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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31 thoughts on “Three Ways Marketing Fiction Differs from Marketing Nonfiction

  1. Great post, Joanna. Fiction is a whole different animal in the Kindle Marketplace than Non-Fiction. It’s harder to be found via keyword, and the categories are broader and much more competitive. Your cover, title, and description need to be compelling to grab readers attention quickly. The best strategy that I’ve heard, like you alluded to, is to write a lot of books and get them up quickly.

    A couple of great ebooks on the subject are John Locke’s, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months, and How To Sell Fiction On Kindle, by Michael Alvear. Michael’s book is a great resource since he has a listing of all of the current fiction categories on Amazon so you can fine tune your keywords better and select the exact category you want to rate for..

    1. Thanks John, and I do credit Michael Alvear for the keyword tip – however, he also recommends buying reviews and writing fake reviews (at least he did in the version I bought) which I don’t agree with – so it is important to decide on the ethical approach to a book’s marketing. Weigh up everyone’s advice! (and I include mine in that too!)

      1. So true, Joanna. I know Michael Alvear took a lot of flack for that review strategy. What worked for some of these authors a year or two ago, will not work now. Amazon is now forbidding authors in the same genre from reviewing other authors books. Amazon seems to be focusing on the more traditional publishers lately and reducing what the indie publisher can do via HTML, but overall, the Kindle marketplace is still wide open. One piece of advice I heard, was to try and get at least three fiction titles up, so the marketplace and publishers will take you seriously. For me, this means focusing on shorter books, creating a series, and aiming to publish two or three in a year. John Locke creates a new title every eight to ten weeks, but that would severely limit the quality of writing.

        I just picked up a copy of your book, and am devouring your content. I really love some of your fiction recommendations. Great ideas!

        1. Thanks John, and yes, one of the most important things is more content, so trying novellas is a good strategy as long as you price them appropriately. Evidence seems to suggest that $2.99 for a novella is about as high as you can go for fiction at least – and many, even big name authors, are at 99c – which of course makes less money! Having a mix of both is good – and remember, we’re in this for the long term!

  2. This was an invaluable post Joanna – I’m a non-fiction writer and still found it invaluable. I’m writing a non-fiction book now which I will likely be self-publishing and am really new at this, so really useful to pick up all these tips. Issue with book titles interests me – how do you know what makes a good book title, as opposed to a bad one? Any key elements? Things to avoid?

    Might well be reading your blog and possibly your book on this – thanks for sharing with us, and thanks Jeff for allowing Joanna to post here. Really useful post.

    1. Thanks James – for non-fiction the book title, or at least the sub-title should use keywords for your target market. You can research that on Google Keyword Tool and then using the Amazon auto-populate function to find what are good terms. Many non-fiction authors make the mistake of naming books with something funky or cool, rather than keyword specific, and then wonder why the sales drop off when their own audience has all bought the book. If you use keywords, your book will always sell to people who want to learn about that topic. In this article, i go into it in detail

      1. Thanks for the heads up Joanna, really appreciate it – will definitely be heeding this advice when naming my book. I have a title already, and it does have some key words in the audience I’m looking at, but will definitely be examining this. Thanks, have downloaded the free book already. Appreciate you taking the time to respond too, thanks.

  3. Great post, Joanna and very helpful. As an aspiring novelist, currently working on a first draft, I’m still debating self-publishing vs seeking traditional publishing. I just went to your blog and subscribed.

    1. Thanks Joan – there are definitely a lot of pros and cons either way with self-publishing and trad. But remember that it doesn’t have to be either/or these days – you can self-pub and move into trad later, you can aim for trad and give it 6 months of trying and then self-pub, you can trad and self-pub future books … and lots of successful indies get book deals (or turn them down as they love being indie!) So please don’t think there is only one path these days – it’s an AMAZING time to be an author!

  4. I found this very useful, though I do wonder how much the title keyword advice can really be used in fiction. Most fiction books aren’t so bluntly named bc they don’t want to give away the plot. Something to think about for me, as now I think my working title may mislead readers. Hmm.

    1. Hi April – the keyword advice is not meant to be used for fiction titles – as they are usually completely unrelated 🙂 BUT/ when you self-publish a book you have a chance to populate 7 keyword/phrases as part of the upload to help people find your book – so I used keywords like freemasons, ark of the covenant, jerusalem, psychology of religion – for my book Exodus – but only in the keywords in the backend metadata and the description (naturally though not as a list!) Everything helps – but for fiction, the keywords are NOT generally for the title.

  5. Thanks for the insights. I’ve chosen my niches carefully, and I’m working to get a professional cover and an editor for my first book. I’m glad to see that on one list, anyway, I’m focusing on the right things.

    1. That’s fantastic Katy! Yes, a pro cover and editor are definitely the best things to invest in. All the best with it 🙂

      1. Thanks. Since I started to think about publishing, I’ve been following you and Joel Friedlander. I read your recent book, and have kind of been following your suggestions step-by-step. I still don’t get Twitter, but I’m out there trying. And at this point, the audio isn’t happening, but I’m not saying never. I am looking at doing one of the “videos” for my novel, where I give them the cover and some words, and they put a short snippet together. I saw one and liked it.

        1. Audio is definitely an advanced strategy Katy, and if Twitter isn’t for you – don’t worry – stick with FB or G+ or one of the other networks. There are no hard and fast rules, you just need a way to communicate with people who like your books. It took me several years of trying different things to find my ‘groove’ 🙂

  6. Joanna, good to see you frolicking in Jeff’s joint. I’ve gained a lot of understanding of new publishing from reading your materials over the last year. I had an absolutely flat reaction from a KDP giveaway (8,000+ downloads) of my self-pubbed novel, hoping it might bring some reviews that in turn would spur sales of my small-press pubbed short story collection. Wrong.

    But some onus is on me certainly in that I hadn’t established a fan base to begin with. Thanks for your consistently good info.

    1. KDP Select free giveaways are not what they used to be since the ‘flattening’ effect of the algorithm change, and I don’t think they were ever good for reviews – but you can still get good borrow income, and some people use it for cycling books through. Personally, I make good money on Kobo so I like to be more than exclusive. For reviews, it’s best to target your list or individual review sites and bloggers.

  7. Very practical stuff here! Thanks so much. I may be making this transition myself in the next year.

  8. This advice is spot on and I signed up for your email list and subscribed to your podcast. Too often people ask and look for that “one thing” but it’s not just one thing, it’s all of these things working together. I also find when you throw in some freebies for a purchase, people respond 🙂

  9. Checked out your book on Amazon – looks great. Had to laugh at the only one-star review…those are always a riot. Looks like you are living your dream – well done.

    1. Thanks Tom – it’s important to get 1 star reviews 🙂 Makes it all look the more real! and yes, since Sept 2011, I’ve been living my personal dream – but it took quite a long time to get there!

  10. Great article. I think a bit of this applies to marketing fine art to some degree, as weird as that sounds.

    1. Hi Brad – not weird at all! I actually think that most of what I have learned about marketing applies to all small businesses, and creative work is just like any other business! by the way, did you see that Amazon has now opened up into fine art – with galleries right now, but hopefully they will open up to independent artists over time

      1. Yeah, I’ve heard about Amazon selling art from galleries, and even Walmart has dabbled in it. I think a lot of the problem selling art online is it involves one-offs unless you’re working with prints or some other type of copy. It generally doesn’t scale, since you aren’t getting paid multiple times for something like you would with a book.

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