Peter Bowerman, a veteran commercial freelancer and business
coach, is the author of the award-winning Well-Fed Writer titles (all
self-published; www.wellfedwriter.com), how-to “standards”
on lucrative commercial freelancing – writing for businesses and
for rates of $50-125+ an hour.
He chronicled his self-publishing success (52,000 copies of his first two books in print and a full-time living for seven-plus years) in the award-winning 2007 release, The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living. www.wellfedsp.com
We've all known people who talk about their "crazy" lives, which, 99 out of 100, is just a life like most other lives, or, at the very least, certainly not some Oprah-worthy existence. They exclaim, "I should write a book; no one would believe it."
Yeah, and no offense, but I'd wager no one would buy it, either. What we think is absolutely fascinating about our life is rarely so for others. So, Rule #1 of the SP game, and part and parcel of the whole Sales and Marketing discussion here is this:
Write a Book People Will Want to Read.
Painfully obvious, right? Total no-brainer? Well, as we've all discovered, few things are no-brainers, especially this one. A corollary to this rule is: Don't let ego or vanity ("Hooowee, I'm going to be an author!") cloud your judgment and keep you from asking yourself the tough questions to determine if your proposed subject matter is indeed salable. Remember: a garage full of books is an amazingly ego-boosting sight for about two hours. Tops.
Put another way, don't succumb to what I'll call
"book blindness," a common affliction of first-time
self-publishers and even some more experienced folks: when you become
so enamored with the idea that you've written a book and you're so
intimately attuned to how much blood, sweat and tears went into its
creation (and by extension, how "incredible" you know it
is) that you lose sight of the fact that your market doesn't know any
of this and needs to be sold on all of it. That means content, cover,
title, subtitle, editing, and everything else that contributes to a
successful title, in the market's opinion, not yours.
Let's look at a clear-cut example of a book people want to read: a Top 10 title on The New York Times fiction best-seller list. What makes such a book so popular? With non-fiction titles, the subject is undoubtedly topical and compelling, and the information is sufficiently valuable to enough people to translate to commercial success.
With fiction though, it's likely the draw of a
marquee author. What makes those authors so popular? Well, you could
safely say that their books strike a common chord in enough readers
with compelling story-telling, rich character development, recurring
themes or heroes/heroines (in the case of a series), authentic
depictions of human nature, etc.
Simply put, for a book to become a best seller,
enough people have to feel there's a payoff: a feeling that's
pleasurable or familiar, something they can relate to on some
fundamental level, etc. Will your book deliver that crucial payoff?
Tune in to WRII-FM
All writing, if it's to be effective (i.e., get
through to your reader), must always consider the audience, as we
just discussed. Throughout the entire self-publishing process, you'll
need to keep your reader/listener/viewer constantly in mind. Choosing
the right (read marketable) subject matter for your book is just the
first time you'll do that.
Along the way, you'll do it on countless other occasions, as you craft: 1) email pitches to potential reviewers; 2) press releases to particular publications or associations that have specific "hot buttons"; 3) articles for print/online publications which look for specific content; 4) promotional copy, commentary and content for book signings, discussions, seminars, speeches, radio/TV interviews, other public appearances, and much more.
We need to tune our marketing minds into "WRII-FM,"
that unspoken question in the mind of the reader of any printed
material: "What's Really In It For Me?" If the answer is,
"nothing" or "not enough," then it's on to the
next book on the bookshelf, email in the inbox, or article in the
How's Yours Different?
Let's assume that you've determined that your subject
matter is indeed viable. Next stop? Barnes & Noble, Borders, or
Amazon.com. See how many other books there are on your subject. It
might be a great topic, but if there are 20 titles that deal with it
already, do we really need a 21st? Yours had better be pretty darn
special, and to someone other than you (and your mother).
Plenty of Room
In the case of my first book, there was literally one
book on the market on the subject of commercial writing: Secrets of a
Freelance Writer, by Bob Bly. It's a very good book, in fact it was
the book that got me started in the commercial writing business.
Still, it was just one book. Bob's book is solid, substantive and
straightforward. Mine was going to be just as meaty in its own right
but more fun, whimsical and irreverent, starting with the title
itself, The Well-Fed Writer, and continuing on from there.
So, clearly, I felt comfortable that there was more
than enough room for another book on the subject, especially one with
a different tone and approach. Most importantly, the subject matter
was very compelling. I knew there were zillions of struggling or
"wannabe" writers out there who would be more than a little
intrigued by a book that showed them, step-by-step, how to make a
handsome full-time living as a writer.
A Book Proposal?
Here's a great way to gel your thinking about the
market viability of your book. About the time I'd finished my first
book, and before I'd definitely decided to self-publish it, I put
together a book proposal, which, of course, is the first step to
pitching agents and/or publishers. But even if you've already made
the decision to go the SP route, a book proposal is a wonderful way
to get a reality check. It ensures that you'll think this thing
through thoroughly before taking the (financial) plunge. That means
figuring out what the book would cover, why there's a market for it,
who would buy it, why they would buy it, what your competition is,
what your expected costs will be, and much more.
Don't make the oh-so-common mistake of overestimating the appeal of a potential book idea. Perhaps you do have a great book, but a little homework now will save a lot of headaches later.
***The above article was excerpted from The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living, by Peter Bowerman. Fanove, 2006. http://www.wellfedsp.com