RESEARCH FOR AUTHORS
Every author can benefit from research in multiple ways.
Research isn’t just for nonfiction authors. It’s not just for the content of the book.
There are many kinds of research relevant for authors, including:
- Researching the mechanics of grammar or style, or the art of storytelling, for example.
- Researching historical, geographic, language, or other elements relevant to your plot.
- Researching how people react to names, places, and ideas you’re thinking about using in your book.
- Researching how beta readers react to your story.
- Researching the potential market for your book concept.
- Researching reader expectations for your genre.
- Researching helpful marketing strategies.
- Researching publication tips, like writing the blurb or designing the cover.
- And, of course, researching content for nonfiction, educational books, or historical fiction.
Here are some examples of how research can help:
- Any kind of research can be a helpful marketing point.
- It demonstrates your motivation to write your book well.
- Character sketches, idea bubbles, maps, etc. make for nice bonus material on your website.
- Writing-related research helps show readers that a great deal of work goes into preparing a book.
- It helps you develop a professional image as an author.
- Research helps strengthen your author biography.
- It gives you useful content to post on your blog or author website.
- Bits and pieces of research here and there can help you build buzz or create a content-rich website.
Many of the things writers already do and take for granted can be presented as a form of research. And when presented as research, they can make a favorable impression upon potential readers.
The last fantasy and sci-fi novels that I read were immediately followed by about the author sections, and in each case the author section each author mentioned a great deal of research that had gone into preparing the book.
In one case (Jeff Wheeler’s Legends of Muirwood), even though it was a fantasy novel, I was intrigued to learn that the basis for much of the magic in the book related to Medieval Europe. It wasn’t just random. Most chapters of the book begin with a fictional “quote,” while the author’s note at the back begins by describing the author’s passion for collecting quotes.
In the other case, (Bob Mayer’s Area 51 series) the author had blended actual events with fiction. The author also demonstrated how the military component has authenticity and described his obsession with mythology.
Reading about how these authors had done their homework just after I finished reading their books:
- It made me more eager to check out the next book in the series.
- It made it easier for me to recommend their books to others.
- It left a favorable impression just as I was about to head over and review the book.
Does your book involve other cities? Don’t you have to research the layout of the city? Don’t you have to research the culture, lingo, and accents?
Does your book involve a military component? Don’t you have to research the military? Don’t you have to research the technology?
How do readers know if your book is realistic? Showing that you did your homework helps. It can also help inspire reader interest.
Showing that you’ve done your research also helps to create a positive perception about you and your book. It helps you build a strong brand as an author.
Marketing that perception helps you play to your strengths. Have you done anything to master the art of writing or storytelling? Do you have firsthand experience regarding the setting of your book? Do you have any expertise relevant to any of the subjects involved of your book? If you do, it may pique a reader’s interest.
Some research can help you make your book more marketable:
- Keyword research. Visit Amazon.com and start typing keywords into the search field. You’ll see popular searches. Note that the results are different depending on whether you search within all departments, books, the Kindle store, a category, or a subcategory, for example. Results are also different for searches on Kindle devices. You should try a variety of possibilities. You want keywords that are specific (to help you stand out better), popular (so they get searched for), and highly relevant for your book (so you don’t get overlooked in search results).
- What to write. Search for books that you might be a good fit to write. See what’s selling, what’s not. See if the market’s already flooded, or if there is a need that you can fill.
- Packaging ideas. When you search for similar books, you come across a variety of covers and blurbs. These can help you get ideas (but don’t be a copycat), and can help you gauge what customers expect to see (though there isn’t just one kind of cover that signifies a particular genre). Follow other authors and you can learn some of their marketing ideas.
- Content expectations. Read similar books to learn what readers are accustomed to in your subgenre (that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do the same; but there are some features that most readers of a subgenre strongly want, so that can be helpful to know).
I publish nonfiction, including math and science books. My background is physics, which I teach. I do all sorts of research for my books.
But, as you may know, I also have a sci-fi series that I’m working on. I’m in the beginning stages, and as I come across publishing decisions that I must make—like research—I’m sharing these experiences on my blog (with all the other kinds of posts that ordinarily write here). The image that I included with this post gives a subtle visual clue (though it will be set in modern times).
I’m doing much research to help write my series, such as:
- Researching actual scientific data that may relate to extraterrestrial visitations of earth (in the past or present). Puma Punku in Bolivia, for example, has some fascinating finds. Most of such “evidence” isn’t necessarily “conclusive,” but can seem compelling and I find it fascinating. I want to know what my audience might know, and I want to make possible connections (after all, it’s fiction) that seem both deep and plausible.
- Researching differences between writing fiction and nonfiction. I’ve been writing nonfiction avidly; obviously, fiction is quite different. I read a ton of fiction, especially sci-fi, fantasy, and classics, which will help. But writing isn’t quite the same as reading. For example, if there is a fight in my novel, I’ll need to describe the fight scene. (Fantasy author Charles Yallowitz gave me a great suggestion for this: Research some choreography.)
- Researching sci-fi books in my subgenre that my readers are likely to be familiar with. I’ve already read some, but I’ve found several others. It’s kind of cool that the series that I’m writing is helping to fuel my own reading list.
- And much more. I’ll save much of my research, including the details. It’s not just for writing the series, but much of it also figures into my marketing plans. You’ll see if you follow along.
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Reblogged this on Finding Myself Through Writing and commented:
Research takes time, but it’s well worth the effort you invest! ~Elle
Quite true. 🙂 Thank you for the reblog.
As a sci-fi writer, I do a heck of a lot of research as part of the world building process – and I love it. Not so enamoured of the research I have to do in the marketing area, but life can’t all be about cake. 🙂
World-building is a wonderful part of writing fiction. 🙂
It is indeed. 😀
How long does all your research take you? How many times do you post each week? I hadn’t thought of Amazon.com for keyword research. Thank you for the tip
I spend a ton of time reading and writing, but then I enjoy it. 🙂
Very good article, Chris. I am always pleased to discover that a work of fiction is based on good research. I read a great deal of historical fiction and books written by authors from other countries, so it’s important to me to know how much is real and how much is made up. It stands to reason, however, that such books require research. I am even more delighted to discover that premises in a science fiction or fantasy book are well-researched and based in part on fact. For me, it makes the book more interesting and believable. Peter Watts, author of Blindsight (http://www.amazon.com/Blindsight-Peter-Watts/dp/0765319640), clearly put a lot of research in psychology/psychiatry/neurology/genetics into that one! (Some readers claimed it was too complex, but I loved it!) I like that he asks his blog viewers for citation sources as well. http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=5476#comments
Thank you, Connie, for sharing your experience and perspective on the role of research in fiction. 🙂
Great post. I included your link in my writing article helps for authors.
Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit
Thank you very much. 🙂
I started writing fantasy because I didn’t want to research. I figured I could just make everything up! Needless to say, I was utterly clueless. I do TONS of research and I know it makes for a richer read.
Thank you for sharing your experience with writing fantasy. 🙂
I LOVE doing the research for both my blog posts and other social media updates and my sci-fi series almost more than I like doing the writing! Thanks for posting, Chris!
Best to you,
That makes the research FUN. 🙂
Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
Great points by Author Chris McMullen 😀
Thank you for the reblog, Chris. 🙂
Always welcome Chris 😀
Even though I only write fiction, I love to research. My last book involved a great deal of information on the afterlife and auras – neither of which I knew anything about. Quite fascinating stuff. I research also to leave little messages in the story, tidbits you would have to really think about to get – ahhh! symbolism – my favorite.
When we write about something we love, it seems natural that we would love doing the research, too. 🙂
“Researching how people react to names, places, and ideas you’re thinking about using in your book.” — I did this a while back with character names. I had no intention of changing anything, but I was curious about what assumptions readers may make about the characters based on their names alone. Knowing what readers are inclined to assume helps me either counteract those assumptions or play with them.
Some fascinating research has been done on the issue of “What’s in a name?” 🙂
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