Romance, mystery and thrillers may capture all the headlines, but take a peek at non-fiction categories and you’ll find many writers (who aren’t Kon Mari surprise hits and celebrities) making a more than decent income.
Chris Fox, author of 5,000 Words Per Hour and Write To Market (as well as a series of fiction books) says that the biggest benefit to writing non-fiction is the unexpected income. “I expected to make my money from fiction, and only wrote non-fiction for fun. Much to my surprise 5,000 Words Per Hour took off, and I’m still selling quite a few copies.”
One reason why non-fiction can be so profitable is that it’s often priced higher than fiction. Sales also tend to be steadier, without the highs and lows commonly experienced with fiction.
Non-fiction can also lend itself to further income-generating opportunities, whether paid speaking gigs or repackaged courses.
So how do you write and launch a non-fiction book that will net you regular sales? Here are the four key points:
1. Expert knowledge
The key to successful non-fiction writing is your expertise. You must have a credible, demonstrable knowledge of what you’re writing about if you’re going to solve your reader’s problem – and get sales. Readers can sniff out writers who have limited or outdated knowledge, so make sure you really do know what you’re talking about.
Chris Fox gives an example. “I’ve seen books purporting to teach people to write novels, but the authors have never published any fiction. Or maybe published a book that totally bombed.”
Remember that you may have to update your book every once in a while to stay relevant. If you’re active in the area that you’re writing in, you’ll probably already be aware of trends or changes, making this easier to do.
Is your knowledge valuable enough to make a book worth buying?
Check out the top ten titles in your category. What are their sales rankings? Remember that these are different from category rankings. If the number one book in a category only has a sales ranking of 200,000, you can safely assume it’s not a particularly lucrative category. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write or publish in it, only that it’s not going to net you a lot of sales.
To work out how many sales you can expect per day from a book’s sales ranking, try this handy rank calculator from kindlepreneur.com:
Look for categories where most of the books in the top 10 have sales ranks of 100,000 and above at the very minimum. Look at the top three or four books and identify any shortcomings to find a gap in the market for your book. Does it cover areas which other books don’t? If you’re not sure, read the negative reviews of the best-sellers to find out what they lack and where readers are disappointed. Doing this can help to give you an angle or a unique selling point.
3. Writing style
In most cases, people are going to buy your book to find out how to do something, or to solve a problem. Make it easy and quick for them to do this through direct, fluff-free writing. Organise the contents of your book with headings, sub-headings, self-evident chapter headings, and so on.
When your book is written, edit ruthlessly until your prose is concise.
Chris Fox says, “Non-fiction readers love short books. Their entire goal is to solve a problem, one they’re hoping your book will address. If you can do that in 60 pages instead of 600, they’ll thank you for it. This means non-fiction readers will pay a premium for a short but useful book.”
“Fiction readers are the complete opposite. They look at purchases in terms of hours of entertainment, and shorter work is penalized. In my career this has meant that fiction titles are more time-consuming to write, more expensive to produce, and require a much higher degree of craft to get right.”
A popular website or blog or a big mailing list are all pluses when you launch. Involve your readers and subscribers in the planning stages, share your research findings, invite comments and weave your readers’ experiences into the book itself. You can use your blog to preview chapter excerpts and to bring in new traffic, too.
That said, you don’t need a huge platform to sell a non-fiction book. If you’re writing as a relative newcomer, use a combination of reviews and price promotions to gain visibility and sales. Here’s a strategy that works with KDP Select:
Read the reviews of competing books and note reviewers’ email addresses. Not every reviewer makes this information public, and sometimes only list a website address (from where you can find contact details). This process takes time, but it’s well worth it, as you can then write a personal email to each reviewer. Get as many as you can (at least 30 to 40) as you won’t always get a high response rate.
Get reviews quickly
Make your book available for free download on Kindle Select for the next two or three days. This means that reviewers can get your book without cost to them, but also that the review appears as “verified purchase”.
As soon as the free promotion starts, write a friendly, personal note to each reviewer, explaining that as they already reviewed a similar book, you think they might enjoy yours. Make it clear that you’re asking for an honest review and mention that your book is available as a free download now to encourage them to get it straightaway.
Position your book
As with fiction, make sure you’re using relevant keywords and that your cover and blurb are appropriate to your category.