You’ve heard the sound advice to plan your nonfiction book with readers in mind. However, writing for your readers isn’t enough. You also need to write a book that stands out from the competition. To do that requires understanding both your market and competition. Only then can you craft a marketable book—one that will sell and, therefore, get read.
In part 1 of this four-part series on how to write a nonfiction book, I stressed the need to do some essential planning before you begin writing your nonfiction book. The next step in planning focuses on strategizing how to best meet your readers’ needs and fill a gap in the bookstore category in which your book will be sold. When you produce a manuscript that meets both these needs, your book stands a higher likelihood of selling well once published.
This approach is quite simple and enormously effective. When you know what your potential readers want and need, you can write the book they’ve been seeking. When you know what makes the books already published on your topic successful or unsuccessful and similar or dissimilar from your book idea, you can write a unique and necessary book for a bookstore category.
Produce a Marketable Nonfiction Book
Suppose your ideal reader went to an online or physical bookstore to look for a nonfiction book on your specific topic. What would they tell the bookstore personal they were seeking? For example, they might say, “I want a book that will help me increase profit in my real estate business,” “I want a book that will help me improve my marriage,” or “I want a book on manifestation.”
And to which area of the bookstore would they be directed? Business? Finance? Psychology? Self-Help? Spirituality?
Once they arrive in the correct section, which is typically populated by books in one category or several related categories, what will they find on that shelf? More important, what won’t they find there?
If the book they want and need missing from the shelf, that’s the book you need to write.
However, you can’t do that until you understand your readers and study the competition in your book’s category. Completion of these two steps gives you the ability to hone your book idea and content, so the book you write fills that gap on the shelf. Then, your nonfiction book will give your readers what they seek.
Do that, and you will produce a marketable book—one with a high likelihood of selling.
Nonfiction Writer’s Challenge—Make Your Nonfiction Book Idea Marketable
To complete this nonfiction writer’s challenge, make your book idea marketable by completing the following four tasks.
1. Create a reader profile.
You must know your ideal reader intimately. Maybe you are writing for people like yourself. Great! Perhaps you have a specific type of person in mind you know you can help or who would benefit from your knowledge or personal story. Super!
Write down everything you know about this person—your ideal reader. Let one person become the representative of all the others who want and need your nonfiction book. How old are they? What type of work do they do? Are they married? Did they go to college? What are their challenges? What do they like or dislike?
Pay particular attention to what your ideal reader wants or needs. What are his struggles or challenges? What solutions or answers does she seek? Why is he looking for your book? Why does she need it? How will it serve this person?
Describe this person in great detail. Then, keep him or her in mind as you continue planning your book.
2. Choose the appropriate category in which to place your book.
A competitive book is one that someone would purchase instead of yours because the two provide similar content. Look at the front and back covers or the front matter of any book you deem as competition for the book you plan to write to find the category in which it has been placed. For example, it might say body-mind-spirit, business, or memoir.
If your book will be similar in subject matter to these books, it’s likely that it will be placed in the same category.
You also can identify your book’s category by exploring the BISAC Subject Headings listing provided by the Book Industry Subject Group. Here you will find the categories and subcategories used by the publishing industry. Find two or three that fit your book. Then go to an online or physical bookstore to research the other books in this category.
You also can determine your book’s category and find competing books by starting with online research. For instance, visit Amazon.com. Search for and identify books on the same topic as yours. Then determine in which category they are sold.
You can find the category placement by scrolling down to the book information. There you will see it’s ranking in a specific category.
By clicking on this link, you will discover the bestselling books in the category. Determine if this is the right place for your book to be sold.
3. Study the competition.
Once you know in which category to place your book, you can research books that support the nonfiction book you want to write—complementary titles—as well as those someone might purchase instead of yours—competing titles. The competition is what you want to spend your time studying, though.
As you study the competition, look for indications of what worked and didn’t work in the other books. Consider what the authors included or left out, and if these inclusions and exclusions helped or hindered the book’s sales.
With this information, you can now determine how to make your book different and better from the competition. That’s the key to crafting a marketable book. It must be unique compared to what’s been published in the category. It has to provide readers with benefits no other author has yet offered.
4. Adjust your content to meet your readers’ and the category’s needs.
Now that you have accumulated information about your ideal reader and competing books, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Re-evaluate your nonfiction book idea in light of what you have learned. Determine how to make it better and more salable.
- Choose a different angle
- Add different content
- Cut some content
- Use personal story
- Eliminate personal story
- Add special features (like a workbook element)
- Write a shorter book
- Write a longer book
- Include information from experts
These are only a few ways you might improve your book idea and make the final product more marketable. You will discover more as you analyze your book’s audience and competition.
The key is to plan as well as strategizing how to write the best book possible.
Remain Objective and Willing
This planning stage requires objectivity about your idea and a willingness to make changes that help it succeed. If you are committed to the book and your purpose—your Big Why, you’ll do whatever is necessary to craft a book that will sell.
After all, you are writing your nonfiction book, so it will get read and impact readers’ lives. That won’t happen if it doesn’t sell.
With these five steps completed, you are closer to the point at which you can begin writing your book…but not quite there, yet. Next month’s nonfiction writer’s challenge will provide the final steps to developing your book’s content and creating an easy guide for writing your book. At that point, you will be ready to produce a manuscript. WOOT!
In the meantime, you can learn more about producing marketable books by reading The Author Training Manual.
Did this post help you determine how to make your book more marketable? Tell me in a comment below. And please share this post with other nonfiction writers you know so they, too, will get motivated take on this nonfiction writing challenge.
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