When you were young, you were probably told it was rude to spy on people but in the business world, it’s considered standard practice. Companies are always monitoring their competition to see what they’re doing and more importantly, how they’re doing it. For example, in 2001, Procter and Gamble hired someone to dumpster dive at their competitor’s office (Unilever) to steal product formulations. Now that’s desperate not to mention illegal but it’s all about getting an advantage. Luckily for us, the publishing business isn’t that cutthroat which means you don’t have to jump into any dumpster, not unless, that’s your thing. 

It’s easy to spy on your competition these days but first let’s answer the question: Why do I need to spy on successful authors?  Well that’s easy, a few reasons include:

  1. For market research
  2. To discover effective keywords
  3. To study marketing techniques

Many authors feel lost and get frustrated when marketing their book, because they have to make decisions like where to advertise, or what kind of content to put in their newsletters? There’s so much to know, however, if you take the time to see what other authors are doing, you can get a guide on where to start. So today, your first step will be to find an author who writes in your genre and has similar themes their book.

Step #1: Finding Your Look-Alike/ Comparison Author

Like it or not, you have competition but that’s a good thing, it means there’s a market for what you write. In most businesses, the first thing they do is develop their customer (reader) avatar. The easiest way you can do this is by finding a look-alike author and head over to: https://www.goodreads.com/list then start typing some keywords such as your genre for this example, I typed: best paranormal romance.

The search engine came back with 560 lists which you can use to study. Here you need to find the book(s) that mimic the same themes that your book has.  

You can even use search terms like strong heroine, androgyne aliens and southern gothic.

Step #2: Check Out Their Newsletter

We’re not done spying yet, now that you’ve found your comparison author(s), your next step is to sign up for their email newsletter if they have one. Email newsletters are considered the best way to stay in touch with your readers by most successful authors.  The main reasons include; no censorship, no social media algorithm, and a higher ROI.  However, many authors find newsletters difficult to get off the ground so this is where that comparison author comes in.  After signing up check out:

  • Which service do they use; MailChimp, MailerLite, AWeber, etc.?
  • How frequently do they email their readers?
  • How do they brand the newsletter?
  • Do they run contests or giveaways if so, how often?
  • What kind of things do they talk about?

Step #3: Check Out Their Social Media Accounts

Social media can be tough for most authors because of all the rules and algorithms restrictions. But today even if you want to publish traditionally, a social media presence is pretty much a requirement. In my post: Social Media Marketing for Authors, I give several examples of authors successfully using social media to promote their books and even share free courses to help you get started. When you check out your comparison author’s social media account here’s what you should be observing:

  • How do they brand their account?
  • What type of content do they post; video, audio, text, etc?
  • How often do they promote their book?
  • What type of content does best Q&As, quotes, excerpts, etc?

Step #4: Check Out Their Social Media Ads

Many authors agonize over their ads and spend lots of money with little results, but that’s not necessary. Thankfully, you can find out where your comparison authors are advertising and how much success they’re having. Facebook has a wonderful feature called the ads library, which you can find here: https://www.facebook.com/ads/library/ It’s free but you need to turn off your adblockers not only on your browser but possibly on your anti-virus software as well.  Today we’re gonna check out Mr. Facebook Ads himself: Mark Dawson…

As you can see, he plays around with the copy of an ad but rarely the image. He also runs ads monthly. If you want to learn more, Facebook allows you to filter the results by language, impressions, and platform.  

If you’d like more in-depth data, you might want to consider using an ad spyware service.  I’ll list a few below:

Step #5: Check Out Their Amazon Page

As you did with social media, you should definitely check out your comparison author’s Amazon page.  You should be looking out for things like:

  • Style of the book cover
  • Sales Copy (product descriptions)
  • SEO (subtitle keywords)

Step #6: Spy On Their Amazon Keywords

Over the years, SEO has become the foundation of most marketing campaigns but authors still don’t seem to understand what it is and where to look. I talked about SEO in my last post here so I won’t go there today, but needless to say, finding keywords can help you rank well in the Amazon search results. But which keywords are working in your genre? This is where that look-alike author comes in handy yet again.  

One way to find keywords is to go to Amazon’s search engine and type in the title of the book for your look-alike author. For this example, we’ll use H.M. Ward’s book Scandalous:

Now scroll down to the product details and find the ISBN-10 number. 

Copy that number and paste it into the search box. The search engine will take you to the book’s search page.  Now type + and the keyword you’re curious about using in the search box. For this example, I used the keyword which is her genre: romance

As you can see one result came back which means the marketers of this book used that keyword. However, if I were to use the keyword: childrens this would be the result:

As you can see, the search engine came back with nothing and suggested we use fewer keywords. 

This is the free method and yes, it is tedious but there are apps that can speed up this process if you’re not into the guessing game. I’ll list the most popular ones below:

Paid services:

One Final Note

If you think it’s wrong to spy on your competition just know the traditional publishers have been spying on indie authors for YEARS. Look, I’m not telling you to go all Single White Female on some poor, unsuspecting author but I am telling you to take notice of what your peers are doing. It could ultimately save you lots of cash not to mention time wasted on marketing techniques that don’t work. Remember the road has already been paved by those who went before you so you don’t need to struggle on your journey anymore.

In any case, if you found this post helpful, please like and share.