Becoming a self-publisher means you will be going into business. The first and most important step any businessperson takes is to decide what product or service to offer customers.

Some kinds of writing hold more promise for commercial success than others. You may dream of publishing a book of poetry, or novel, or telling your life story. You might have a deep passion for your work. But if making money is your primary goal, however, you will face an uphill climb.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve already written the book, already know what you will write about, or have yet to choose a subject. There are many steps you can take to help ensure the commercial success of your book. Some books quickly sell and rocket to best-seller status, while others gather dust in warehouses.

There are two reasons for this: The winners are usually about timely subjects and have been heavily promoted—subject matters influences sales. Choosing an attractive topic is the first step toward the best-seller dream.

How do you know what’s marketable? Nonfiction tops the list. People want information. It could be a book that shows you how to do or make something or improve yourself. Books that show people how to be wealthier, healthier, or sexier lead the pack. But maybe the thought of writing a whole book seems as ambitious to you as scaling Mount Everest. In that case, climb a smaller peak.

Finding new trends

Beyond people’s general interest to be skinny, rich, and famous, certain topics are more salable than others. One way to do this is to catch the current or anticipated trends.

Be aware of hot topics, but be careful not to be trapped by a fad. You have to be able to determine the difference between a fad and a genuine trend. Ignore the transient fads. Don’t let it gobble up your time and money.

There is a keen interest in regional cookbooks and history books about specific areas. Niche publications – for children, seniors, singles, etc – with a regional slant is another growing category.

When devising a new book, you can give an old theme or idea a new twist. The best way to differentiate a genuine ongoing trend from a mere novelty is to make an intelligent guess. Ask yourself if it’s a one-off event or an eruption into wide popularity of something of long-standing interest: fitness or organically grown foods. Will people remain interested in it in a year or two? Have other ideas in this field have tended to die out or lasted at least long enough for you to write, publish and market a book? You can’t know for sure, but you can make an educated guess.

Spirituality and religion are hot. And the subject of money continues to demand peoples’ interest: earning it, investing it, making it, saving it.

People continue to be caught up in diet and exercise. There are tens of thousands of books on these subjects. It doesn’t make any sense to come out with another general book on jogging. However, if you are smart, you may find a new way to ride the wave of interest others have generated.

Examine the competition. Is there a gap in the existing books? If your book is to stand out, it must have a unique angle, a fresh approach or information to persuade a potential reader to buy it. Ask a few bookstore owners or managers how well the competition is selling. If it’s one a month, maybe you should choose another project. If bookstores are ordering frequently and getting lots of requests, then perhaps your book can do well, too.

For a self-publisher, it’s essential to select a specific, clearly defined market. Write for organic gardeners, dog lovers, or parents of disabled children rather than for everybody. You can find and penetrate your market by purposely ignoring big general groups and targeting a select audience.

People are willing to buy and own several gardening guides or cookbooks because these subjects are broad and have a general interest. But how many books about hang gliding or training your dog to do tricks would youwant to buy? If one would be enough, the field may be too competitive. Your book’s success isn’t completely dependent on how good a book it is; it depends on how many people want it. Don’t let your enthusiasm blind you.

Researching markets

Visit chat rooms and discussion groups – anywhere people gather online regarding specific topics. There are several online groups devoted to your potential subject. Read the postings and look for concerns and problems they are having. When you see a pattern emerge, you’ve just learned about a need you might want to fill. You can also ask the members to take a simple survey to help pinpoint their needs and wants.

While we’re talking about online research, let’s talk about the type of e-books that are most salable. Certain types of fiction tend to do well, like erotica, science fiction/fantasy, horror, and of course, anything about computers or the Web. Tightly niched nonfiction also sells well.

And sometimes, the big publishers miss things. There might be all kinds of subjects that they are unaware of, or they can’t sell enough copies to make a go of it, but you could.

Positioning your book

Positioning your book can give you extra sales. To position your book means to give it a competitive edge by making it different or unique in some way. Let’s use cookies as an example. They are positioned in a multitude of ways: chewy, crunchy, nutritious, gourmet, like Grandma used to make, tiny, gigantic, etc.

One author produced a sailing book on water-resistant paper so boating enthusiasts could use his manual on the water without fear of ruining it. One small press doubled its sales by adding a workbook to a self-help publication. A small Texas publisher put out a cookbook as a bilingual presentation giving recipes and menus in English and Spanish. It set it apart from other cookbooks and appealed to the fast-growing Hispanic population.

Secular versus non-secular is another positioning strategy. Perhaps you find many books on your topic in the secular press. Maybe you could consider giving it a religious spin. Today, no subject is taboo for religious books. Religious and spiritual titles deal with relationships, parenting, hobbies, travel, careers-and virtually every

another subject including sex, homosexuality, and drugs.

Some publishers position their books by price. An $11.95 paperback edition may be slanted for bookstores or specialty retail outlets. At the same time, a $49.95 version (promoted as a kit-packaged in a three-ring binder and containing app) is targeted for direct sales to the consumer. When used in the early stages, creative product-engineered strategies such as these can pay off later.

Hay House repackaged Louise Hay’s Heal Your Body, despite it having sold three million copies. People don’t necessarily have the time to read 1,250 pages. Instead, they radically changed how the content was presented and repackaged the information into a quick gift-book-type reference. The new-look was inviting and fun. More than thirty-five million copies are now in print.

What you know

There are things you already know about which you can write about profitably. You know more about some thingsthan most people, and therefore you possess special knowledge that other people might pay for. Write what you know. People, not just professional writers, do it all the time.

A man who designed company logos and did advertising layout wrote a book on logo design. He sells it as a course and gets fifty per student. A woman successfully sued her former employer for sexual discrimination. She documented the steps taken and made that information available to help others fight similar injustices. A businessperson who holds exclusive import rights to a small water pump markets his booklet telling how to build ceramic fountains-which happen to use his pump. A plastic surgeon writes a book, with before and after photographs, on the wonders of cosmetic surgery. These books boost their authors’ overall incomes.

And that’s just the tip of the beginning. Each year thousands of people add to their income by putting together a book, then merchandising it through direct-marketing techniques.

Your interests

Where to start? Begin by listing your interests and hobbies. Write down the jobs you’ve had, and note any job functions or skills that you particularly enjoyed or were good at.

Now, think about your successes. Have you won any honours or contests? Received special recognition for something? Do people always praise you for a characteristic or skill? That could contain the seed of a book because if you are successful, you’re better than most people, and thus you’re an expert with information to sell.

Also, think about your failures. You could write about what happened to help people avoid your mistakes.

Before jumping into a book project:

  1. Do your homework.
  2. Find out what books are already available on the subject and what they are titled. Check Amazon to determine what’s out there.
  3. Study those books. What are their angles? What solutions are they offering? Can you think of better answers? What is missing?

Your job is to go the extra mile, to improve on those books.

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