Selecting a category and sub-category to write your novel in is similar to the process that you use to select a niche for your pen name, but quite a bit more specific. If you or your pen name write in a specific category as most authors do, you should be laser focused on that categories Top 100 list. It is your bible, because it is the perfect representation of what readers in that category want, and which covers/keywords/tropes/characters are popular with readers. There is so much information there that even experienced self-publishers ignore, to their enormous disadvantage.
First, think of what country you think you will sell the most books in, and switch over to the Amazon store for that country. The results are totally different in Sweden than in the UK, and if you’re writing a book set in the outskirts of Devon you might want to be studying your target audience specifically.
Since you’re focusing on one single category, it’s going to be smartest to spend a lot of time studying each individual book, as important pieces of information can jump out at you from even the slightest differences. To get you started, open each book up and take not of each of the following 10 differences.
1. Sub-category. If you are writing in the paranormal section, a sub-category would be vampires. Write down each sub-category you take note of in the top 100, it will make a great reference after you’re finished browsing.
2. Keywords. What keywords jump out at you? Is there more than one “Vampire Family,” then perhaps it is a popular trope to look into? You can also get real Amazon search data from our keyword search tool.
3. Date published. If the date published was over a year ago, there is some aspect of that book that is giving it enormous staying power. Find out what that is, and see if you can notice any common trends among books that are still on the Top 100 after a long time.
4. Characters. Do most main characters seem to be women? If so, perhaps your book should feature a female character. You might be tempted to write a man under the assumption that rarity determines value, but keep in mind that you’ll be choosing to stand out from the top books, not from all books. For all you know, more books were written with male characters than with female, but it’s the females dominating the top 100. You’re looking at the best books, trying to stand out by being different from them is not a winning strategy.
5. Price. Are books that are twice as long charging 4x the price and getting it? Is there no relation between length, category, characters, etc and price? It’s important to pay attention to the price because it’s not only an indicator of what a similar book can ask for and get, it’s also an indication of interest in that particular book and a thumbs up to emulate it. If most books in the niche are 0.99c and a book from an indie author is sailing high at 9.99, that means readers are willing to pay 10x more for that book. That is a massive indicator of interest, and this is a massive factor in picking what category to write a book in.
Although these 5 differences will show you a wealth of information when you compare books in your category to one another, there are some broader metrics to remember as well, such as:
Look at the ratings. Are they all 5 star, or are some of them 3-4 star and still ranking? If the latter, that usually indicates less competition, or there is some driving force besides quality of writing determining sales in that category. Think about what that could be. To use an obvious example, if you are in the autobiography section the sales are being driven by fame, why are you even there? Popularity can be driven by other factors, and if books are ranking high without good ratings you need to understand the driving factors to determine if you can emulate them or fit into a system.
Be very attentive to the amount of reviews. You will need to generate your own reviews, which is an incredibly time consuming and frustrating process. You will need to manage an ARC team, or beg family and friends for a review, or pay a service to send your book out to be honestly reviewed, and even after doing that you might not be happy with the reviews you get. So if they average 50 reviews on the front page, that means you’ll need 50 to compete. This is a catch 22, you need good reviews to get a person to buy your book, so they can enjoy it and leave a good review. So if it’s 300-400 reviews on average, well, think if you’re up to that.
Note – don’t “create a niche” which is where you lie to yourself to tell yourself that you can create your own niche. If you would totally go out and buy a book about dragons that fight in space, keep in mind that unless your book is a runaway hit you will never get sales, because it’s a category that doesn’t really exist. Medieval fantasy and space are your two personal loves that you would like combined, not the markets. With literally millions of authors out there and millions more readers, it’s pretty obvious that the vast majority of niches have been formed along the lines of what readers want, and if you ignore them to make your own book don’t expect to make a reliable profit out of it.