Three Ways Marketing Fiction Differs from Marketing Nonfiction

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Joanna Penn, who is the author of Career Change and also writes the bestselling ARKANE thrillers under J.F.Penn. Her blog was voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for writers three years in a row. You can connect with her on Twitter @thecreativepenn.

For nonfiction writers, an author’s platform is gold. And for good reason: it can sell a lot of books. But over the past five years, as I’ve transitioned from authoring nonfiction advice books to writing thrillers, I've had to learn how to spread my message all over again.

I've also discovered three significant differences between fiction and nonfiction book marketing.

Fiction book
Photo Credit: sapheron via Compfight cc

Fiction readers discover books on book sites

Fiction readers shop at bookstores for their next read and pay attention to genre-specific book bloggers they trust.

But in general, they find plenty to read right on their devices (i.e. Kindles and iPads) and book sites. Remember: You can never sell as many books as online bookstores (e.g. Amazon), so try to optimize your presence there.

To begin, focus on the fundamentals of a good book page, which include:

You also need to ensure your book is well-edited with a brilliant sample, as fiction readers are brutal when it comes to the number of clicks they will tolerate in a book before deleting. Make sure you hook them early on!

These might not sound like marketing tools, but they are actually the most critical aspects for fiction authors, as they ensure your book is discovered by the masses. Non-fiction authors should also pay attention to these fundamentals, too, since keyword optimization alone can sell more books.

Amazon is one of the top three search engines in the world, so choosing a book title that's keyword-optimized is critical. When I changed my book title from How To Enjoy Your Job to Career Change I started to sell eight times as many books. It works.

Fiction readers shop in genres

We like thinking our writing is unique. But the truth is you must pick a specific genre to find your target audience. Of course, you can write crossover fiction, but when your book is published it has to be loaded with the categories already attached.

If you’re self-publishing, you get two category choices, so you have to decide up front. Categories on book sites are also where readers shop and have expectations for a certain genre, so this helps guide them.

If you don’t know where you belong, pick three to five books like yours and see what categories they fall in. Then go from there. You can also use this information to help target book bloggers and top reviewers in a genre.

If you choose the right category and continue to rank well over time, your book will keep selling.

For example, my ARKANE thrillers generally do well in the Religious Fiction and Action/Adventure niches, but ‘Thriller” is too broad a category to rank in against well-known authors.

Picking the right genre or category can mean the life or death of your book (in terms of sales).

Fiction readers are sensitive but voracious

When it comes to price, fiction readers are super sensitive. So be careful, especially if you're coming from a nonfiction background.

Nonfiction authors can charge higher prices for their books because:

  1. People will pay more for material they can act on and that helps them.
  2. It’s a genre norm.
  3. Authors can build a reputation through their platform and people will buy their books at a higher price because of that status.

Fiction readers are voracious. If your readers are buying five to ten eBooks a week (as many do), the price of your book needs to be low enough to attract that kind of reader.

Romance readers, in particular, devour books. Which is why it's the largest selling eBook category and where you'll find the lowest price points. In my experience, though, fiction sells in greater volume than nonfiction, so you can still make more money at a lower price.

However, it’s important to write more books to satisfy a hungry audience and to occupy more “shelf space,” which creates opportunities for discoverability. If you have more books available, it's also easier to play with price points.

Free can be great, too, but it usually only works if you have a longer series and the freebie is the entry point.

In recent changes to their algorithm, Amazon’s KDP Select promotions have had less of an effect on subsequent sales than they used to. But authors who have their first book on perma-free (which you can do through price-matching on Smashwords) are still seeing growth in their fan base.

So when it comes to making the jump from nonfiction to fiction, remember these fundamentals so you can tackle your first novel and market it well. They should get you started with spreading your story to a brand-new audience. Good luck!

Note: Joanna's book, How to Market A Book, is out now and already an Amazon #1 best seller. You can buy the book on Amazon, or if you want more marketing information every month, you can check out the premium course.

What questions/comments do you have about marketing fiction and nonfiction books? Share in the comments.

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Joanna Penn is the author of Career Change. She also writes the bestselling ARKANE thrillers under J.F.Penn. Joanna’s site for writers has been voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for writers and offers content on writing, publishing, and book marketing. Connect with her on Twitter @thecreativepenn.

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