8 out of 10 authors I work with have done zero research into authors comparable to themselves. If they did, here are a few things they would learn:
- How do they market their book?
- Do they have a website?
- Do they blog and if so, what do they blog about?
- Do they have a mailing list? If so, how do they use it?
- How do they talk about themselves?
- Where else do they sell their book(s)?
- What groups/associations/relationships do they have?
- How do they use social media? Which ones? How do they use them?
- How do they categorize, and describe, their book?
- How do they use AuthorCentral?
- How do they use Goodreads?
- What other authors are similar to this author!? Rinse, and repeat.
These are just the starting points. Once you start studying your “comparables” you are sure to discover additional facts and marketing approaches to study further.
As soon as I bring this to their attention, light bulbs go off. “Of course, it makes complete sense.” But it’s the next step that gives most authors pause: how to find people similar to us.
Amazon is an obvious starting point, but is it the best?
Using Amazon to find fellow, successful self-published authors depends on your writing topics. Even then, you don’t have to limit your research to self-published authors.
Narrow genre fiction and self-help/how-to categories seem to have a lot of self-published authors. They may not be best-sellers, but you should be able to find more than a few in the top 20 or 40 books on any given day.
Look up books in the categories that match your writing. You are looking at author names, and clicking those to read their author profiles. You are scrolling down to look at book details to see who publishes the book. If it says “CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform” or Amazon, it’s self-published. If not, use your judgement and keep going. This isn’t an excuse to stop.
Keep detailed notes; especially their website and social media accounts. Research the authors that seem most interesting to you, and answer the questions at the top of this post.
Next up, put authors aside and use Google
Everyone’s favorite search engine is an obvious place to search, but it’s like drinking from a firehose if you don’t get creative with your search terms. Here are a few simple tips:
- Forget trying to find authors and instead search by topic or subject. The reality is that this has the benefit of surfacing the popular authors or experts for these subjects, which might be better than any Amazon search anyway. Not all leading experts or key influencers have written books. Use 2 or 3 word search terms that describe your genre, business, or focus.
- Refine your Google web searches. My go-to search tricks are to put quotes around terms to find an exact match, and use a minus sign to exclude words from search results. There are many more you can use to narrow search results and this Google Search Help page describes the most common search tricks. Print it out or bookmark it.
- Try adding similar to in front of a popular author’s name. Most of the time the results will be from Reddit and Goodreads where word-of-mouth is king. But if your Amazon or earlier Google research turned up interesting authors, this is a great hack to dig up more information about that author.
Use Twitter search, no tweeting required
This is actually my favorite way to find topic experts, especially when I have no clue where to begin.
- It’s timely. Twitter asks us: “What’s happening”, as in right now. And unlike Google, Twitter makes it easy to reliably narrow down results to specific time periods.
- It’s less filtered than Google search. Google exerts editorial control over the results we see. Not in the traditional sense, but their computer algorithms are constantly evaluating information sources using more than 200 ranking factors to deliver the most relevant results for a specific query (in their opinion). Larger brands and sophisticated operators can game the results or quickly adjust to Google’s algorithms (fake news anyone?).
- It’s about people and conversations. On Twitter, it is all about people and conversations and Twitter makes it super easy to search by keywords and hashtags. Enter a topic, click People, and begin exploring profiles.
What Twitter lacks in presentation style can be excused in favor of its real-time stream of consciousness. Tapping into that stream of consciousness is where the magic can happen.
What might an author or publisher use it for?
Twitter is like “Google-unplugged”, a more natural and earthy experience if you will. But just like we’ve learned to manage Google search , you’ll be exploring new people and new content in no time. For example, you can search for:
- Profiles of people.
- Recent news about specific topics.
- Ideas for articles and blog posts.
I met with a client the other day and her specialty is talent acquisition, specifically helping women re-enter the workforce. In less than 3 minutes, I found a comparable professional with the same focus, in the same city. It also turns out that she is speaking at a World Woman Summit this September at the Clinton Library in Arkansas, something neither of us were aware of.
Max Robinson of AimesMedia in the UK used Twitter for similar people research, this time to help market a book. He told me that…
“We use Twitter extensively when trying to track down influencers. For a client who was launching a book on the back of a successful film release, we once contacted the actor who was playing the lead and asked for a retweet. They duly obliged, and retweeted the link to their followers (over 1 million). Sometimes you just need to ask politely! Because the actor was passionate about the film, they were more than happy to promote the original source material.”
The basics of Twitter search
The research process and options for searching on Twitter are easier when using a computer so be sure not to try this on your smartphone. Here are the basics:
- Type your query in the search box at the top and click the magnifying glass.
- You can type a name, a username, a hashtag or a short phrase (keywords). Putting quotes around a term will find that exact term in your search, just like it does on Google.
- On the search results page, the word Top will be underlined, instead click People. Read the profiles of the people in the results.
- If you want to narrow it further, click the word Show next to Search filters and it will expand as you see above (the word Show changes to Hide). Now click Advanced search and it will open a new window.
- Alternatively, you can simply visit this link to take you directly to advanced search: https://twitter.com/search-advanced).
Time for homework
To repeat, you don’t need an author name for this exercise to yield dividends because not all experts or influencers have written books.
The goal of this exercise is to learn from those that have gone before us, discover new ideas, and possibly even make new friends. Do this to find comparable authors, and experts doing work similar to what you do.
In my Getting Started with Email Marketing guide I have a section called the 3 most common misconceptions holding authors back from starting a mailing list. One of them is what to talk about.
The advice there also applies here. I can’t think of a better way to learn about another author than to join their mailing list. I’ll close with…
My 3-step advice for developing a plan:
- Visit your book’s category on Amazon and find the top 20 or so best-selling books.
- Now research those authors to see if they have a mailing list, and join it. Personally, I’d aim for a range of authors to learn from. The emerging author is probably doing everything herself while someone like Stephen King has staff helping him. Both are instructive for our purposes.
- Now wait to see what shows up, and how frequently.
How do you find authors similar to you?
Feature photo credit: Alena Kraft