Understanding the Market Ecosystem Around Your Book


Many books have been independently birthed into the world since self-publishing became feasible. Most of these books never sell well. This has never been truer than now, as the number of wannabe authors seems to increase exponentially faster than the number of people who want to read their work. Supply still greatly outpaces demand. There is a perpetual mismatch between what the market of book buyers demonstrates it is willing to buy and what amateur authors can produce.

In fact, it would be fair to assume that most self-published books are rarely read by anyone but their authors' closest friends. Books published without effective market representation remain buried in relative obscurity for the duration of the authors' lives. Their creators never learn how to attract the right eyes, so their work remains inconsequential.

Conversely, many books with poor-quality content still find plenty of readers who are happy to pay for them. Their authors and promoters have figured out how to present their work to the right audience in the right manner. They understand the conventions of the topics they write for, so buyer expectations are easy to appeal to. As such, they do not need to resort to flooding their social media feeds with a variety of pleas for anyone and everyone to buy their book just because they wrote it and they think it's amazing.

Before you begin formulating your plan for your message, research the strengths and weaknesses of the books already written on your subject. You can learn a lot from other authors' public mistakes and victories. Browse your local bookstore or check Amazon to see the current angles and approaches. When you are familiar with what they offer, you can position your message to fill the spaces they've missed. Your book can stand out above them by understanding what has been successful among the present conventions.

Most importantly, catering to the market's needs does not require you to sacrifice your integrity as a communicator. It only means framing your work in the context of what you know people are willing to read.

Category Conventions and Marketplace Trends

Book categories on online retailers like Amazon are a response to book buyers' ongoing, organic market demands. When there is too much differentiation within a parent category, buyers cannot find the information they seek. The market evolves to accommodate them with newer and finer subcategories.

Over time, cookbooks become segregated into subcategories based on specific ingredients, cooking styles, kitchen equipment, and special occasions. The market of cookbook buyers has demonstrated their persistent need for these types of categorization, or else it would be difficult for them to find the exact cookbooks they sought.

If you want to sell a cookbook, you'll need to understand the way marketplace categories have evolved and the buying priorities of consumers. The principle remains the same if you want to sell a self-help book, personal memoir, or any other kind of nonfiction. Only the details are different. Understanding the reader's expectations of the subject you are writing for will make it easier to determine how to tailor your message for maximum sales and influence.

Some writing categories are more competitive than others. Some contain high demand and few books, while for others, the exact opposite. All other things being equal, entering a category with high demand and low competition will improve your book's chances of commercial success over entering one with low demand and high competition.

As well, readers of different subjects practice different general reading habits. Those who read business strategy books may be voracious readers, consuming as many books as possible that might give them a profitable edge as entrepreneurs. For them, even a single new piece of information could be worth a lot of additional revenue. This type of book buyer will more likely assess that $20 spent and the time required to read the book are well worth the rewards generated. So, although business subjects tend to have high competition because many authors write for them and inflate the supply, they are also in high perpetual demand from readers.

A specialty cookbook of recipes appropriate for your favorite regional holiday is different from a more generally appealing book. There are many new qualifying factors to consider about the book and its buyers. Such a book might only attract readers from the region it's written about, celebrate the holiday of its subject, enjoy the act of cooking, and don't already own another cookbook that serves a similar function. Each new bit of differentiation adds a potential qualifier to the audience, perhaps reducing the total quantity but increasing the intensity of their demand.

Uncompetitive Categories

Some book categories are scarcely populated at all. You may find that no existing book adequately covers the niche you want to write about. A scarcity of competition is common if you are an expert in a complex profession poorly understood by the public. Almost every shopper looking for a book on your topic may end up buying yours. Without competition, these shoppers have no other choice to satiate their reading needs. So, even if it's not a perfect match for their specific preferences, they will likely still buy and read it.

In such a situation, it may be a long time before you need to worry about another author copying your approach and writing the same type of book as you. Even if they do, you will still maintain the first-mover advantage. A lot of traffic will already be going to your book, and you will already have established a positive, authoritative position. You will have naturally monopolized the market for your niche. There are many untapped opportunities for authors who want to write about things that are not represented well in the medium of books.

My friend and accountant, Olivier Wagner, faced a situation like this when he decided to write a book about his profession in 2017. Olivier specializes in the complicated rules that govern how Americans who live or work in other countries are supposed to file their taxes back home. If you thought ordinary American tax forms were complicated, you haven't seen anything compared to what American expatriates deal with each year. The subject of expat taxation is complicated, and the consequences for misunderstanding it are severe for taxpayers abroad who could owe tens of thousands of dollars if they don't structure their lives or businesses to legally reduce their tax burdens. They will be liable for extreme penalties if they misfile.

While there were already a few books on Amazon addressing subjects like offshore taxes, none were particularly compelling. Most were short, written in a dull tone, and covered only very general filing circumstances. They did not address all the relevant details of the many common reasons that cause Americans to move abroad. They neglected the many possible ways to arrange their income and finances for the lowest tax obligation within the confines of the IRS tax code. Few expat tax books were available in formats other than Kindle e-book, such as paperback, hardcover, and audio narration. Still, they were the only options available to readers seeking out this vital information, besides hours of perusing vague blog posts or paying top dollar for professional advice.

Olivier and I saw an opportunity to capture the lion's share of the book market for people seeking his unique flavor of expertise. Together, we came up with an outline for what would eventually be titled U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans: The Traveling Expat's Guide to Living, Working, and Staying Tax Compliant Abroad. His book filled the holes in the information matrix, negating the need to read most of the other books on the subject once having read his. Despite his initial protests, I made sure that Olivier included as much of his playful and down-to-earth personality as possible in his writing. I knew the inviting tone would be a welcome change from how his dull competition had written their tax books. From there, it was simply a matter of the two of us designing the book's presentation and planning a series of targeted promotions to this niche audience of information seekers.

There's nothing preventing another offshore accountant from coming along and writing a book like Olivier's, but it would take a serious investment of time, effort, and capital to do it right. If a competitor's book fails to introduce anything new or improve upon what U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans already does so well, it's unlikely it will gain much traction in the market. Olivier's book has the advantage of a headstart and ample publicity in the form of positive reviews, guest articles, press releases, and word-of-mouth promotion.

Competition Context

It's fine, even necessary, to take inspiration from other authors' writing styles or original thoughts. You don't have to cross into plagiarism or inauthenticity to do this. It's useful to read your competition and note what you like or don't like. You will start to see patterns in what is missing or included in similar publications. This will give you a sense of what bears repeating in your work and what new information will make your approach unique.

You do not even need to read the entirety of a competing book to get a sense of what it offers. The book description and table of contents might be enough to clue you into facets of their message. You can perform this market research in minutes by browsing a library, a bookstore, or Amazon's appropriate subcategories. Then you can decide which competing books catch your attention enough to warrant reading.

If you see that certain information has been repeated across every available resource on your subject, you can interpret it in two ways. Perhaps that information is so vital to understanding what you want to talk about that leaving it out would risk ruining your reader's enjoyment or comprehension. Alternatively, perhaps it is so well-covered by other sources that it bears no repeating. Doing so will just bore readers who picked up your book to get new answers and influence.

Only you can determine what needs to be included to fulfill your book's purpose. It will depend on the specific audience you know you are writing for and the specific effect you wish to accomplish. This is not part of only your creative inspiration but also your market research about what the world already has enough or too much of in the medium of books. Both the best and the worst books have valuable things to teach you. The notes you make here will directly inform the outline and tone of your work.

The approach I usually take is to only read competing books after I've written the majority of my initial draft. The purpose of this is to preserve the authenticity and originality of my message by minimizing the possibility of being influenced by what I see in other books. I don't want to inadvertently change something about my idiosyncratic perspective by seeing other authors writing in a particular way. I also don't want to include details just because I see lots of authors doing so. If I outline and draft my content first, reading the popular sources of information on the subject gives me a chance to consider if there's anything vital I've left out. It could be a vital point or a superior way of demonstrating something I already knew to include. It could also make me realize there are some points I probably don't need to cover because someone else has already done so better than me. At the very least, it will enlighten me about how to frame and position my book in the context of the existing market.

Categorical Demand

Hungry audiences are the most reliable early predictor of success for any product in any market. When people want something they can't get, all you must do is provide it for them. You can present sought-after information in a new way, add something no one has heard before, or suggest a new angle to a familiar thing. Then you will earn lasting notoriety within a defined market. Specialization turns competing books into complementary ones—enemies into allies.

Your readers are likely to have read a few other books on the same broad topic before getting to yours. They will likely continue to read any others they find after they finish yours. Unless there is a book that answers every question they might ask on the subject, reading one author's take does not preclude them from reading yours too. Another book only competes with yours when a buyer considering yours chooses another instead. If reading the other book resolves their questions about the subject, they will not return to browse for others. This can occur for readers who are only casually interested in a subject. A single book might be enough to satiate their curiosity.

Readers who want a well-rounded understanding of a topic read every book that appears to address some of their concerns. In such cases, the first book they read will only be a doorway to greater curiosity. Reading one book leads to reading another, and another, and another. Readers who might never have heard of you will have developed a strong interest in what you write about. They will seek out unique sources of information. Thus, you will have more sales over time because your competition stoked interest in readers who otherwise would never have read your work. Your book will get more exposure through other books with features like Amazon's "Customers who bought this item also bought" promotion. The pie grows larger, and there are more pieces to go around for everyone because it is not a zero-sum game.

Selling Cycles

Different types of books sell in different cycles and schedules. Some books are topical. There will be a spike in interest when a new trend is introduced to a culture. People rush to learn about something when the hype for it is high. When a subject evolves quickly, readers want constant, up-to-date information about its recent changes. These behavioral trends affect how people buy books on different topics.

Similarly, the market dynamics around a topic might take a turn for the worse. Within a year of publication, a book written about topical things like how to invest in cryptocurrencies or master social media marketing might be totally obsolete. Readers could also simply stop caring about the subject. The technology may have changed, or the hype may have dissipated. Such books must be continually updated (with maybe a new edition each year), or they will be overlooked for more contemporary options that emerge.

Some book topics, by their nature, are seasonal sellers that rise and fall in popularity throughout the year. Others are perennially in demand. No matter the case, you need to understand the psychology of the people who will want to read your book and how all conditions are subject to change.

If your book will make a good Christmas gift, expect an increase in paperback and hardcover sales throughout December. Simultaneously, e-book and audiobook sales might drop because shoppers will be buying physical books to give as gifts to other people. If your book has themes of love and intimacy, late January and early February until Valentine's Day might be when you see the most sales. No matter what you write, countless variables will influence buying behavior on a massive scale. You can't expect your book's performance to be immune to the fluctuations of summertime, tax season, economic recessions, or national tragedies.

Topicality Dynamics

Consider the long-term dynamics of your subject matter. Every book contains some balance of principles and incidentals. Principles describe the unchanging rules of how something works. Incidentals are examples of how they manifest in a relatable context, which makes them easier to understand. Books focused on timeless principles, such as most self-help and personal development books, are more likely to remain popular for decades without decline than books written about fast-changing topical things. Their advice is more likely to still be relevant in the decades to come as it is at the time it is written.

You can make your book less likely to go out of fashion by avoiding references that will become dated. In the context of my guide to writing and self-publishing, The Influential Author, I've made it a point to refrain from referencing specific websites, tools, companies, and resources whenever possible. If I were to tell you exactly where to go to hire freelancers or about the fine print of temporary Amazon policies, parts of this book would become irrelevant shortly after publication. Still, even with the efforts I've taken to minimize transient references, I've had to make some selective edits for the second edition you are now reading. Not only have I accrued more interesting experiences in self-publishing worth relating, but many of the specific pieces of advice I gave in the first edition no longer apply. I wonder what further changes I might have to make for a third edition in some years' time.

If you've read other books about self-publishing, you can confirm that nearly all of them published more than just a few years ago are already woefully out of date and of limited utility for the modern author. The entire industry of self-publishing is undergoing a rapid evolution. It takes a skillful approach to focus on the principles that do not change. Still, some topical, practical advice is useful for readers who need to begin applying the knowledge you give them. 

Copyright Identity Publications 
All rights reserved, 2024
Powered by Webnode Cookies
Create your website for free!