When I talk with authors looking to improve their sales, the hardest thing for them to accept is this: avoid writing books nobody wants to read. Think I’m kidding? Recently, I was consulting with one writer who absolutely loved animals. And the book she was planning was about grooming; specifically, elephant grooming.
Seriously, who’s going to buy that book? Elephant owners, right? And how many elephant owners might there be?
Wouldn’t it make more sense to write a book for a market with millions of possible buyers? Like the owners of dogs or cats? Her argument was that the market was already saturated with dog and cat books.
But here’s the thing: next year at this time, there’ll be a dozen new dog books on the shelves, and millions of new dog owners will be buying some of those new books. So saturation doesn’t mean much. In a big market, there’s always room for more books and more authors.
On the other hand, how many new elephant owners will there be next year?
SOME TOPICS JUST DON’T QUALIFY
Choosing good, strong topics for your books is crucial to your success. But remember, the planning of your books is a very different process from the writing of them. Of course we, as authors, pride ourselves on being endlessly creative; however, there are a few times when it’s wise to rein in our imaginations, resist the urge to walk our usual solitary path and to stay close to the crowds.
Such a time is when we’re planning our books. Of course, we want our books to bring in big paydays, but we may also have visions of prestigious awards dancing in our heads. And there’s the problem. If we write a book – even a brilliant book – which is so unconventional that it’s way off the beaten track and sitting far out there in left field, then our paydays are almost certainly going to be minimal.
Sure, every once in a while somebody turns out a quirky, wonderful book that hits it big. You’ve got to admit, though, that such successes are remarkable because they ARE so massively unlikely. They’re long-shot gambles that just happened to come through. Most gambles don’t pan out, so it’s best not to plan your career on them. Gambling, as they say, isn’t a viable business model. And especially at the start of your career, getting a firm foothold is vital.
That means the topics of our books must be popular and in demand. The best way to accomplish that is to do something very simple, mind-bogglingly obvious, and utterly un-creative. As unthinkable as it may seem, we must go out and ask those huge, hungry crowds of readers what they want.
Sounds too, too simple doesn’t it? Almost beneath us… after all, we’re _authors_ for goodness sake!
FINDING WHAT’S POPULAR (AND WHAT’S NOT)
With the resources available on the Internet, we can research virtually anything. Finding a list of this month’s best sellers is child’s play. It’s just a matter of going to the websites for the New York Times, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and an armful of other specialty websites dedicated to books, writers and publishing.
How? Simply go to Google.com or your favorite search engine and type in “best seller fiction” or “best seller nonfiction“. Within a fraction of a second you’ll have long lists of authoritative websites where you can identify what the public is eagerly spending money to read.
Keep an eye on the listings for a few months, and you may even find some new trend emerging. But don’t jump too far out in front of the crowd. The real money is where most of the readers are. Just write what they’re already buying, but do it better.
Please don’t go running off in an unpopular direction. Sure, you love westerns, but does the book-buying public? Just a cursory glance through the lists will show that westerns are not popular these days. They may come back someday, but in the meantime, it’ll be hard to build a career writing books that people won’t buy.
BUT MY BOOK IS MORE THAN A MERE PRODUCT
Now, one frequent obstacle for writers I coach is the idea of treating their books as products. I get a lot of objections to this. “I’m a writer,” they’ll say, “an artist, and I can’t just churn out products like a factory. That’s crass.”
Some authors do feel that an overly “businessy” attitude is incompatible with art and creativity. Vincent Van Gogh certainly felt that way. During his lifetime he turned out some two thousand works, only one of which he ever sold. Everything else he gave away or bartered for meals, paints or rent while he lived a life of poverty, and mental distress.
On the other hand, business success didn’t seem to cripple the genius of Michelangelo, DaVinci, Rembrandt, Reubens, Goya, Titian, Botticelli, or any of the other great masters who ran large, highly successful studios.
So hey, if your books are going to be bought for money, and you’re going to receive some of that money, then I’m afraid that, yes, your books ARE products. Naturally, you want to imbue them with as much quality and creativity as possible, but they’re still going to be exchanged for money (if you go about it the right way).
My goal for you is to get the greatest possible effect from your writing efforts, so that you can inform and entertain as many readers as possible.
In the third and final part of this series, Charles will show us how to take a single book topic and expand it into an income-generating series of books which position you as THE expert author in your field.