Write Books that Readers Want to Buy
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Are you writing fiction (a novel) or nonfiction? It doesn’t make any difference what kind of book you’re writing. The most important question you can ask is, “Will anyone want to read your book?” Write books that readers want to buy. Authors assume that “Everyone will be interested in my book.” We all wish it was true, but that’s delusional thinking.
There are ways to discover that before you start writing. It’s in your best interest to do that. You will save an enormous amount of time, money, effort, and tears if you take the time in the beginning to do some basic market research. It’s not rocket science, and it is likely to make the difference between the success and failure of your book. Yes, it is that important.
It won’t matter if you write a better fiction of nonfiction book if you can’t sell it. You need to think of marketing before you think of any other aspect of your writing project. Is there an actual market for your book? If so, how will you reach that market cheaply? That means:
⯀ You need to write a book that meets the perceived needs of people. You can’t sell a book that people don’t want—or don’t think they want.
⯀ Your fiction or nonfiction book must be cost-effective to sell. You won’t make any money if you’re selling a $10 book, and it costs you $12 to acquire a customer. You need a narrowly defined market that you can reach inexpensively.
⯀ Your book must have a high perceived value. Once people discover your book, they must have the belief that it has value to them. They will gladly pay if your novel offers them entertainment value, or if your nonfiction books solve a problem for them.
Only when these things are satisfied that people will beat a path to your door.
These are the fundamentals for successful authors. Far too many would-be authors only focus on the creative aspect of writing and ignore the creativity involved in book promotion. When they fail, they start blaming others. Ultimately, they send their book to the trash heap of free or 99 cent books. Writing a book is easy, but selling a book is hard. Few writers today seem to have the fortitude to sell what they write. Their narcissism makes them think others will sell the book for them or that the book will sell itself. They have not committed to the full scope of professionalism that writing requires.
Your First Writing Decision
This comes under the heading of “tough talk for writers.” Brace yourself. As you probably know, I’ve been writing books and other content for over three decades. I have teaching writers how to write for nearly that long, both on the university level and online. So, I’m qualified to talk about this issue.
This is your first writing decision: are you a hobby writer or a serious writer?
If you decide you are a hobby writer, then that’s fine. My best advice to you is to write when the mood strikes you, and then lock what you have written away in a drawer. Pull it out in your old age and have a giggle about the things you put on paper. However, don’t attempt to publish it.
People plant gardens in a small plot in their backyard as a hobby, but they don’t sell the produce commercially. Many people fish as a hobby, but they don’t sell their legal limit of trout from door to door. Knitting is a wonderful hobby, but there is no point in trying to sell your output to Walmart buyers.
Hobby writing is no different. You do it for your own enjoyment and the enjoyment of those in your family and friends.
Self-publishing has become cheap and easy and many writers think they should publish whatever they write on Amazon or elsewhere. And that’s why there is such a flood of terrible, poorly written books available. Hobby writers seem to be oblivious to the fact that they are writing books that nobody wants to read.
Just because you can publish a book does not mean that you should publish it.
If you are a serious writer, then you’re in the right place. You may even have started as a hobby writer, but that’s okay. You can grow.
The difference between a hobby writer and a serious writer is as big as having a garden in your backyard and being a farmer that may feed hundreds of thousands of people.
Here are the elements that differentiate a serious writer from a hobby writer. A serious writer:
⯀ Understands that writing is a craft that anyone can learn. Some writers seem gifted, and some may be, but most became “gifted” by honing their writing skills over time. Serious writers are always improving their skills by reading widely and by writing.
⯀ Sets time aside each day to write. They have daily word count goals and don’t stop writing because they get “Writer’s Block” or some other terrible excuse.
⯀ Knows the power of revision. The first draft is just the starting point. A serious writer put their manuscript through several revisions. They improve their structure and clarity by doing multiple drafts until they have done their best work.
⯀ Seeks the insight of a Developmental (Substantive) Editor before completing their final draft. Today, Facebook writer pages seem to be filled with people seeking “beta readers.” Generally, these are insecure hobby writers seeking approval. What is the background, training, and qualifications of these beta readers? No one knows. You might as well go to your local bus station and put your manuscript in the hands of the first rider you see. Ask them to email you and tell you what they think. Dumb? Yes. A Substantive Editor is a trained professional, and that kind of feedback is all that’s important.
Serious writers act like professionals. Their ultimate goal is to sell as many books as possible.
⯀ Hires a professional Copy Editor. The Age of Self-Publishing has ushered in an era of ignorance about Copy Editing. Copy Editing is the line-by-line review of the book, and the editor checks the consistency of the structure of the book, and grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It is done according to a specific style guide, not what the editor learned in high school or college 10 or 20 years ago.
⯀ Commission a cover designed to sell books. Most authors want a beautiful cover, but that’s not what sells books. Most who design covers know how to use PhotoShop, but are clueless about the elements of covers that sell books. A serious writer will want a cover that sells books, and will learn what it takes, and will not settle for a nice looking but ineffective cover.
⯀ Is committed to marketing their book. Almost every day I read about an author that says, “I am a writer, and I hate to promote my own book. I want to hire someone to do that for me.” That an amateur attitude. Today, even if you sign with a top New York mainline publisher, they will require you to promote your own book at your own expense. They’ll even ask about your blog traffic and social media followers before they decide to publish your book. Authors who don’t want to promote their own book are also easy marks for book marketing hustlers. They will take your money but will not guarantee book sales. A serious author knows that book promotion is as vital as writing the book in the first place.
What Sells Best
With this foundation, let’s talk about what sells best. If you think you’re going to make money selling poetry or fiction on the Internet, you’ll probably be disappointed. People are not buying much poetry these days, and the competition in popular fiction is fierce. No, I’m not trying to discourage you from writing fiction.
The Best Fiction Markets
When it comes to fiction, these genres are the perennial best-sellers:
⯀ Romance. There are many different types of Romance books within this general genre. Just some examples: Contemporary Romance, Historical Romance, Erotic Romance, and Religious, Romance. Each of these has its own tropes and their own micro-market. Every woman seems to think they can write a Romance novel, and there are 70,000 of them listed on Amazon as of this writing. That’s a lot of competition. Most are free or sold for 99 cents, so the market is saturated, and no one is going to be making much money.
⯀ Crime and Mystery. This category generates about $800 billion manually, which is less than half of the income of the Romance market, but it is very popular. People love well-written mysteries.
⯀ Science Fiction and Fantasy. These related genres are popular but also highly competitive. Like Romance, there are over 70,000 books available at any given time on Amazon. Competition is overwhelming. Authors need to write something extraordinary and invest a lot of their time promoting their books. Like Romance, authors will do best when they have created a series of 3-5 or more novels dealing with an ongoing saga.
As I have noted, fiction books sell best when they are written in a series. The usual marketing ploy is to offer the first one for free or for 99 cents in the series to hook readers. Then you offer the rest of the books at full price to the fan base you build. It is essential that you have your own blog so you can collect emailing list names so you can notify them when you release a new book.
The real money for most writers is in nonfiction books.
Nonfiction includes biography, history, science, self-help, “how-to,” religion/inspirational, essays, reference, and any other fact-based content. The focus is on providing accurate, helpful information.
People are information sponges, and there is a ready market for almost any kind of information. Everyone wants to learn about something. What do people want to learn?
Basically, they want to learn one of three things:
⯀ How to make money
⯀ How to save money
⯀ How to enjoy life more. This includes a wide range of topics, from travel to mental health.
If the nonfiction book you have in mind falls within one of these three categories, then you may have a winner. There’s no way I can go into detail about all the nonfiction books that could fit into these three categories, but let me give you a few examples to spark your thinking.
How to make money
“How I turned $10 into $10,000 on eBay.”
“How to remodel houses for profit.”
“How to win at poker.”
How to save money
“How to change your own oil.”
“How to save a bundle doing your own plumbing repairs.”
“How to buy a vintage wine at bargain prices.”
How to enjoy life more
“How to fight depression.”
“How to keep the excitement in your marriage.”
“How to have more fun your Caribbean cruise.”
At this point, you must focus on what existing knowledge you have and can turn into a nonfiction book. This is the time to unleash your inventiveness and creativity.
Your knowledge is special because you are a unique person. Even if your topic is ordinary, you come to it with a unique understanding and range of experiences. You want to build upon that uniqueness into your book.
Have you ever examined a variety of recipe books in a bookstore? You noticed they all talk about preparing food. However, each recipe was different because of the ingredients used, the way they were combined and the preparation required. Your information product is your unique recipe for helping others do a task or reach a goal. As a result, it has individuality and value.
How to Get a Marketable Idea
The purpose of the information I’m providing here is to help you transform your existing knowledge into cash on the Internet. That’s the starting point. The first question you need to ask yourself is: What do I know?
Making a List Never Hurts
Make a list. Include things you have learned from Mom or Dad, in school, in the military, in vocational training, at college or university, on the job or from your hobbies or other interests. Anything you have learned in life, either formally or informally, can be financially profitable to you.
How long will your list be? No matter what your life experiences may have been, it should be many pages.
After you have made your list, good back through it and assign a number signifying its importance to you. What is first in your ranking? What is last?
Having a difficult time making a list? Use the braining-storming techniques I outline here.
⯀ Set a time limit – 10 to 20 minutes
⯀ Put some mild instrumental music on in the background
⯀ Write down your ideas as you think of them
⯀ Don’t self-edit your thoughts. Let the ideas gush out. All ideas are good; choose the best ideas later. When people do this, they slow down because they tend to edit their ideas as they think of them. That’s self-defeating. Let the ideas flow.
Once you have created your list, pick the top three that interest you the most. When you are captivated by your topic, you’ll do a better job in creating helpful information and marketing it.
Find a way to meet an actual needs that readers have. If you are not meeting a need that other people have, then your nonfiction book is less likely to succeed.
For each of the three information product ideas you have settled on, ask this crucial question:
You can make big money from a small market just as long as it is not too small. Specialized markets can be very profitable. You just have to be sure you are meeting a need that people already have.
Market Research 101
How can you test your hunches? Up this point, you have been operating on dreams, brainstorming, and intuition. From this point on, you need to begin testing your ideas. How do you do that?
⯀ Do some market research. Start with your friends and relatives to determine if they would be willing to pay for the information you have on the three topics you have chosen. Which one is most significant to them?
⯀ Next, take the idea to your community. It may be to local community gathering like a service club, or an online community you frequent. Find people that might benefit from the knowledge you have. Poll them and see if they would like to gain the knowledge you have. You don’t need to provide them with lots of details, just your basic idea.
⯀ Take a look at Amazon.com, a great place to discover what people are thinking. See if other people have created media products about your three topics. It’s a good thing if they have because that further proves there is a market for what you have to offer. Your product will be unique because of your slant, so never worry about other products being available. More money is made by improving existing ideas (innovation) that creating entirely new things (invention).
There is an excellent tool you can use to see what topics are selling on Amazon, and how much money particular books are making. I NEVER write a book before researching it using PublisherRocket. It is an essential tool to use to make money writing.
Shape Your Idea
You are in the process of formulating ideas right now. But does that mean your ideas are set in stone? Absolutely not! You need to shape your existing ideas. You’ll be reading things that will help you do that. When your ideas are refined, you’ll be able to offer value-for-money to people, and that means profits to you.
There is one aspect of idea shaping about which I want to caution you. What is it? It is self-doubt. You will be reading about many different concepts here and you may question whether or not you have the capacity to implement them. You can! It is important that keep positive and shape what you know in ways that become profitable to you.
Shape By Selecting an Effective Title
Your title is important. Obscure titles usually don’t work very well. If you had an idea for a nonfiction book about how to profit from California real estate, you wouldn’t want to call it California Gold. That’s too vague; the book could be about anything, from the 1849 California Gold Rush to the money Hollywood studios make with blockbuster films. Always try to summarize the content of your information product in your title. A better title: How to Make $1 Million Buying and Selling California Foreclosures.
There is another reason why you want a longer, highly descriptive title, and that is people will be searching on the Internet for your information product. They will be using certain search terms—keywords and phrases—and you will benefit if those keywords are in your title.
To some, this may defy common convention. Some say the title should not be more than about 30 characters long. However, that hearkens back to the days when the title had to appear on the spine of the book. In electronic publishing, being able to find the book on the Internet through the use of keyword searches is more important than the need for the title to fit on the spine of a book. Nevertheless, you can shorten the title to fit on the spine if you wish.
Before you pick a title you want to check the search engines yourself to see at the title is already being used. It’s a little-known fact that titles cannot be copyrighted, so you are free to use any title you wish. You could title your self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People (a famous nonfiction self-help book) or your novel The Da Vinci Code (a fiction title that has sold over 90 million copies since 2003) if you wish, but there is no point in trying to ride on the coattails of other books. You don’t want to trick anybody into buying your book. You want a title that is as distinctive and descriptive as possible.
A title sets the tone for your work, so pick one early as you begin to shape your book. A title gives purpose and direction to your writing. It’s true that you may end up modifying your title before your information product is released, but the right title provides you with the compass you need to set the direction for your writing success.
Shape By Adding Your Unique Slant
We have made the point that raw material must be shaped to fit market needs. We know the information product must have a clear, functional title. But what about the content of your nonfiction book?
As I hinted before, the reason is that YOU are interesting, unique, and helpful. You will be conveying your personality to your readers through your “slant.” Your slant is the way you approach the material you are presenting. You have a unique perspective and you need to emphasize that.
Many people think that slant is something bad. In a news story, for example, the slant could be liberal or conservative rather than being objective. That’s not always the case. Let’s define some common terms:
⯀ Slant is approaching a topic from a specific perspective in order to reach a certain audience. You want to slant your writing in ways that are helpful.
⯀ Spin is making a point by twisting the facts to support your ideas. Putting a spin on what you say is seldom helpful to anyone.
⯀ Bias is a prejudiced view of people or situations. A negative bias is always out of place in an information product. It is possible to have a positive bias, and that means something when the person is fully informed about the topic they are writing about.
Your slant can be helpful—you want to be subjective if you are telling others how to knit a sweater, enjoy a trip to Paris or make money in FOREX. Give your readers the benefit of your perspective. Do some thinking and some planning. What unique slants will make your book from all others on the topic?
Create a Game Plan
So far you have:
⯀ Brainstormed all the likely topics about which you have knowledge
⯀Picked the three topics for which you have the greatest passion
⯀ Satisfactorily answered the question, “How will this help me meet a need that other people have?”
⯀ Done some basic market research to evaluate the extent of the market
What next? You need to create a game plan. A game plan is simply a “To Do” list with deadlines attached. The thing that separates dreamers from doers is deadlines. This includes:
⯀ Pick a topic based on your knowledge and passion
⯀ Make sure your information product meets a need that people already have
⯀ People are willing to pay for information products that help them make money, save money or make their life more enjoyable
⯀ Book titles are important—select yours early in the process
⯀Your slant on the topic will make your information product unique. You do not have to stress about writing it because it will emerge from you
Will anyone want to read your book? Yes, if you do advanced research and planning before you start writing. You cannot depend on a “hot idea” in today’s competitive market. You must do market research to test your ideas.