There are many ways for a fiction author to “make it.” The following is method of research, testing, and analysis one way to get started and build financial success as a fiction author.

Step 1: Research

The basis of this approach is to make the business decision to write to an active market. Two examples of active markets are paranormal romance (such as the Twilight series) and YA action-adventure (such as the Hunger Games and Divergent series). Currently, paranormal romance is trending down, and YA action-adventure is still trending up. Both, however, have a huge audience that is always looking for more to fuel their thirst for entertainment.

Many authors and would-be authors hate this approach. They feel it goes against their artistic spirit or that it is a sell-out. If you feel this way, read the Wikipedia article about Mozart, and then tell me he was an artistic sell-out because he combined business and art. You can be just as artistic writing to a market that has the potential to support you financially as you can writing obscure fiction in a genre that you “creatively” choose.

To get started on the research process, do a Google search for “trending books” and check out several of those links. You can also look at bestseller lists on Amazon, B&N, or The New York Times.

Step 2: Testing

After you choose an active market, write and publish short stories within that market. Choose three different characters and settings and write three short stories within each group. Writing three stories that use the same character and setting provides continuity (which is why series are always so popular) for the reader. Writing about three different groups of characters and settings gives you the opportunity to see which ones are most popular. For example, if Group 2 sells far more books than Groups 1 or 3, you will focus on that group.

That’s all there is to the testing phase. Write nine short books (three in each group) and publish. I suggest publishing only ebooks and only with Amazon’s KDP Select because that will give you more data and only one platform to focus on, which makes for a simpler process. Also, Amazon gives you much better sales data than other platforms. I recommend charging only $0.99 for each short story.

To help with the analysis process, put a link in the front and back of each book that encourages the reader to sign up to a mailing list to find out when more books in that series are released. Keep it short and simple, and use a separate mailing list for each group. During the analysis phase, you want to be able to do a simple survey of those readers.

Step 3: Analysis

After you’ve published your nine books, wait three months before doing your analysis. The more data you have to work with, the better. During this time, work on marketing all books equally. If you market one group more than the others, your results will be skewed. You want accurate data—or at least as accurate as you can get under these circumstances.

If you see relatively equal sales in all three groups, then write a couple more stories for each of those groups so you now have five stories total for each group. (You should work on these during the three-month testing and marketing period.) In addition to publishing each short story separately, you can also sell each group of five as a short story collection. Give your group a series name and use that in the title and in the description. I recommend selling each collection for $2.99.

If you see that one group sells better than the other two, I still recommend writing two more stories for each of those lesser groups and releasing them as a collection. The benefit is that you will help establish yourself as an author who plans to stick around, and this helps overall sales.

What do you think it was that made this group sell better than the other two groups? Here’s where the separate mailing list comes in handy. Create a short survey, and send it to everyone who signed up to your mailing list. Ask them questions designed to find out what it was they liked about the characters or the setting. Put some thought and work into this survey because you want it to be useful. Don’t ask silly questions that don’t actually give you useful information.

Once you have an idea of what it is that your readers enjoy, write two more stories that incorporate more of that. If you wrote these two stories during your three-month marketing period, adjust them to incorporate those features. (As you can see, no matter what happens, you’re going to write a total of five stories for each group.) As with the other groups, also publish this as a collection of five.

The next step is to start a fourth group. Choose a new setting and new characters and incorporate what your readers said they liked. Test this group in the same way as the other three, and then continue this whole process of research, testing, and analysis.

What will happen over the next year is that you will not only establish a significant body of work, but you’ll slowly be honing in on what your readers enjoy the most. This will help build a tribe of fans and steadily increase your sales. You’ll also be building your mailing list, which you can then use to build your own book distribution network.