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How To Write A Book That Sells, Part One: Research

For some people, writing is something you love and the joy is in the process. But for many of us, we want to make money (maybe even a living) from our writing. Whether you’re a side-hustler or someone who wants to make writing your full-time gig, this post will help you to create a profitable business from your books.

The first thing to consider is that writing is a business. That means being strategic and making smart investments with your time and your money. Business people don’t just throw an idea out into the world and hope it makes money, at least not the ones who stay in business. Instead, successful business people do research on the market before making anything available to buy.

A lot of this article is most easily applicable to non-fiction authors. BUT, if you’re a fiction author you can also use these principles to choose profitable genres and make your books stand out against the competition.

Sometimes comparison is useful

Compare yourself to others

In publishing, research means finding out which books already sell. You probably already have a good idea of the kind of books you’d like to write. Now it’s time to find out if there’s any money in them. Amazon is a good place to start with this.

Look at the category you would like to write in. Which books are doing well? How many books exist on this topic?

Ideally, you’re looking for a category that already has books in it, but isn’t completely saturated. The saturation point will be different for every category, so I can’t give you exact numbers here. You’ll have to do your own research. Your job is to find the gaps within your subject and to learn how to make your writing better than that of your competitors.

If there aren’t any books on the topic you’re researching, that might be a warning sign. It’s much riskier to write a book in a category that hasn’t been tested. That said, it’s possible that this is a gap in the market. In this case, you need to do more market research in order to determine whether there is interest in this topic

Repeat this with each topic you’re interested in and choose the one that looks the most promising.

You could even ask a friend to help you out

Read and evaluate the books

Once you find a topic that has been tested and isn’t oversaturated, I would suggest purchasing the top five books in that category or checking them out from the library. Consider the way they are structured. What information do they provide? What problem does the book promise to solve? Does it deliver on that promise? What sort of readers are they targeting? Is there anything that’s missing? What could you do better?

Use these questions as a basis for an analysis of the market.

Take into account the things you find important when reading a book. These might be:

Content: What subjects are covered? Is there anything missing?

Comprehensiveness: How well are those subjects covered? Could you go into more depth?

Structure: How is the information communicated? Could it be structured more clearly using things like bulleted lists, tables and images?

Tone/Prose style: Does the author’s voice come through? Is it clear? Is it engaging?

Design: Is it well laid-out and easy to read? Is the cover captivating?

How can you improve on each point? These should be the guiding principles when you write your book. Return to this list as often as possible throughout your writing process.

What went wrong?

Learn from the mistakes of others

Another useful way to find your competitors’ blind spots is to read reviews of their books. Three-star reviews are often the best ones to read, as they are usually constructive, not just critical. What are readers saying about them? Are these things you could improve or expand on in your book?

Planning makes perfect

Write your blurb first

A blurb is the informational piece of copy that goes on the back of your book. It informs your reader what the book is about and what they should expect to learn from it. By writing this first, you can gain clarity about what problem your book helps the reader to solve. As you write, refer back to the blurb to ensure you are still on track.

A blurb can be useful for another reason. You can use it to run false advertisements for your book. Find an image that represents your book idea well. (You could even go so far as to create a book cover mock-up.) Use this, alongside your blurb, to run a Facebook ad to gauge interest for your book. You don’t have to have written a book to do this. Just run the Facebook ad to a landing page that says ‘coming soon’.

In addition, you could use this opportunity to gather the email addresses of those people who have clicked on your ad and are interested in your book. This gives you a good idea of how many people are interested in your book idea and provides the opportunity for you to follow up with them when you have a product to sell. It also gives you a rough idea of how much advertising you will need to do when your book launches.

In Part Two we will explore the idea of the minimum viable product, how to test your book and evaluate as you go.

Holly Dunn

Holly is a Nelsonian, studied in Wellington, and lived in the UK for about three years before returning to Nelson in 2017. She has worked as a bookseller both in New Zealand, and in the UK.

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