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Not to state the obvious, but there’s one thing your book needs above all else in order to be successful: readers.
And yet even though this is exceedingly obvious, the biggest mistake many first-time authorpreneurs make is that they allow their passion for a topic to blind them to the fact that there may not be an audience for their book. Take it from someone who created an anthology about reality TV shows, failing to understand that reality TV fans want to watch reality TV and not read books about it, and non-reality TV fans do not want to read a book about reality TV.
While many authors are aware of the fact that they need to start their marketing a good six months before their launch, not many know they actually should be thinking about it before they even put pen to paper.
In other words, the first thing you need to do is identify where your audience is and what they want.
Related: Why Entrepreneurs Need to Get the Right Blurbs for Their Books
Do your research
While you don’t need to read every single book that’s out there on your topic, you absolutely need to get quite familiar with at least a few of them. Hopefully this is already happening organically since you’re writing a book on a topic you’re passionate about — and thus already reading books on the topic.
But don’t stop at just reading the book. As the third largest search engine in the world, Amazon contains an array of information you can use. Go to the Amazon pages of the books you’re reading and look at all the negative reviews. This isn’t so you can feel inspired to clobber the competition, but to get solid intel on what readers are wanting and not getting so you can include that in your book. I also recommend typing your topic into the book search bar to see not only what comes up, but also how Amazon auto-populates the rest of the search.
Find your niche
“The riches are in the niches” is a common saying in the marketing world and it’s just as true for books.
When your book is for everyone, as the saying goes, it’s for no one.
The rationale behind this is that if your book is specifically geared toward a certain group of people, they’re going to have an intrinsic and passionate reaction to finding something that feels like it was written just for them. When that happens, they will begin recommending your book — in short, becoming your publicist or salesperson. And just think: What makes you want to read a book more — when the author recommends it, or when someone else does?
Related: How to Get Media Attention for Your Book
Make sure there’s an audience
Just because an audience exists doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to reach them or that they are avid readers (see my example above about the author — ahem, me — who wrote a book for reality show fans). You could all the media attention in the world, but if readers don’t care about the topic or you can’t reach them, it won’t make a difference. In other words, just being passionate about a topic isn’t enough.
The goal is to find a topic you’re passionate about that aligns with your audience. It doesn’t matter if you only have a few followers or people on your newsletter list. Try testing out your “material” — the thoughts, philosophies and concepts you’re planning to include in your book — long enough for you to be able to get a sense of what resonates. If no one responds to certain topics, there may not be an audience for it — or, if there is an audience for it, they may not be in your orbit.
It’s easy to think we know what readers want because we think it’s what we wanted when we were first learning about our topic but we’re often too inside the fishbowl to fully understand what our prospective reader craves.
Related: Writing a Book to Grow Your Thought Leadership? Here’s What You Shouldn’t Waste Your Time Worrying About.
I recently committed to posting a writing tip every Monday on social media. Most of the tips tend to get the same enthusiastic but not-over-the-top responses. Then I posted one about how it’s not self-obsessed for writers to put themselves out there — it’s actually self-obsessed not to do that. On that one post, I got more comments and DMs than I can count from people who asked, “Did you write this for me?” Friends and strangers thanked me for helping them see that they needed to break through their fear.
In short, it took 10 or so different posts for me to determine a topic that really got my audience excited.
In the end, coming up with an idea for an audience passionate about what you’re creating — and you know how to reach — is the single most important aspect of your book, even more than how you’re publishing or your writing ability. And all the information is just a few clicks away.