Today I downloaded best selling author, John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks in 5 Months, in which he writes: “I write to a specific audience and know how to find them.”
The similarities between entrepreneurial thinking and the minds of authors who sell a lot of books doesn’t surprise me. No matter what business you are in (and we authors are in the marketing business, in case you are confused about that), if you don’t know who wants or needs your product, you’re dead in the water.
Sadly, authors haven’t been well trained, at least not by commercial publishers, to really understand whose opinion counts when they write books. As Seth Godin points out in this latest blog post:
…book publishing is the act of taking a financial risk to bring an idea to an unknown reader.
The key word is unknown. Before the book is purchased, neither the bookstore nor the publisher knows the identity of the reader.
It’s totally crazy, at least according to the entrepreneurial mindset, to create products for customers you don’t know or — if you do — don’t want, understand, or need what you’re offering.
So, how well do you know your audience?
When I wrote The Book of Crystal Healing and The Book of Chakra Healing as an alternative health journalist back in the early 1990s, I knew that these books would be bought by folks interested in the more esoteric forms of healing. But more than that, I wanted to focus on readers who were tired of reading quasi-scientific jibberish by alternative health practitioners who would spout quantum physics in a way that would make even a moderately intelligent person cringe. My mission–because, frankly, I wasn’t that convinced these modalities worked, and certainly not for everyone–was to approach each topic in the same way I did my magazine articles: with a healthy dose of skepticism. I planned to present information in an objective way, leaving the educated reader to make up their minds as to what they thought and how they might use the various approaches I’d researched on their behalf.
That must have worked because, more than a decade later, both books are still selling and have nudged 200,000 copies each in the time since they were first published. According to my Amazon Author Central sales information, 271 copies of Chakra Healing were sold in the past 8 weeks. Not bad for a book that first hit the stores in 1998; that’s more copies than most nonfiction authors can expect to sell in several years, if not their book’s lifetime!
According to Gary Hoover, founder of Hoover’s Inc., curiosity is perhaps the single most important characteristic of individuals who create and build lasting enterprises. That also goes for those of us wishing to birth enduring books. This means doing your research about who needs and will buy your product (your book).
In the heyday of the bricks & mortar stores (and I write this as Borders goes into liquidation), publishers considered it enough to provide a distribution channel, leaving it to the readers to go search out what they wanted to read. Those days are long gone. And if you self-publish, the quicker you understand that, the more successful you’re likely to be.
The more that authors understand who is their reader, where they congregate, and what they’re intensely interested in, the better that bodes for actually selling books. Yep, you’ve heard it before and it may be as unpleasant to you now as it was the first time, but when you choose to self-publish you have to become a marketer as well as be a creative.
Once you know who your prospective readers are, take a tip from the entrepreneurs and check out the appeal of your book idea before you commit to writing it your way. As Kim Overton of SpiBelt (who took her home-based business to the $7 million level in four years) pointed out,
Be open to feedback. If you say, it’s my idea and I don’t care what you say, then you’re not going to go very far. You’re probably going to be your only customer.
Sometimes you think you’ve got a great idea that a book consultant might point out hasn’t got enough “meat” for a whole book. Or you might think you’re offering a solution to a problem that–when you talk about it to potential readers–you find they don’t want or fail to understand. Self-publishing, done right, can cost you several hundreds if not several thousands of dollars. Do your “due diligence” and find out whether there’s really a willing market (i.e., large numbers of people prepared to shell out money, rather than trawl the Internet for free information) before you finalize both the concept and the structure of your book.
Excuse me while I go back to reading more of John Locke’s advice on how to sell eBooks in the millions. This might be a good idea for you too, especially if you are in the throes of writing your book or have already published it and thought you’d leave “marketing” until you had something to sell.