My 5-part system for conducting marketplace research

Today I want to share my 5-part system for how you can conduct marketplace research, learning how readers share and talk about books online. This is a critical process for understanding word-of-mouth marketing, which drives book sales. We will use TikTok as an example, though this methodology applies more broadly to channels such as Instagram, podcasts, and so on. In case you haven’t heard, TikTok is a thriving social media platform, and there are many people on there talking about books. Sometimes this subgroup is referred to as “BookTok.”

What I hope to share here is a way of seeing and understanding marketing. To learn about the marketplace that you hope to share your writing in, how it works, why it is a powerful driver of sharing books, and even how you can directly engage with others. This is an example of the process I help writers with in my 1-on-1 consulting, when we dive deep into helping someone develop their platform, create an effective marketings strategy, launch their books, and find a sense of fulfillment in the process.

One thing to note here is that this process focuses on what I would call primary research. Meaning, you aren’t just reading articles about TikTok and forming an opinion based on that. Instead you are observing and participating yourself, which I think this is critically important. To be an active participant to truly learn about what is happening in an area of the market. When you read “best practices,” you are removed from the community itself. I know everyone wants a shortcut, but the difference is stark. If you want to understand the marketplace, get active in it.

What I share here is my process for diving into marketplace research from scratch. Okay, let’s dig in…

Step #1: Find a Way In

The first step is to simply allow yourself to experience the ecosystem. In this example, it would be to figure out how to see what people share on TikTok. This begins with simple steps:

  1. Create an account. You can do this through your computer by simply going to the TikTok website, or by downloading the app on your phone and creating an account there.
  2. I would recommend downloading the app to your phone either way because it allows you to see the full scope of tools TikTok offers. But if you aren’t ready for that, I believe you can get started on your computer alone.

I prefer to do this research through my computer and web browser because it’s a bigger interface. I use a 27″ monitor, compared to a tiny smartphone screen.

Once you set up your account, you are likely now staring at some viral video that TikTok is showing to you. Go to the search box and simply type in: booktok

Booktok is a hashtag that people who share about books will often include in their posts. So this is a great way to filter out anything that isn’t a post about books, reading, or writing. There are other searches you can do as well, such as ‘authortok,’ but you don’t have to worry about that yet.

Step #2 Observe and Listen

View some of the videos that come up in this search. Keep scrolling and loading more. Don’t try to look for certain kinds of books, just casually observe different videos. Get a sense for what “normal” is on this platform. For instance, that there is vertically oriented video, that there is often music that is key to how the message is presented, how long the videos are, that you may see likes/comments/shares to the side, etc.

Want to know what this looks like? Here is a 10 minute video where I narrate what I observe as I look at some people sharing about books on TikTok:


Step #3 Celebrate and Engage

Find safe easy ways to interact so that you understand the sense of community that can happen here. Oftentimes, that is as simple as clicking the little heart icon next to a video. You can share a short message via a comment. Unsure of what to say? Share an emoji.

From here, consider following some people who share videos that you find interesting. If possible, follow a wide range of people who talk about different kinds of books, or have different styles.

For a week or so, do this for 5 to 10 minutes each day. Put all your assumptions on hold, and just observe and engage.

Step #4 Analyze

Analyze what individuals are doing in their videos. Not just “they are sharing about a book,” but note the details. For instance:

  • What is the topic or focus of a certain video? A single book? A best of list?
  • Note where the video has edits.
  • Note how many different elements are cut together. Are they using emojis or clip art or taking video from multiple sources?
  • What kind of music are they using, and how is it integrated into the message?
  • Is the person being on camera or not?
  • How is the shot framed? Is it close to the person or far away? Is it a close up of a book on a table, or a much larger bookself?
  • What are the different ways they feature a book itself? EG: the cover vs inside pages vs the spine.
  • How did they light the video?
  • Is there movement in the video? What is it exactly?
  • Do they put text on screen?
  • Is the video trying to be funny?
  • How frequently do they share a new post?
  • What does the person write in the text area of the video?
  • Do they use hashtags? Which ones?
  • How are others reacting in the comments?
  • What do they share in their profile (you may have to click to see this.)
  • What link do they share in their profile, and what is there when you click it? Are they active on other social media too?

In this process you begin to understand common things people do, as well as your own preferences for what you like seeing.

Step #5 Strategize

So far, you have had to share nothing on TikTok. Again, all of this work so far is about understanding the marketplace. You don’t need to know yet how to effectively use TikTok, where all the buttons are, etc. But consider these questions:

  • Why are these people doing this? Why are they sharing books on TikTok?
  • Does it feel effective? Are people reacting in the comments? Does it have a lot of views? Why do you think that is?
  • How would this help a writer connect with readers?
  • Do you feel your ideal readers may be here? If not, could they be soon?
  • What are other ways you can explore TikTok to find different kinds of authors or creators?

Then decide if you will go into observation mode for a period of time: a month, a quarter, a half year. Just keep slowly observing and learning.

Also consider if this is something you want to try out for yourself, sharing your own video on TikTok. Getting involved is a great way to demystify something and feel a part of it.

If you decide to not take any actions now, that’s fine. I realize that for many writers, they may not want to create videos on TikTok, or may feel that their ideal readers aren’t on that platform yet. But identify one to three places you will put your energy into instead. If you decide to ignore TikTok (or any channel), what will you do instead to engage with readers? Will you email five more people each week? Will you share more on a different channel? Will you try to meet more book clubs? Will you go to more bookstore events?

The key here is to find some way to engage with readers that feels meaningful to you. And of course, if you want help with this, consider working with me.