Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Selecting the topic for your non-fiction book

I love old movies. So do a lot of other people in the United States. Americans love entertainment. During the Great Depression the only industry that "did well" was entertainment, particularly movies. People needed to forget their woes for a few hours and do so without spending a lot of money in the process. Hollywood made that possible. A non-fiction book about classic films in the United States, if well researched, well written, designed, produced and marketed correctly should sell well.

I also have a fascination with obscure American industrial railroads. I find the stories of the equipment, uses of these unique railroads and the people who designed and operated them fascinating. So do others and books about these railroads exist.

Which of the two non-fiction titles will sell better? It seems pretty obvious the book about classic films should for the simple reason there are so many more potential customers interested in the topic of classic films than industrial railroads.

But would a book on classic films really sell more copies?

The answer to this question lies in doing the necessary homework before writing the book, at least if one of your major goals is to make money by self-publishing the book.

What kinds of market research needs to be done?  The first area I would research would be the competition. How many books on this topic are in the market? What is the level of quality of the competing book titles? How well do these books sell? Do the classic movie fans actually buy books about these films or do they just enjoy watching the films?

While the niche market for industrial railroads might be significantly smaller, it is possible the competition is significantly less in terms of books available for this market. Suppose the hobbyists in this niche are known to purchase every single book on this topic as soon as it hits the market. Would it be possible that even with a much smaller total number of potential readers, the buying habits of those readers are such they make up for their small numbers through the fact such a large percentage of them invest their money in books about their interest?

In addition to the level of competition, size and spending habits of the niche market, there are other factors to consider. Does the would-be author have the expertise to write a book good enough to publish and attract buyers?

With the internet and the ability of customers to create viral word of mouth about a book, if the author does not know the non-fiction topic, it won't take long for the passionate readers in that niche market to publicly call the author's factual mistakes to the attention of other potential buyers. Just as good word of mouth can go viral and boost sales for a book, bad word of mouth can go viral and kill sales for a book.

Another serious consideration for the would-be author is can a viable author platform to market the book be created. Since self-publishing authors must generate almost all of their marketing for their books, it is essential the author have the ability and the information needed to create an appropriate author platform.

What are the goals of the author for the book? Is it to make money, serve as a business tool to promote the author's real business or is the book a labor of love and the real desire is just to see it in print?

Perhaps, for me at least, the last question is the most important. Do I have enough passion about the subject to actually commit to the level of work needed to self-publish the book?