How To Select A Writing Niche
Before you publishing your first book, before you write that amazing novel you have kicking around in the back of your mind, before you even select a sub-category for your book you’re going to want to select a niche to write in. You or your pen name should pick a particular category of novels to focus on, so that you can build a brand. In some very rare cases – usually when the author is a celebrity or has become a celebrity through writing – an author can choose to publish books in all sorts of categories, and readers will dutifully buy their books wherever they go. For most of us mere mortals, we need to write our books in a single category, or at least a single category per pen name, so that we can build a loyal following and actually make a profit. If you have no special notability, your core fans will likely be people who have read your previous books and want to buy the new book you are putting out. This generally only works if those books are in the same category, as if a big fan of your previous non-fiction book on Ukranian politics is ALSO a lover of fantasy romance, it’s merely a coincidence, and a good businessperson never relies on luck. This is the first step of the writing process for the vast majority of new authors just starting out.
You’ve come to the right place. Not only do I run a publishing company with many pen names under it’s (invisible) banner, but I used to be a writer myself, writing shamelessly for profit in any niche I could, and have hopped around from niche to niche like a madman… If anyone is qualified to tell you how to identify a profitable niche, it’s myself, and the process is quite simple. Note: Simple does not mean easy, a 10 mile run is simple, not easy. Niche analysis is essential.
To begin with, you need to take a stroll through the various top 100 lists on Amazon, on the US website of course as that is where most of your sales will be unless writing a location dependent book. You will not need to be as laser focused as you will have to be when picking a more narrow niche, or subcategory, to write your actual book in. Your market research for your pen name’s niche and your book’s sub-niche are separate, and it’s much hard to switch your niche later for a pen name so really follow both your mind and your heart, and don’t settle on a random category or subcategory.
You can rule out any categories you would hate to write in, off the bat. In the ones you find acceptable, browse through every single top 100 list. Without exception. Would you want to find out two books into establishing your identity as an author that there is another niche you would love to write in with way less competition and just as many readers?
As you browse the eBooks and books, let your eyes linger on each book’s rating, amount of ratings, and price point. These are the three key metrics. Ignore the cover, the keywords, all that you would look at during research for a book niche. What price point are they? This tells you the average price per novel in the category. Some categories support much higher prices, whereas other categories support lower prices. This is the difference between ranking in the top 100 with a $7.99 book or a $0.99 book. If the vast majority of prices are 0.99, keep in mind many of them are priced that way to boost rankings, and they will make the real money in Kindle Unlimited reads. Think about whether you want to be enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, because without that you will never be able to match their price points and still pay for advertising. A higher price point is better, but if there are no readers then it won’t help you much to be selling 10 copies of a book at $7.99 whereas your competition sells their book at $0.99c
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.
To get one more critical piece of information, check the rank of the last book on each categories top 100. This gives you a great idea of both what rank you will need to break into the top 100 and get visibility, and also tells you how well top books in that category sell, basically how popular is the niche. The more popular the niche, the more readers, the more money. Ranking is a sales rank, sales rank are your sales. Pretty simple. So don’t go too small or too big, pick a niche that will reflect the amount of time and effort you’re putting into writing. If you’re only writing part time, pick a smaller niche it would be more realistic for you to succeed in. If you’re dedicating your life to writing, perhaps a bigger niche is more worthy of your time.
Other considerations to make if you have more time – you can check the average book length (requires clicking on each book) to see what kind of length the niche will tolerate on average. Some can be much shorter than others. Another is to check the ages of the books on the top 100. Some categories, like Romance, are virtually all brand new bestsellers. Other niches you will find that some are 1 year, 2 year, 3 years old and this indicates much greater staying power, which represents a more long term return on the initial time and money expended.
Doing the same – browsing top 100 lists – on other websites might be a good idea as well, perhaps even on Goodreads. After studying each and every category, taking note of the above metrics, you have a really good sense of each niche’s sales potential, how hard it is to rank in the top 100, how many reviews you’ll need, the kind of prices your book will command in each category and after skimming 100 books in each category you’ll have a good sense of the type of content you will have to write.
So now it’s a good idea to write down each category onto a piece of paper, except for categories you would never consider. A simple elimination process begins – pick what you MUST HAVE. For example, perhaps it must be an easy subcategory to break into, because you can only devote an hour per day to writing and publishing and marketing, so you’re going to be spread very thin. Any category that is too large, cross it out. Rinse, repeat, until you have only a few options, let’s say 5 or less. Then, do a deep dive into each category. Search the internet for interviews of authors who write in the category, search forum posts on writers forums, check historical sales data for books that have been selling in that category for a while, the whole shebang. Out of that chaos you will hopefully find a winner.