I've written 26 books, but the book I've decided to be my first release is one I'm not exactly sure who my target market would be. It's romance, but not formula. I have edgy characters, an edgy storyline, and an unexpected end. Markets and trends are living thing. They evolve. Who would my book appeal to? I wasn't sure.
Two of the industries I've worked in--garment and software--taught me long ago that you can never be sure who your consumers will be without testing your concept in the real world.
I went through the standard Indie author processes for book finalization: BETA reads and edit. I did not share my work with friends or family. I didn't want that input. I wanted blind input. BETA reads and edit didn't get me to the information I wanted, so I added a 3rd step. Contained market testing.
My thoughts on BETA read: Here's a few thoughts on the BETA read. Other authors are wonderful and critical to the writing process. They are good at critiquing structure, plot development, and overall story. I've generally found that you cannot rely on them for thorough edit and a professional editor should be brought into the process. Even though my BETA readers are people unknown to me, they are authors. I was concerned that the critical review wouldn't be as thorough as need be. Really, being an author do you have it in you to be as harsh as you need be? And while I kept a log of the age-sex-education-geographic location of my BETA readers, I wanted reader information, to know what readers my work would appeal to.
I wanted to test the viability of this book before I released it. I invested two months finalizing, editing, formatting, uploading, and reviewing proof copies. During this time I also read the threads on the author's forum I participate in. I was hearing from lots of author upset with horrible reader reviews about: work not being polished; stories not well constructed. I was also hearing that, even though the author thought the reviews at time unfair, that there was no way to get an awful review from their Amazon page.
I didn't want to miss something critical in the development of this book and be saddled with an online review forever that would damage the overall brand of my book series. Now, I know there will be bad reviews. There's no way to stop that as a writer, but I didn't want to invite them by creating a poor first release or product. And I wanted to have an idea of where the market for my work really was so I could fully integrated my online presence in a way appealing for the market of my book.
In March when I started to test the formatting of my book, I got my first print version proof copy. I reviewed for errors, format changes, overall appearance. Once done, I had this proof. I paid $5 bucks for it. Not a lot of money, but it was time for my proof to go to work for me. I calculated that through the finalization process I would get probably 10 proofs before I was ready to release. It was time to use these proof copies in a contained way to figure out if the book was marketable and get a clearer idea of who my market was.
To get real world market testing is REALLY a simple thing. People want to help. You're working on finalizing your book. Why not work on understanding your market. So I turned each proof copy into what I call "sisterhood of the traveling book" sample tests. Each book I wrote a note inside: Dear Reader, I am market testing a new book line. You assistance in the development of this product is essential. Please read and send review to email@example.com.[ I made unique emails for each book copy so I could chart its movement] Please share this book with a friend. The more input the better for this project.
I just handed the proofs to people while I was out in my ordinary day, showed them the note, they read and responded.
I kept a log of where each proof started its journey:location/first name/ approximate age/ sex/ education/economic status. Every first reader given a book responded. Not only did they email me, they were willing to engage in email correspondence so I could retrieve from them information necessary to determine my market and how to construct my online presence.
Some proof copies have gone on long journeys of reads. Others shorter journeys. But that helped me to refine my reader demographic. The proofs were just going to lay around my office. I had already invested the money. Why not put them out as samples for market testing. I can't get the same information about my readers from an Amazon review or on Wattpad or Goodreads. And I sure as heck can't engage them in meaningful dialogue to better refine my business and product.
And yes, once you decide to release a book, you are an author, but you're now are a business too! Is this the end all, be all of the market testing you should do? Of course not. Research, writer's groups, online forums all are essential. But it is a way to blind test a book, contain potential damage to your reputation, and to be able to engage in email exchanges with real world readers of your work. Your readers can teach you much on how to make your publishing endeavors profitable. Learn from them!