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How do I find my reader?

How can I better understand my genre?

What genre am I writing in?

Ever since my episode on How to Find Your Reader, I’ve been bombarded with questions about genre and readers. Today, we’ll talk about an amazing tool that will help you get to know your readers and understand the market.

K-lytics (Affiliate Link) is a tool that helps indie, traditional, fiction, and nonfiction authors. In fact, it’s the secret weapon that separates successful authors from struggling authors. K-lytics is like a windshield that allows you to see the road as you’re driving so that you don’t make painful mistakes.

I interviewed Alex Newton, the creator of k-lytics. He used to be a management consultant, compiling research reports and investigations for Fortune 500 companies to help them make good decisions. Now he’s using his market research skills to help authors. He recently reported what’s hot with readers and how certain genres have grown or withered in the past 18 months.

What is k-lytics?

Alex: K-lytics is a tool I created to monitor the Amazon Kindle market. We monitor thousands of books, covers, and other variables. Then we crunch the numbers and try to distill them into insights so that you can make better and faster publishing decisions within your writing project. We crunch those numbers for you so that you can focus on the writing.

Thomas: If you wonder what people are currently reading, that data is available. K-lytics scrapes the Amazon data, analyzes it, and interprets it.

How do k-lytics reports help authors understand the genre and readers?

Alex: There is an overwhelming amount of data and information available. You have your spreadsheets, your Kindle Dashboard, the bestseller lists on Amazon, and many other sources of information.

You have to gather data, translate it into information, and then compile information in a way that triggers your action or decision.

For example, if you search billionaire romance on Amazon, you’ll get probably 30,000 search results. Amazon won’t show all of them to you, but they’ll show 6,400 of them. Every book comes with a sales rank that changes by the hour. To get the full picture of the average performance of a genre, you would have to repeat that exercise every couple of weeks, which is very tedious.

Amazon suggests those books to you for a reason, and the books are not necessarily sorted in order of sales. The algorithm also suggests books that have nothing to do with billionaire romance, so you need to clean the data before you can get accurate answers from it.

Once you’ve built a clean database, you can ask questions of the data:

  • What is the typical character? 
  • What is the highest-selling cover?
  • Which books sold best over time?

When you monitor the data over time, you can sort the high-performing books from the low-performing books.

Thomas: This is important even for traditional authors. As you’re gathering comparable titles for your proposal, you might search Amazon for bestselling books in your genre. Amazon will produce a bestseller list for you, but it’s only the books that are on the bestseller list that hour.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that those books are actually selling well all year. If a book club is starting and all the members bought the book in an afternoon, that book will appear in the top slot of the list. But tomorrow, that title won’t even be on the list. You need to know who’s selling a lot of books over time, and it’s almost impossible to gather that good data manually.

Alex: We cannot and would not gather data by the hour because it would be a violation of Amazon’s terms of service. But we do visit the site periodically over a longer period to find out how certain books are selling after two, four, or six weeks.

Then we start compiling the report that shows the sales rank average that distinguishes the one-hit-wonders from those with sustainable sales.

Each book comes with a title, cover, description, reviews, editorial reviews, and price, and each of those pieces contains information about characters, tropes, and genre.

They might mention the type of main characters, such as a single dad, a billionaire, or a mafia boss. Every piece of information is attached to that sales rank and pricing information. With this data, you can determine whether a billionaire romance with a dark cover sells better or worse than a billionaire romance with a couple on the cover.

With our data, you can make the same kinds of comparisons for many dimensions of a book’s data: tropes, characters, worlds, genre, definitions, cover Q versus non-Q, and series versus standalone books.

This is your language. We bring the quantitative insight to help inform your decisions about all those factors to increase the odds of success based on current supply and demand in the reader market.

Thomas: It’s helpful to be able to have data about which covers sell best. K-lytics reports help authors determine which book covers with various cover elements sell better. You can hand that information to your designer so that your design is based on science, not opinion.

Many authors get a cover that they think is beautiful, but it’s not a cover that helps them sell copies of the book. This data will help your designer create a cover that will sell copies of your book.

It will also help you provide better feedback on iterations of the design. If you haven’t studied design and don’t have a professional background in design, it can be scary to provide cover-design feedback. The k-lytics report gives you safety rails. It doesn’t guarantee that your bowling ball will knock down all the pins, but it will keep it out of the gutter.

You’ll also know which cover elements to emphasize. If you’re writing romance and trying to decide whether your guy is going to be a billionaire or a medical doctor, you can consult the report to find out which type of main character is getting more sales.

How do k-lytics reports help you see which aspects are more competitive?

Alex: There are about 30 main categories, or genres, like romance, sci-fi and fantasy, and mystery thriller suspense for fiction and self-help, business, and law for nonfiction. You can look at comparative data and trends for each. You want to understand the megatrends in the main categories, especially when it comes to pricing information.

All these categories come with subcategories or microgenres. Some subcategories have sub-subcategories, where Amazon provides a very granular segmentation of the market. There are more than 7,000 Kindle categories.

Thomas: Amazon uses the word categories, but it’s the same concept as genre in the bookstore. Often, the differences between microgenres are minor. And yet, changing something as simple as one character’s occupation can have a huge impact on your sales.

Alex: In library terminology, genre determines the aisle and shelf where the book is shelved. 

Because these books are being sold, every genre and subgenre has a market.

Once you enter a market, whether you’re self-published, hybrid, or traditionally published, you operate in a market. And whether you like it or not, a market operates under the simple law of supply and demand. There may be a supply of thousands of romance books but only a few books on how to grow a bonsai tree.

On the demand side, you need to know what people are actually buying and spending their money on.

K-lytics was born to help you answer the following questions:

  • Which genres have high sales but are not yet overcrowded?
  • Which supply and demand elements are trending up or down?
  • What price point is currently best for your genre and goals?

We began six years ago when authors were starting to “write to market.” Many authors and artists will say, “I don’t want to bend myself. I want to write my inspiration and the stories, characters, and worlds that come to me. I don’t want to distort my artistry with anything commercial.”

Thomas: That’s a very self-centered way to approach your art. If you want to write the kinds of books that people want to read, you need to write the kinds of books that people already want to read. That’s my phrase for “write to market,” which is writing the kind of book that people want to read.

Alex: The market is the market, and the numbers are the numbers. You need to bring three things to the market.

  • A love and passion for your genre of choice,
  • The specific knowledge you need to write it with credibility
  • The specific craft skills that are required for the genre

K-lytics can help you overlay the market with your passion, knowledge, and craft, and that’s where a sweet spot is created that increases your odds of success.

How can k-lytics increase these odds of success? 

Alex: We look at markets, and we start with category data. Maybe you’re a mystery writer, and you like paranormal elements with a bit of romance. That is a great starting point. But if you want to write-to-market, you can ask, “What are the highest-selling microgenres in mystery thriller suspense?” and “Am I writing a women’s fiction type of mystery, or is it a thriller or an espionage?”

The category data can tell you what’s trending in the paranormal genre. Is it vampires or shifters? Angels or Witches? Once we know what is trending, we use that category data to point you in a direction that will increase your chances of success based on what’s selling now.

There is always the argument that super high trending books pollute the categories. Maybe there’s one big seller in the mystery thriller suspense>crime>organized crime category. But if you look into it, the whole trend is driven by Mafia romance titles, which is currently a huge trend.

Dark Mafia romance is the offshoot of billionaire romance. In dark Mafia romance, the money comes from shady endeavors in the drug market instead of a corporate CEO.

This year we created a specialized report on paranormal women’s fiction. We saw collaboration between clever, big-name authors from the overcrowded paranormal romance market and the overcrowded urban fantasy market. Together they created a new genre called paranormal women’s fiction.

These authors are women in midlife, 45 years and older, and they have specific challenges in their own lives. They want to write about these challenges and be inspiring to women of that age, too.

Typical urban fantasy paranormal romance book covers have a glowing, leather-clad chick with sharp-edged weapons slaying vampires at night and working at Starbucks by day. That’s not the audience these authors want to reach.

They came up with this new marketing term, paranormal women’s fiction, and then we reported which covers, stories, and tropes sell better than others.

Thomas: I love the idea of using this data to identify opportunities to create new sub-subgenres or genres for which there is high demand. In every overloaded genre, there is room for a breakout genre to extend from that genre. It’s like a tree whose branches keep splitting off.

This information can mean the difference between writing a book blind or knowing what the market wants. You may want to write the book that’s in your heart, but you need to know what information you’re ignoring.

I was exchanging emails with an author a couple of weeks ago, and he said he purposefully didn’t write to market. In fact, while he was doing his book launch, I challenged him on it. I told him he needed to create a book that people wanted to read.

He chose to write the book he wanted. His launch wasn’t successful, and he was really discouraged. He was expecting people who didn’t exist to appear and want his book, and that’s not how the world works. 

You have to write for people as they are. You have to write a book they actually want to read, and you need to find out what they want in order to write something that will satisfy them.

Alex: I agree. You must also be open to a concept which I call “try-to-be-better-than-others.” You don’t necessarily have to be different than others. Authors, musicians, and business people talk about differentiation. They want to stand out.

But when your cover stands out, it may not communicate the genre of your book, and that makes your cover a total failure. You differentiate in the market by being the best at what others are doing.

If you want commercial success quickly, you don’t have to curtail your creativity, but you must package it correctly. The Procter and Gamble washing powder commercial is probably exactly the same as it was 20 years ago because it directly addresses the pain point, and that’s what sells.

Thomas: You’re saying that you should have the best cup of coffee rather than trying to be a coffee alternative. Trying to get people to drink tea instead of coffee is a hard sell. But if you say, “Hey, you’re already drinking coffee every morning. My coffee is better than that coffee. You should try it.” If your coffee really is the best, they’ll switch to drinking your coffee.

Let’s talk about the k-lytics genre report. I often recommend beginning authors begin their market research with a k-lytics genre report. If you’re putting together a book proposal for a traditional publisher, a genre report is really helpful. If you’re an indie author, genre reports will help you understand what genre you’re writing.

What is a genre report?

Alex: A genre report is a PDF you can download from our website. Every report comes with a 45-minute video where I lead you through the research results, showing you how to read, interpret, and act on the information.

The reports include the following elements and more:

  • Typical pain points you want to solve for the genre.
  • Our virtual bestseller list, based on clean data compiled over time.
  • Book descriptions for the top 100 titles
  • Long-term demand for the genre in past decades
  • Top categories used by top books in the genre
  • Trends based on categories
  •  List of overcrowded and undercrowded genres
  • Trending elements in cover art
  • Five-year sales trends that show acceleration or slow-down in a genre
  • High-volume keywords people use to search on Amazon
  • Word length and page length recommendations for the genre
  • Likelihood of success inside and outside of Kindle Unlimited
  • Genre sales evaluation (Are sales driven by one main book, or does the market have a longtail?)

For example, two years ago when Ready Player One was the highest-selling book for a whole year on Amazon, it was the reason RPG game lit market was hot. But there are only a few writers who can pull that into the mainstream. Individual titles such as Pretty Play got really high in the charts. The top ten titles make money. But then you have a drop-off, which tells you that unless you’re amongst those top twenty titles, you’re likely in oblivion.

Thomas: That’s extremely useful to know because some markets have only one popular author, and readers don’t switch from that popular author to other authors. In other markets, such as romance, people read the most popular authors, and then they start looking for other authors to read.

You might be writing in a market you believe is really hot, but if you look at the k-lytics report, you’ll discover it’s just Ted Decker and nobody else. It will be much harder to sell books in Ted Decker’s market than it would be in a market with many popular authors.

It’s also important to know the appropriate length or word count for your genre. If readers expect 50,000 words, they will happily read book after book in a series. But if you’ve written 70,000 words, they may lose interest and drop off. Those extra 20,000 words can be the difference between pulling somebody through your series or not. K-lytics data will tell you what length pulls people through a series.

Alex: Many authors wonder how to price their book as well. The data can tell you that most books in a particular genre are priced at $3.99. We can see what volume of books sells at various price points. The data may suggest that the highest yielding price point is perhaps $4.99.

We can aggregate the data by category, price point, page length, and author name. We’re not producing the authoritative ranking, but we produce annual reports. We have five or six editions of these annual reports for some genres, and it’s interesting to see certain authors on the list year after year.

We list those authors with links to their author pages, which saves you a lot of time if you’re looking for inspiration or collaboration. We can sort the authors by indie, traditional, hybrid, or by publisher so that you can reach out to other authors.

The boundary between data and creativity starts to blend when we use text-mining, a technical term for looking for specific words and phrases that appear more than once in titles and descriptions. We can associate those words and phrases with the sales ranks, and that allows you to determine the most popular characters in various genres.

You can ask, “What is the highest-selling male character? Is it a cowboy, a businessman, or a single dad?” The data will tell you.

Thomas: I’m looking at the report right now for urban fantasy, and demon is a more popular word than dragon.

Alex: From a commercial point of view, it’s interesting, but from the creative point of view, it can be an easy adjustment. You don’t have to rewrite your whole book. Sometimes it’s just a matter of using your find-and-replace feature. If you can tweak it to make your villain a demon instead of a dragon, you’ll increase your chances of success.

Thomas: The PDF report and accompanying video can get your creative juices flowing in the right direction and help you realize that maybe goblins aren’t a good villain right now. But if you put a goblin in your book anyway, you’ll do it knowing the data.

Alex: Some people tell me that looking at the data spurs creative impulses and sparks ideas. Your writing becomes more fluid because you’re writing with confidence. If you inform the decision with numbers, you can save a lot of headaches.

Thomas: Alex and I will be hosting a webinar on September 2, 2021, at 2:00 p.m. CST where we’ll talk more about trends, but what are some of the big trends you’ve noticed recently?

Alex: After 15 months of pandemic turmoil, the climate for books is still great. The book market, and especially the e-book market, has been a big beneficiary of this whole crisis. We just looked at the numbers, and we had 25% growth in the e-book market for the first six months of 2020, and we’re still projecting a high double-digit growth for 2021. 

These projections have proved pretty reliable. It’s a great economic environment out there for books because people still read. The total growth percentage has declined a bit from 25% to 18%, but it’s still growing.

Which genres benefited from changes induced by the pandemic?

Thomas: Which genres benefited most from the lifestyle change induced by the pandemic? Are certain stories are resonating more than others?

Alex: Overall, the big fiction genres have won. Romance sales have increased. Mystery thriller suspense and sci-fi fantasy have had good, stable sales. Overall, the sales have seen a strong uptick ever since last July.

Darker reads like dystopian, post-apocalyptic, and horror have lost market share. Uplifting literature like romantic comedy, humor, and escapist fantasy has gained market share.

Thomas: That’s fascinating, and it makes sense. People feel that real life is dark and scary enough, and they don’t want to read dark, depressing stories. They want to escape from the depressing news. Because of the last two years of news, people want to read something light and fluffy right now.

Alex: Exactly. Especially in those genres, which were already trending down for other reasons, the pandemic was an accelerator of the decline. For example, horror had a good ten-year trend on the back of The Walking Dead. When the pandemic hit, people lost interest in catastrophes and post-apocalyptic worlds. It created a double whammy effect for those genres and categories.

Webinar Info

We’ll dive into more of these trends in our webinar on September 2, 2021, at 2:00 p.m. US Central Time, and we’ll have a replay.

Webinar Info:

Mike Manoske, author of The Job Search Manifesto (Affiliate Link) 

This book is a step-by-step approach to job hunting, acing that interview, negotiating the raise you deserve, and making the career moves that will bring you to where you want to be.

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