I’m in the middle of a tight deadline week, so I’ll keep this short-ish [edit: HAHAHA YEAH RIGHT], but I wanted to take a quick moment to reflect on something I’ve mentioned in the past that was really driven home this week after watching the growing positive results of my latest book launch. You see, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a book project get as sticky in the Kindle Bestseller charts as Write Short Kindle Books has, so I wanted to quickly dissect that bit — and double down on the importance of RESEARCHING your niche BEFORE you write a book and also the importance of TARGETING your books to niches that have a strong audience.
Flinging spaghetti at the wall
I spent a lot of time testing the waters with my first book, Up Up Down Down Left WRITE: The Freelance Guide To Video Game Journalism. I spent about a year writing blog posts that would eventually become the early rough drafts of some chapters. After that generated some great traffic and positive response, I launched a kickstarter to see if people would actually want a full book from me on it. That went well, so I finished the book and it had a great launch. It’s been my best and most consistent selling books to date. I’ve sold more than 1,500 copies and earned far more from it than I’d have gotten going through a traditional publisher, so mission accomplished.
Granted, It’s a super niche book. 1,500 copies isn’t a lot for some authors, but I’ll take it! I’ve started a companion podcast, and spent a lot of time engaging with my niche audience for the book — my peers, up-and-coming word slingers in the games industry, and lots of other great folks. So that’s helped keep the book on peoples’ radars a bit and been a fun way to keep on keeping on.
However, for the three books between UUDDLW and my latest (and VERY different) book, Write Short Kindle Books, I basically just wrote blindly and bashed out a few short books that I wanted to write. I knew it was a risk, so I’m not shocked by the hit-or-miss results.
Interview Fu, book 2 in the Game Journo Guides Series, is probably one of my strongest books in the series content-wise, and it did fairly well during its brief launch promo, but it hasn’t been a steady seller. Book 3, Freelance Writing Hacks had a strong but super brief mini-launch that may have been somewhat affected by the fact I experimented by creating a self-narrated audiobook bundle version and offering that as a “pay what you want” setup.
For those two books, I basically said “oh hey, let me throw down some added info and explore topics that I wasn’t able to dig into in UUDDLW.” But people still seem to primarily want the flagship book for that series, which makes sense. I have another book or two planned in the series before I close it out, and those will be MUCH more targeted to what current readers have asked me for more information on.
This winter I launched a fourth book, Coffee Is My Religion: Geeky Essays on the Writing Life, which is a pet project where I wrote a collection of deep-dive essays and personal stories on different aspects of my own writing life, including self-publishing adventures, freelance follies, and small failures and victories on all fronts. Also I talk about coffee and my early start as a beat reporter for a weekly newspaper. I’m happy I wrote it, and I plan to eventually write and launch future volumes with additional stories, but my attitude with the project was more “hey I’d like to do this for me” vs “I’m sure a lot of people will totally want to read this.”
That launched on Dec. 1st, 2014. To date, I’ve sold a grand total of 36 copies. It’s no mystery to me why that number is so low. It is what it is. Will it sell more copies? Probably. I haven’t plugged it as much lately or run any major promos yet. Still, it’s a niche within a niche within a niche.
There are certainly a lot of different factors, considerations, and experiments that played into each book’s performance. But much of it all boils down to choice of niche, researching the audience, and making smart choices — about not only what books you choose to write but also how you package and market them to your target audience.
The other end of the spectrum
I took a very different approach with Write Short Kindle Books, and so far it’s really paying off. For starters, I targeted a much broader market — one that I’d say is definitely stronger than my previous niche books. Yet it’s still niche, and some of the other books in this new series will be even more niche than the first. Niche in and of itself isn’t bad, though being smart about your choice of topic and the audience can make a big difference. Bottom line: research research research!
I spent a LOT of time researching the market for WSKB and was thoughtful about every aspect of my battle plan (for the most part) — from the title and cover art to my keywords and overall marketing/launch plan. I weighed out how it might (and it is, so far) help to bring new readers to my work and bridge the gap between my existing reader base for the Game Journo Guides and the future books I plan to write.
I’ll do a more thorough “by the numbers” post once I’m past the launch window for WSKB and have some long-term data to share, but right now things are looking good. I had about 700 free downloads from my initial promo, and this week my paid sales numbers are growing steadily and remaining consistent. I’m selling on avg between 20 and 40 copies a day right now, which is exciting stuff! It’s starting to add up, and that feels killer.
So the point of all of this is to drive home the importance of putting serious thought and planning into your books from a niche perspective, from an audience perspective, and from a marketing perspective before you dive in. It’s always good to test the waters first. This is CRITICAL with non-fiction.
Is that to say it’s not worth just writing whatever you want and seeing what happens? No way: that’s totally fine too. But you need to temper your expectations and dial things WAY back when you’re shooting from the hip with book projects.
Regular readers will notice that I’ve been posting a LOT of book-related stuff lately and posting far more frequently on the blog. I’ll be doing that into the future as I try to chronicle my experiences and share what I hope is useful (and probably brutally honest) insights into the inner workings of what I’m doing here with the self-publishing side of my writing world.
So stay tuned for more writerly ramblings and behind-the-scenes updates. I’m gathering info and taking close notes with all of my writing experience, and I plan to share as much of it as i can going forward to help inspire and inform other writers looking to test the waters with their own book projects.
Cheers! [Yeah, no. That was a SUPER LONG POST. Sorry].
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