The Path of the Future for Small and Self-Publishers
(Publishing Basics, March 2004; see http://www.publishingbasics.com)
There are three ways to get your ink-on-paper book in print. One, let an established publisher put your words on the bookstore shelves. Two, do it yourself through self-publishing. Three, forget the bookstore shelves, self-publish, and sell it to readers before you write the first word.
The first is the toughest: convincing a big-city editor that your manuscript, thirty-two submissions deep in the “to-read” pile, is the answer to the company’s red-ink woes. The second is a quick way to get the red ink off the publisher's books and on yours. But the third I like it so much I wrote Publishing to Niche Markets to tell everybody precisely how it's done.
When that book was still a workshop and being delivered nationwide, I called it "How to Earn $50,000 Profit from Your First Book, Then Double It!”
Hype? You decide.
Since I published this article I have posted another on the web that will give a better example of the three tools
in the packet used for test mailing.
The sample mailing tools are found at
The field is called niche publishing. While self-publishing requires three elements—preparation, production, and promotion,—in niche publishing, you do much of the third before the first or second.
In standard self-publishing you find an idea so broad that anybody seeing a book on that topic in a bookstore will, you hope, instantly buy it. Your biggest problem is getting the bookstore to stock and display your finished tome while you attempt to fan up secondary promotional fires.
In niche publishing you think
“narrow” and forget the bookstore.
Applying the TCE Process
There are three guiding steps that govern the sensible flow of your niche book's creation and development. I cal1 them the "TCE Process.” T is for targeting, C for customizing, and E for expanding.
First you find a target market: not everybody, but very specific bodies. Probably 35,000 of them at a minimum, better if it’s 65,000 plus. Let's use dentists as our example: 125,000 are currently in practice.
Your target must be qualified. The number of people in your market and their accessibility via an affordable mailing list are the two most important qualifications. No mailing list? Find another market. (To see if a list exists, check the SRDS Direct Mail List book in your library.)
Then find a problem that is critica1 to that market, one for which its members would drop everything to buy a book that solves the problem. Finally, write that book! Niche publishing won't work for novels or poetry. It works great for nonfiction how-to books to specific buyers in need.
Let's say that you know a lot about insurance and want to share that information profitably with dentists. Ask yourself, what insurance problems do dentists have that they would eagerly buy a book to solve? Malpractice insurance!
How do you know? Ask dentists. What do they want? Lower premiums; an unbiased, reliable guide on current polices; less paperwork. But mostly lower premiums. So you do your research and what title emerges? Dentists: How to Lower Your Malpractice Insurance Premiums 50%!
Then you put on your promotional hat. Before writing a word, determine what flyer you must put in the dentistsí hands that will get them to fill in the form, write out the check, and put it in today’s mail, or, better yet, have the receptionist call your 800 number, e-mail, or fax, with a credit card in hand!
What promises must you make? What must your
book do to get a fast-buying response? Draw up a rough flyer with every promise
clearly stated. The rest—its table
of contents, your photo and bio, some testimonials, and so on—can be added as the book takes form. It's the
promises you must know first so you can use them for research, writing, and
Customizing the Book
If the book is for dentists, they will read it because it's for dentists—only dentists. They don't want a general book simply called How to Lower Malpractice Insurance Premiums because they will assume it's for doctors, who will think it's for chiropractors, who will think it's for 1awyers, who will think it's for dentists. Put the target market first in the title, then make the book fit.
Every example in the book will be a dentist. So will every illustration. How many dentists are male? Female? Research and make sure that your illustrations and quotation sources are in the same ratio of men to women. The median age of a dentist? The illustrations and quotation sources will feature dentists near the median age, plus a few very young, and a few near retirement. What do the books that dentists buy look like? Your book will look much the same. You're not out to change dentists' taste but to satisfy it. How much do they pay for books? Yours will cost somewhere in that range. A dentist should feel comfortable with your book in hand.
I haven't space here to dwell on the book's
preparation and production. Other resources can help you there, in particular
Dan Poynter's Self-Publishing Manual.
But the financing and promotion is done so differently that it deserves more
Financing and Promotion
To self-publish a niche book may cost you half of its retail price, if you include the promotional costs. So if your book sells for $19.95 (let's call it $20), your profit would be $10 for each book sold.
You usually sell 90% or more of your books by direct mail. That can cost you, minimum, three fliers printed and delivered for $1. If you're going to send out 125,000 flyers, you are talking $41,667. If you expect 10 percent of the dentists to buy the book, which is a safe estimate for the kind of tightly-targeted (niche) marketing described here, you will need 12,500 books ready to send. At a printing cost of $3 per book, that's another $37,500. You’re talking $ 80,000 to get out of the chute.
Before you faint, the potential return on 12,500 sales at $20 each (assuming they pay the tax and shipping) is $250,000. Mail order follows a predictable return ratio: half that money will be in your hands within four weeks, 98 percent in 13 weeks. Try matching that from an established printer or even from the bookstore selling your self-published gems!
Best yet, you don't need $80,000 to play the game. That's the "fat cat" approach. For big risk, a fat and fast return. The "skinny cat" approach says to print 2,000 copies, send out 20,000 flyers, risk about $14,000, and put all the profits into sending out more flyers and printing more books. You'll make a bit less money but you'll sleep better not having your house in hock.
The "alley cat" approach says
print 2,000 books, sell them to easy markets that require no mailing, and begin
financing the flyers with that income, perhaps $7,000 up front. It takes a lot
more patience and hustle to hit six figures this way.
You'll want to test your book on live
potential buyers before you invest beyond the $250 or so for your test. Find
210 names of dentists representationally spread
(See the resources below for examples of the components a 2003 test mailing for a book to school superintendents and principals.)
What you mail must look good. The graphics and content are worth extra investment of time and proofing.
Each group of 70 gets a different price. If $19.95 is the lowest price you can afford to offer the book, send that to one group. Try $24.95 with the next, and $29.95 with the third. From the responses, you can get a fair sampling of the percentage that would buy and how much they would pay.
Calculate your costs and potential income and decide whether it's a go or the book needs more refinement. If it's a winner, then as the book firms up, so must the sales flyer. Have that composed by a professional. That can cost $1,000 for its design and graphic preparation. Don't stint here. All that dentists know about your book and you come from that flyer.
Don't limit your promotion to the flyer,
though most of your profits will come that way. Get the book reviewed in all
the professional journals that dentists read. Run a display ad in those
journals and newsletters. Think about having a booth at the convention. Read John Kremer's 1001 Ways to Market Your Book for
996 more suggestions.
Expanding Your Book
What you are really selling, beyond a book, is expertise. That's where the spin-off profits are made. Give speeches at regional and national dental conventions (and sell more books); offer seminars to dentists in key cities across the nation.
From first books come second books, building on an expansion of your perceived expertise. Articles are opportunities for biographical slugs that cite the book. Audio and videocassettes are additional possibilities.
Another big profit center here may be a newsletter offering current information every three or four months about insurance news that dentists need to know. Build on your perceived objectivity and the honesty in the book. To continue saving thousands of dollars on malpractice insurance plus more on other kinds of insurance, wouldn't a dentist be a fool (1) not to buy your book in the first place and (2) not to buy more current information from that same reliable source? Who will buy your newsletter? Your own mailing list of non-fools who bought your book.
That's it: a thumbnail sketch of niche publishing. Substitute your area of expertise for the dentists and malpractice insurance used here.
Niche publishing requires plenty of work, promotion before preparation and production, and risk capital in advance. But nowhere are you in such command of your product and your profits. And every time there is a serious need or problem, a book is begging to be written.
As long as there are needs, mailing lists, and book buyers, there will be niche publishing. In fact, with computers at hand, laser printers affordable, digital downloads beckoning, and short-run printers in abundance, it will soon be the dominant method of publishing. Join in!
Resources for Niche Publishers
Three invaluable books, all by Burgett, about niche publishing and marketing:
Publishing to Niche
Markets ($14.95). See more at the links for each item.
Niche Marketing for Writers, Speakers, and Entrepreneurs ($14.95)
Empire-Building by Writing and Speaking ($12.95)
Check here for examples used to test mail.
Gordon also has a good two-tape (120 min.) audio cassette series, with workbook, called "How to Self-Publisher Your Own Book and Earn $50,000 Profit." Plus a shorter (60-minute), more specific audio-cassette single called "Using Your Book to Penetrate Your Niche Market"
Gordon Burgett also consults in this field.
For the self-publishing process, check these books:
The Self-Publishing Manual, 15th ed., by Dan Poynter ($19.95)
1001 Ways to Market Your Books, 5th ed., by John Kremer ($27.95)
To order any of the above. contact Communications
Unlimited at firstname.lastname@example.org
/ (800) 563-1454 / fax (805) 937-3035 /
Gordon Burgett has had 31 books, 1700+ articles, 26 audiocassette, and four new audio CDs programs in print; offered 2000+ spoken presentations, and been a book publisher since 1982. He is a long-standing member of the National Speakers Association, American Society for Journalists and Authors, and the Publishers Marketing Association.