There are a lot of brilliant sites online for self-publishing these days but the site I recommend most often is still TheBookDesigner.com.
Joel Friedlander is one of the most knowledgeable people in the business of self-publishing. Joel has taught me so much and has also become a friend online as I have navigated this crazy journey we are all sharing. Joel has a new course out which I think is THE best course if you are serious about investing in the business of self-publishing. Check out The Self-Publishing Roadmap here.
Here’s a guest post from Joel (while I am sunning myself in Carcassonne, south of France!)
If you’re a nonfiction author, there’s one question that’s crucial to the success of your books:
“Exactly whom am I publishing this book for?”
Happily, there a lot of ways you can start to get answers to this question. How well you understand your market is second only to the quality of your content in determining the success or failure of your book. Yeah, it’s that big.
Recent surveys have shown that most self-published authors don’t sell many books in the end, and that’s a shame. Part of the problem, I think, is that the authors didn’t take the time to really think about this question and all that it implies for their publishing prospects.
But don’t despair. There are ways you can start working this out even before your book is finished.
The most important and direct way to figure out who your book is for is to take some time to sit down and profile your ideal reader or readers.
In the same way that a novelist might create a portrait of an important character in a story, the nonfiction author can create a profile of their readers.
The more specific you can be in describing your typical reader, the easier it will be to locate them and understand what they need from you.
Niche Publishing Works Well for Self-Published Authors
Most self-published books are on niche subjects, and that makes good sense. A niche subject is, by definition, one that isn’t served by mass-market publishing.
It’s a subject with a narrower group of people who are interested in the topic. Although this limits the universe of people who may be readers and buyers of your books, it also guarantees that your book will be of interest, and hopefully usefulness, to those people.
For example, in the famous (originally self-published) book “What Color is Your Parachute?” author Richard Bolles appealed to one group of people—those looking to find a career they can truly enjoy—to help.
His book is of little interest outside that group, but incredibly useful and totally in sync with people up in the air about their future.
That’s a great example of niche marketing. Throughout the history of self-publishing there have been entrepreneurial authors who have taken a similar approach, each in their own niche, category or genre.
Even Dan Poynter, the “godfather” of modern self-publishing started the same way, writing and publishing books for parachuting hobbyists.
In each case, these authors would have no trouble telling you in an instant who they are publishing for, and why. Besides creating the absolutely best book you can, there’s nothing that will have as big an effect on your sales as knowing your readers–what motivates them and what they are looking for.
Can you answer this simple question? Here it is again, in case you’ve forgotten:
“Exactly whom am I publishing this book for?”
Help is On the Way
In order to get you started, here are three quick tips that might help you find out new things about your readers you haven’t tried before.
- Start spending time in discussion forums concerned with your topic, niche, category or genre. One of the great things about these forums is that they are places people turn to for answers to problems they are encountering. That alone makes them incredibly useful places to do your research. Pay particular attention to the topics that come up over and over again, because these are points where people frequently get stuck, and where you might be able to help the most.
- Read through reviews of comparable books on retailer websites. Readers frequently point out what’s really good—or really bad—about books when they write reviews. This makes the reviews a great place to learn about what people are looking for in your field. Pay particular attention to the negative reviews. Why? That’s where reviewers are going to point out the shortcomings of current offerings and state explicitly what they are looking for.
- Run a survey of your readers. Use at least one open-ended question to ask them what problems or difficulties they are having. If you have a blog, this is pretty easy to do by querying your readers, and you’ll get great feedback from people in your field. You can also get a free account at a service like SurveyMonkey.com where you can send an email to your list directing them to the survey. Think about offering a free download or other incentive to make it more attractive to fill out the survey. After all, you are getting very valuable information from people who take the trouble to help you out.
Once you start thinking about this you’ll find there are lots of ways to explore what your readers are looking for. And by the way, doing any of these will put you way ahead of other people in your field.
And even if you’re just one person sitting in front of a computer, it’s the kind of “market research” that’s within your reach.
I’m going to be talking a lot about book marketing tips and ideas in a series of free videos coming up in the next few days. I’ll be passing along the lessons I’ve learned in over 30 years of book publishing experience.
You can get notified when these free videos are ready by signing up here and I’ll let you know when they’re ready.
Let’s face it, almost all authors need help in finding the best ways to connect to their readers. Whether you need that help now or not, I hope you’ll use the tips outlined above. Self-publishing is a whole lot more fun when you have readers, and your message is too important to let it go unread.
Who are you publishing your book for? Are you still confused about your target audience? Please do leave a comment below.
Joel Friedlander (@JFBookman) is an award-winning book designer, a blogger, and the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish. He’s been launching the careers of self-publishers since 1994 and writes TheBookDesigner.com, a popular blog on book design, book marketing and the future of the book. Joel’s also just about to launch a new online training course, The Self-Publishing Roadmap.