Who’s talking about me?

Remember when you were in primary school, stuck with all these other people you weren’t terribly fond of due to being the same age, and rumours started flying? Remember the interesting hoops people jumped through in order to learn what other people were saying about them behind their back?

Yeah, remember this time, before your self-doubt starts eating you alive, remember that as an author, it’s not about you, it’s only about your books! Seriously.

This isn’t about reviews, per se, it’s about something much more basic than that: who are fans of your writing? What else do they like? What is the best way to attract more people like them?

It’d be completely lovely if we could wave a magic wand and get, along with out sales numbers, a report saying “This book/series is popular with Women in 25-50 age range, this demographic, who are also fans of the blah-blah, yadda-yadda, and ba-dum-tss genres. They will cheerfully pay up to $8.99 for your books, and can be most easily reached via X channel.”

Back here in the really real world, *sigh*… Okay, so how do we find out who’s reading our books?
1.) Read the reviews, skipping anything under 3 stars. Or have someone else read the reviews. Probably someone else. Because you’re not looking for what they think of your book, so much as you’re looking for:
A.) What books/shows/movies do they compare your book to? What genre / subgenre are they?
B.) When you click on the reviewer name, it brings up a profile of what else they’ve reviewed lately. Skip the people who haven’t reviewed other books. You’re looking for: what other books did they like enough to review, and what genre / subgenre are they?

2.) On your Amazon Author Page, if you’ve sold enough books, you’ll get a “readers also bought books by these authors”.
A.) Are they in a distinct social network with you? (People who buy my books also buy other Mad Genius Club member’s books. This is awesome, glad you like us – thanks for giving us a read! This also means I may not be your usual fare.)
B.) If not, what genres / subgenres do they write in?

3.) On each of your book’s page, check the also-bought page (or also-viewed). (You used to be able to do this with YASIV, but it’s broken now, so we’re back to doing it the hard way.)
A.) Is the author in a social network with you?
B.) If not, start noting down the genre/subgenre, title and author of each book.

4.) Now, on to Goodreads! Again, looking for what your reviewers like to read, and here you can also see if your books have been put in any lists by readers.

If you’re noting that I’m asking about genre/subgenre a lot, that’s because that’s the best way I’ve found to categorize your readers, and to figure out what they’re looking for in your books – or what appeals to them.

For example, I have a distinct chunk of readers who overlap with scifi romance. Even though mine are much more thriller with a romance subplot, and if you ever catch me posting books with nekkid alien male torso covers, send a kidnapping extraction team. Still, this lets me know that at least that chunk of my audience is totally fine with one protagonist looking at the other and going “She’s the one. She just doesn’t know it yet. At least I have the tactical advantage of surprise…”

I may be yelling at the male character about his decision, but they’re not. Fine. They’re happy!

I also have a much larger chunk of readers who mainly read LitRPG. In fact, once of the reviews that mightily confused me on Shattered Under Midnight referred to it as “a good dungeon crawl.” Once I realized this was a meant as a genre term, not referencing actual dungeon, I was much less confused. These folks like the pacing and the tactically correct small group action just fine, even if they don’t care for the romance.

Knowing this, my first step is to wonder if I can keyword in those genres. …Probably not, since it’s not actually in them. While I have a romance subplot, I don’t have any smut, and a quick look at a the genre’s full array of top 100 bestsellers with all the nekkid alien male torsos and promises of hot smutty sex in detail therein is enough to leave me going “Self, back away slowly. Don’t make any sudden moves; they might notice you, and then the one stars will come out…”

They read me. But they also complain my “steam factor” is “too low.” I think I don’t want to play in their nuclear steam reactor… I mean, their genre.

Similarly, LitRPG reads me, but I don’t have all the reader cookies and tropes they like.Certainly I’m not running a virtual world, and my characters aren’t gamers. So, keywording into the genre would be miscategorization, and I’m not going to do that.

However, I know they read me. So if and when I run ads, I know where I can advertise, and what I’ll have to slant the ad copy toward to hook them in. Highly useful, that.

Also, I can look at those genres and see what they normally pay for ebooks, and the lengths they read, and know what I can get away with as “what the market will bear.”

And… at least I know they like the books? I mean, I’m not going all “You like me! You really, really like me!” here, but hey, they read the books, and sometimes they even work their way through everything I have, even though I can’t do series or sequels to save my life? There’s something a little heartwarming about that.

Because in the end, the scars of school might still be there, and I still have a hard time separating people liking or hating my books from a judgement on me. Hope you are all better at that than me!

29 comments

  1. As a corollary to the “the same, only different” approach that conventional publishers like, many an agent, before agreeing to represent a book, would ask the author “Whose books does it most resemble?” Apparently, it was an effective tactic for getting publishers to take you seriously. What effect it might have had on the new writer’s sales is unclear.

    1. What’s the classic pitch? “Pride And Prejudice meets the Brothers Grimm” — and frankly, the works are often off-the-wall.

  2. Somehow I find it unsurprising that you are a “big data analysis” kind of person. And I hope you are successful at it, despite the data quality issues you are likely to encounter. But I also want to point out that you may be in the process of creating a new genre. You writing is excellent, but despite the fact I read quite a bit, I have trouble easily characterizing your work. If you define a new genre (by describing the kinds of books you are interested in writing, and providing a label for those kinds of books) then it will be easier for me to describe your work to others. I will just use your term, and when they google it (which most people do with new terms) they will come to your description. And think how cool it will be to be the originator of a new genre (or sub-genre, if you are feeling less ambitious). πŸ™‚

    Regardless, I hope to see many more novels from you.

    1. Ah genre creation! Back in the day it was fiction and non-fiction. Then speculative fiction. Then science fiction and fantasy, and then businesses wanted to market and unleashed chaos upon the land.

      OK, not quite, but it seems like that some days, reading the history of the field. Several years ago, China Mieville and a few other authors who write literary fantasy fiction tried to claim “speculative fiction” in order to separate themselves from urban fantasy [but your book is set in a city and has all the tropes!] and other sub-genres. I’m not sure it worked.

      1. I’ve always liked the term “speculative fiction” as the umbrella term for sci-fi/fantasy, especially since I like to blend the genres (have a sci-fi novel with a ghost, or a fantasy novel where they eventually develop space flight…) However, I think you’re right that the term tends to be appropriated by the, “I’m a Real Writer, so I couldn’t possible be writing fantasy” crowd.

        1. I use “spec fic” to describe “everything that isn’t bog-standard vanilla fiction.” So, Bridge to Terabithia would not fit, but that Chesterton short story with the mecha-butler would, as would the one-point-of-buy-in change like “mystic eastern arts” or, for that matter, Sherlock Holmes’ observation science magic.

          Change one thing, and this is what happens.

          This came in part out of noticing that most of the “fantasy” buttons are hit in stories looking at people-changes for their ‘then what?’ and “scifi” stories are looking at technology-changes for their “then what?”
          Which lead into looking at techno-thrillers and trying to classify those….

          1. And yes, the phrase “science fantasy” did come up to describe that scifi that included People Don’t Work That Way type world-building.

            Which got some folks in the discussion angry, but if recognized as being a sort of term-of-art use of the phrases to divorce emotional reactions, still a useful classification.

    2. You know, there are days where I worry that I don’t fit close enough to established genres.
      There are days where I say “I don’t care; I have a day job, so paying the mortgage isn’t dependent on this!”
      There are days where I’m all, “Okay, Cedar calls it tactical romance, and sure, why not?”
      There are days where I go “Oh, hell, am I a one-trick pony? Is this all I’ll ever do?”
      There are days where I laugh and go, “Lighten up, Francis! You’ve only written three books! Damn you must be a writer, you’re a neurotic ball of… something! Chill, dude!”

      …and then I promptly start fretting over “Will I ever learn to write a sequel?”

      1. “Tactical romance” — I like that!

        I have no idea how to categorize my own stuff either; I trawl Amazon’s notions and nothing fits. It’s a space opera setting, but mostly small personal stories (we barely even hear of the intermittent civil war). I finally decided it must be a new genre, “cozy space opera”. Or something. I don’t like that either but it’s at least semi-ballpark.

        As to How to Write a Sequel… this I do more naturally than breathing, thanks to a hypertrophied Node of Extrapolation. I call it the Stargate School of Plot Formation: EVERY loose end or offhand remark WILL come back to haunt you. I don’t have Chekhov’s Gun; I have Chekhov’s Whole Bloody Armory!

    3. > data quality

      Unfortunately, that may be the overriding factor.

      Of people I’ve known for decades in meatspace, who are also SF and adventure readers, we have very little overlap between our ideas of good and not-so-good books. Maybe three times out of four, what one thinks is outstanding, the rest say “whatever.”

      Of books I’ve read, that I’ve read reviews of online, I sometimes have difficulty even *recognizing* the book; what some people pull out of those poor pages of text can be radically different from what I get. It’s not just Narrative; some, I think, is preconceptions due to genre expectations and cover blurbs. That sets what they look for, and by damn they’re going to find it… even if it’s not really there.

      So, for values of ‘me as a reader’, reviews are definitely more of a liability than a useful resource; I’d probably get more-useful guidance by casting yarrow sticks.

      Or as programmers say, GIGO.

  3. LitRPG does not have to be virtual.

    It is simply that the wordbuilding for non-virtual LitRPG might really not be to your taste.

    Some of it is set in fantasy worlds that are not themselves virtual, but are shaped by being targeted at an audience which is most familiar with fantasy through the medium of console or computer RPGs. That audience is very willing to accept the conceit that there are fantasy worlds where ordinary people have access to an RPG video game user interface. Or there are things like Danmachi, where the writer does not expect the reader to accept the interface, but has worked to establish compatible contrivances.

    1. Clearly I haven’t read deeply enough into the genre! I have started picking up stuff at near-random, partially because I’m always engaged in the eternal quest for something good to read, and partially because I’m curious at what in the genre is like unto what I read, that readers enjoy both.

      1. Decent chance that the crossover is from fans of a subset of LitRPG.

        I think that while there may be LitRPG stories that have tactical excellence within the rules they have defined, it is not the whole genre. Tactical excellence, and story construction, are not things I have the best eye for.

        Thinking more carefully, Shattered really could read like a dungeon crawl. That last action sequence is in a tunnel complex, and you have a small group working their way through it.

        Series built around dungeon crawls do not necessarily only have dungeon crawl action. A dungeon sequence covering the climax of the story might well be within the genre.

        Yeah, I don’t know the LitRPG genre well enough to offer any suggestions about what you should do. Maybe the overlap in Shattered has to be considered an accident that you would not easily replicate, and maybe it does not.

        I think I could put together a reading list, but ‘ten things I’ve been into recently’ isn’t going to be comprehensive, systemic, or only good/better examples of the genre.

      2. Well, if you’re doing it randomly, I shall offer my limited experience: NPCs by Drew Hayes. I’m not sure how typical it is.

    2. I’ve read LitRPG from “every other page is a stat sheet” to “this is LitRPG??!”. I much prefer the latter. I find a lot of LitRPG conventions to simply be a way of info-dumping. Or short-cutting. Why describe what happens when you can just say “leveled up”?
      There is some series that had up to book eight in KU, then you needed buy the rest. I just stopped reading it. It was balanced well between LitRPG, which it most definitely was, and maintaining a narrative. There does seem to be a sub-genre with lots and lots of sex. It’s one of those, too, but it’s not explicit sex scenes, just frequent ones. All other identifying characteristics escape me. Something about gates or portals? I think “player-characters are brains in jars” was implied.
      In another neat LitRPG series, the game world was real and the magic was based on super advanced alien tech. Humans were trapped in this world/game by the aliens. You can guess where that goes. It, too, was fun to read, but a bit too RPGy for my taste; skipping the game stuff cut the book length by a lot. I recall neither title nor author, which is sad because the series may be complete by now. (But not sad enough to send me to Goodreads to dig through my reading history.)
      Michael Todd’s (Anderle undercover) Zoo series could very easily pass as LitRPG, even though there is no explicit “RPG” in it at all.

  4. “…a report saying β€œThis book/series is popular with…”

    Amazon actually has that report. They cross-reference every click you ever made on their website, and generate the I Know_Everything_ Report from it.

    There’s plenty of evidence that they also access Farcebook and Twitter/Instagram/Google/credit card/etc. data and generate Sauron’s All Seeing Eye. Even lowly retailer Target Stores can tell if your daughter is pregnant.

    https://phantomsoapbox.blogspot.com/2014/06/thought-crime-next-logical-step-in.html

    That Amazon won’t share any of this insight with the authors who produce the products they sell, even though it would be trivial, is something I find “interesting.” Lots and lots of “interesting” things going on in 2020.

    Like, given the for-real Eye of Sauron, how is it that the gubmint can’t bust a few rioters? Inquiring minds want to know.

    As far as the readers go, I don’t actually care what they want. The books come out the way they do because of my warped and deluded brain, not because of some Great Plan I concocted. (Don’t try this at home, its the Wrong Way to do it, I promise.)

    What would be nice is a way to connect with all the other warped and deluded people out there who want to read about cheeky robots blowing up monsters and then having Barbies vs. Hot Wheels parties afterward. (Yes, they do that. No, I don’t know why. I just roll with it.)

    1. I think a lot of us write what we want. The question is after we’ve done that, how do we find the readers who will like what we’ve written? Knowing that somewhere out there is a sub-genre that fits us (I’m still looking for other people who write legal science fiction) helps us know what kind of covers to commission and where to point our marketing and advertising.

    2. They can’t tell your daughter is pregnant.

      They can tell if your household is buying the same way that it would with a pregnant daughter.

      Their system can trigger patterns of buying– say, “one fancy set of baby clothes that say Grandma Rocks” is associated with a high rate of buying expensive shelf-toys at Christmas, while the same baby clothes that say “Awesome Auntie” is associated with obnoxiously loud toys, while buying 30 of plain white onesies gets you the ads for people who have a baby in the house. (Plain white onesies + fabric pens = non-obnoxious baby shower activity; bring out a book of quotations or some coloring pages if you’re worried folks won’t want to be creative.)

      People tend to notice when the pattern accurately predicts what they want, unless it is a really horribly impressively BAD prediction– like Facebook’s notion that liking Scifi, Fantasy, and Geeky stuff, and having at one point lived in the Seattle blob, means that I will like Seattle Progtards Who Think Obama Was A Far Right Extremist type groups.

      Or when absolutely everything on Netflix would show My Little Pony as a “because you watched, you may like” item, because all watching-patterns were viewing it.

  5. Or have someone else read the reviews. Probably someone else.

    You know, this could be a reader involvement type activity for this blog.

    That day’s author has a few books they’d like to ask folks to read the reviews and get the classification information off of, and open the floor for other authors to ask folks to classify their books.

    Workshop Wednesdays? /eh

    Could also put the monetization link in the book links, to get a little to defray the site costs if someone sees something they like. πŸ˜€

  6. I’ma just going to keep writing. Genre, smendre… My readers either like it or don’t… Coming out of niche writing (CORRECT guns/gun play), I don’t worry about it. sigh

  7. Same here, OldNFO. I’m way too old and cranky to try adjusting my writing to what I think some marketplace will buy. After a certain number of books, although I’m still trying to improve, to a large extent the way I write is the way I write and not much is going to change.

    By the way, Dorothy: try being married to a man who breaks out in mental hives at the thought of trying to read your new Regency fantasy romance. If I couldn’t separate “hates my book” from “loves me” we wouldn’t have stayed married all these years. (of course, it does help that he likes some of the books. The less goopy ones.)

  8. So, I wandered into the regional B&N today. Drifted back to the sci-fantasy-manga-low end gaming stuff corner, and looked at classifications. They have started trying to break things out more by basic genre: sic-fi, fantasy, horror, urban-fantasy, gaming-books (manuals, art books, that sort of thing. Not the novels).

    Larry C.’s new release is filed under sci-fi. Hard sci-fi titles sneak into fantasy (and Octavia Butler is in both, same book). The earlier books in Larry’s series are in fantasy. *shrug*

  9. I’ve been lurking for a while; this is my first comment. Yes, how do you find your niche readers?It’s such a challenge if you don’t fit neatly inside a genre.
    I like the ‘cozy space opera’ term. It’s right up there with Jane Austen in space.

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