the top-selling books in that niche have made in the last thirty days.

There are so many features that I love with this app:

  • It’s easy (and inexpensive!) to load and use, and integrates into your browser for easy access.
  • It gives you gobs of pertinent info that will help you determine what niches are selling.
  • It allows you to look at any author’s page and see her actual book sales and rankings for every book she has on Kindle for the last thirty days.
  • It shows you the main keywords used by the author for a particular book (which is also broken down by use in title and in description).
  • In seconds, sometimes with just one click, you can see a wide landscape regarding genre and revenue, helping you make marketing decisions for your book. Or helping you decide what your next book will be.

And, once you’ve gathered data for the category you’re interested in, you can click on the keyword button that will give you a word cloud that shows all the words that the best-selling books use in their titles and descriptions.

Why is this great? Because this data can help you tailor what you write, or market what you’ve already written, by giving you proof (not claims) of what’s already working for other Kindle publishers. KDSPY shows you the best-selling niches to go after, and even shows you the words to use in your book titles.

One Way This App Helped Me

Here’s just one example of how this tool helped me make a decision. I write historical Western romances. I spent time researching using KDSPY checking the best-selling titles and their keywords, wondering just which keywords and categories would be best for my books.

Since my books could go in the inspirational romance category (because my characters do express their faith, attend church, and pray), I wondered if I should choose that as one of my two categories on Kindle. When I peeked at the best-selling titles and authors in my subgenre and compared the general market sales and competition to the inspirational market sales and competition, there was a huge difference. Overall, the inspirational market monthly sales revenue for a best-selling book was about one-tenth of the general market. I decided not to use that category, since it was clear the market I’d be targeting was smaller and afforded less opportunity for big sales.

Other Perks

Another thing I found very helpful with KDSPY were the short video tutorials on the site that showed me exactly how I could effectively use this tool. There are so many other ways you can benefit. For example, you can use the book-tracking feature to tag certain books and track their sales via a daily sales rank and revenue chart.

You can imagine how useful this is when looking at your competition. You can track your own books as well to examine the results of your marketing efforts, or to see if your sales go up and down when you change your keywords.

I am continually shocked to see how few sales many best-selling authors are currently experiencing, or how only one book in their arsenal is making a killing, whereas their other book sales are flat. In contrast, some first-time authors are making big five-figure sales per month per book. I wanted to know why and how. This app gives me insights into their success.

Of course this is only showing you Kindle sales and not print sales, or sales from any other online venues. But Kindle accounts for most authors’ sales these days, and for me, this is the data I need, that will most help me in my book sales.

KDSPY is a Chrome browser extension that is compatible with PC and Macs. Firefox supports this app as well, but at this time, these are the only two browsers you can use. All the data is exportable so you can put the results in a folder to refer to.

This app is great for both fiction and nonfiction books, and while it’s not useable in every country, KDSPY has now been opened up to allow results to be pulled from the UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. The customer support is excellent, which means a lot to me.

The cost at the time of this post for this app is only $47 US. I feel it’s one of the best investments for authors, worth way more than this. I’ve never promoted a product on my website, so that should tell you something about how valuable I think this tool is. GET YOURS HERE! and start benefitting from this amazing tool. And I’d love to hear how it’s helping you sell more books!

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Pretty cool stuff, right?

Here’s a quick bio for her.

About

Me and Coaltrane

I’m a novelist, a copyeditor, a writing coach, a mom, a backpacker, and a whole bunch of other things.

I write novels in various genres and help writers at my blog www.livewritethrive.com

I teach workshops on the writing craft at writers’ conferences and retreats. If your writers’ group would like to have me teach,drop me a line. I live in California, near San Francisco, just so you know how far away I am from you and your writer friends. I also enjoy guest blogging, so contact me if you’d like me to write a post on writing, editing, or Labrador retrievers (just threw that in there; I’m not an expert but I love them). I am, however, quite the expert on pygmy goats. I ran a commercial pygmy goat farm for ten years and delivered a lot of kids! So, if you need some goat advice, I’m your gal.

*****

Keep your promise to your readers

Helga’s Post # 106: During our recent downsizing from house to condo I was forced to part with a multitude of boxes containing heaps of notes and articles about writing. I lovingly and dutifully collected this treasure trove over years at writing workshops and conferences. I had even hoarded term papers from writing classes of my university years.

A painful process, judging what to keep and what to shred. Most of it went to the shredder. I did not want some dumpster diver getting his hands on my early manuscripts, basic though as they were.

I still recall some of my creative writing classes at Simon Fraser University, and the first year I attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Like a dry sponge I absorbed every word of dispensed advice! I made copious notes of everything my professors and workshop leaders offered. More importantly, I believed every word from my classes and conference workshops. Passionately.

Then came the second year of the Surrey International Writers’ conference, and the third, and more after that. They turned out to be still interesting, but much of the information was by now repetitive, and quite a lot of it contradictory. The most obvious that most of us are familiar with: Always outline. You can’t ever finish a novel without. Never outline. It will stifle your writing. Each camp has its devoted disciples.

Gradually, I sifted through all the learning from my early writing years and applied what sounded most practical for my style. Not only ‘applied’, but relied on it. But here’s the rub: I got increasingly stuck trying to squeeze the multitude of ‘rules’ into my writing. I tried to use them all. I spent more time trying to write to the ‘rules’ than letting my story flow. After a while I felt like getting buried in an avalanche.

Until I realized that it wouldn’t work for me. Time to change tactics. To find a better way.

I am not suggesting that new writers should disregard writing rules. Every writer needs some rules. But the key is to be selective. Just as some writers absolutely have to outline, it would stifle the writing process for others. We need to apply the rules that suit our individual style and preference. Cherry-picking, rather than one-size-fits-all.

Nonetheless, some cardinal rules apply that have stood the test of all writing styles. Take those related to starting your story. Mountains of books have been written about the pivotal ‘First Chapter’. If it doesn’t start right, nobody will read your novel. Those rules are ironclad. Ignore them at your peril.

Some of the cardinal rules that have been most useful for me are also the most basic. They continue to serve me well. Here they are, in a nutshell:

Start your story with an action scene. That applies to all genres from romance novels to thrillers. Start with the ‘real’ tension and conflict. Don’t start with the main characters reflecting on life, thinking about their current or past situation, or contemplating doing something.

First chapters are a bit like speed dating. A reader knows within a few minutes if they will be interested enough in your story to continue. They might hold a really good book in their hands, but your story has to grab them or they’ll drop it and never buy another book you wrote.

Avoid backstory on your first pages at the fear of torture. Don’t spoon feed your reader with detailed explanation. Let them guess – less is more. Use dialogue instead of narrative. And by all means, use conflict. Ideally the main conflict of your story should be clear at the end of the chapter.

In my early attempts at writing I made the mistake of introducing my protagonist in a way to ‘force’ my readers to like him/her. I did this either by ‘telling’ a heroic quality early on, or by giving her/him some kind of flaw, counting on the reader’s empathy. Reading through my first manuscripts I notice how hard I tried to have my readers ‘like’ my main character in the first few pages with all kinds of backstory, when instead, I should have focused on an action scene to keep my readers turning those crucial first pages.

Consider this: Your first chapter is a promise to the reader. It tells them what kind of story they can expect to get. Without going into details, or worse, backstory, the reader should know the main conflict of the book and have some sense of the main character’s personality.

headhunters

Headhunters: How did we get from this…

Keeping the promise to your reader is of utmost importance. We can all think of a book or movie that broke that promise, and we feel cheated at having wasted our time. For example, I watched ‘Headhunters’ on Netflix the other day, a movie based on Jo Nesbo’s book by the same name.

I was intrigued the way it started: Stylish Scandinavian setting and actors, beautiful house and art exhibits, great theme (high-end art thefts to support a lavish lifestyle), all the right things. Our protagonist gets in trouble, finds his wife cheating him, etc. But then the theme gets derailed and confused.

.... to this ?

…. to this ?

Suddenly I find myself watching a horror movie, with some disgusting scenes including when he has to hide inside the dump hole of an outhouse. All the way, deep down, and then we are forced to watch him emerge in glorious detail. And on it goes for most of the film. So where’s the theme? Suddenly the lavish lifestyle is gone, and all we get is blood and disgusting other stuff. To me, this is a good example of a broken promise. If the film had started differently, fine, I knew what to expect. But that way I felt kind of cheated. As an aside, book reviews praise this standalone work by Nesbo. I assume the filmmakers used his theme as a platform for the gory version.

After all the lectures and conferences I’ve attended over the years, the first and most useful rule then, is this: If you’re writing a murder mystery, don’t start your first chapter like chick-lit. Or vice versa. Set the tone and stick to it.

Once you got your first chapter down and you haven’t lost your reader, things will get easier. And more fun.

(Until you get to the sagging middle)

Genre roulette

Credit: iStock Photo licensed image.

Credit: iStock Photo licensed image.

Silk’s Post #33 — I’m confused about genres. Just a wild guess, but I’ll bet you are too.

It seems like genres have been hanging out with each other, no doubt under cover of darkness, and mating.

I can’t help but visualize Chick Lit and Horror making it on the floor of an abandoned, Gothic, beer-bottle-strewn party house under a cobwebby chandelier, and begetting this whole sex-obsessed Vampire offspring, for example. And that crazy Steampunk! It had to be conceived when the geeky sci-fi-addicted computer science major finally got that shy, Victorianaphile girl from the library tipsy on one glass of port, and then she doffed her spectacles and let down her hair and … well, you know what happened next.

Some of these genre couplings are yielding some pretty wild genetic traits. And that’s not even counting the scrambled DNA resulting from threesomes. Or the beasts issuing from inter-species liaisons. Talk about genre roulette!

No wonder there’s so much conflicting information out there about genres: what to call them … what they represent … who reads them … how hot they are. Writers hoping to be published are advised that they must be able to assign their work to a genre, for the convenience of agents and editors. And, of course, to aid the understandably confused book sales workers who must figure out which real or virtual bookshelf each title belongs on. By thy genre shall thy audience know thee, we’re told.

If it were only that simple.

First of all, what is a genre? A no less lofty publication than The Guardian provides an “A-Z List” of “Book Genres” numbering sixty-one. Sixty one! It includes such designations as Ballet, Paranormal Romance (children and teens), Fairies and True Crime, but no Steampunk. To me, the Guardian list looks like some poor editorial assistant finally gave up trying to classify books by genre, and just threw some genre names together with a mixed list of topics and audiences.

Remember: it’s all about eyeballs on bookshelves.

Popular reader website Goodreads looks promising when it comes to genre identification … at first. It does offer a genre short list for browsing purposes, which includes:

Art – Biography – Business – Chick Lit – Children’s – Christian – Classics – Comics – Contemporary – Cookbooks – Crime – Ebooks – Fantasy – Fiction – Gay and Lesbian – Graphic Novels – Historical Fiction – History – Horror – Humor and Comedy – Manga – Memoir – Music – Mystery – Non Fiction – Paranormal – Philosophy – Poetry – Psychology – Religion – Romance – Science – Science Fiction – Self Help – Suspense – Spirituality – Sports – Thriller – Travel – Young Adult

Okay, I can find my way around that. But then it also has a link to “More genres …”

Don’t go there!

It’s enough to send a writer looking for genre guidance into a catatonic state for a week. This “more genres” list turns out to be three very long pages with hundreds of listings (Goodreads calls them “shelves”), which includes such esoterica as Amish Fiction, Butch-Femme, Fat Acceptance, Geek, Lesbotronic, New Weird, Polyamorous, Post-Apocalyptic, Shapeshifters, Southern Gothic, Swashbuckling, Thelema, Urban Legends, Viking Romance, Whodunit, Yaoi, and the ever popular Zombies.

Well, at least I know what Whodunit means.

I like the approach to book genres found at the website of independent editors BubbleCow. They show separate lists of genres under “Fiction” and “Non-Fiction” that seem to hit an appropriate and understandable level of categorization. They even have created a cool word bubble graphic of genres that appears to distinguish the mainstream of literature from its smaller creeks and tiny rivulets.

Oh, but wait. At the end of their list, they provide a link to that amorphous list from The Guardian with the advice that it “should help.” Aaaargh!

The ever-reliable Wikipedia provides sensible genre lists in “Fiction” and “Non-Fiction” flavours, which actually attempt to define each genre in a few words. However, it seems to be missing many of the common genres listed in other sources; for example it oddly lists Tall Tales, but not Thriller, as a fiction genre.

But just keep scrolling … whatever weird and wonderful genre you may be searching for can be found in the Wikipedia section titled “Genres and sub genres”. Steampunk, for instance is shown as a sub-sub-genre of Science Fiction (itself a sub-genre of Speculative Fiction). And Steampunk even has its own sub-sub-sub-genre offspring: Clockpunk, and her siblings Dieselpunk and Atompunk. 

This got me thinking about all the promising genres that haven’t yet been invented, but are sure to evolve as existing genres continue to mate and as our speed-of-light media culture continues to stoke the genre fire with the newest crazes.

Here are some speculative predictions for genres yet to be born. Remember, you read it here first …

Dystopian Cookbook Cormac McCarthy meets Martha Stewart in this genre featuring roadkill recipes for survivors of the Apocalypse.

Junkpunk – A Steampunk specialization inspired by “Hoarders” programs.

Vegan Porn – Rude photographs of vegetables.

Alternative Legal Universe – Constitutional law as a fan fiction work-in-progress, dramatizing the tragicomic results as the constantly changing legal canon plays out in courtrooms.

Religious Erotica – Oh, wait. We already have that.

Anti-Freedom Conspiracy – Exposés documenting insidious plots of the Liberal Media, Academics, Tree Huggers, Unions, Ethnic Groups, Queers, Judges, Feminists and other Factions to take away Freedom-Loving, Law-Abiding Citizens’ most basic, God-Given human rights, like packing in shopping malls. Or wherever said Citizens freaking well want.

Women’s Fit Lit – Narrative amalgamation of diet books with inspirational fiction designed to empower generously-endowed women. Like a whole Oprah genre.

Orange Pulp – Pulp fiction specifically set in Orange County, CA.

Financial Suspense – Reality-based how-to books for amateur investors that focus on the dramatic tension and excitement of wondering whether you’re making a fortune, or losing everything (may be classified as either fiction or non-fiction).

Wuxia Romance – Martial arts meet marital arts.

Query Thriller – Heart-pumping, rollercoaster tales of writers’ quests for publication, coupling the soaring highs and wrist-slashing lows with sound and helpful advice from actual literary agents and editors (additional fees may apply).

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