How to find the precise book subject that others want to buy

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I particularly liked a posting by Rob Carver who suggested that writers simply talk to the ultimate buyers in their market to see what they want to read and buy. (This was part of a very interesting discussion in the Linkedin Group called Ebooks, Ebook Readers, Digital Books and Digital Content Publishing.)

Getting new book material from what my listeners said has made a huge difference in my own career, and I all but literally backed into it through speaking. Since that probably resulted in nine books for me, I thought you might be interested in my reply to that group:

For about 25 years I offered four-hour seminars, mostly in California, about 80-100 times a year. And for about 15 years I wrote a book a year related to the topics I spoke about: mostly publishing, writing, empire building, and paid speaking. Along the way I stumbled on the asking idea.

I’d design a new seminar and research it enough to add it into my repertoire the next year. Then I’d give that new seminar about 15-20 times, and every time a person asked a question or for some clarification, I’d answer the person but I’d also write down what he asked on a sheet of paper during the breaks, and once a week or so I’d type those notes up while they were still fresh. If it looked like a book was needed at the end of that cycle, I zeroed in on the heart of their comments (I also restructured my seminar to include more material about the new topic as I went along.) That became the core of a new book, and told me where to do more research (and interview folks who knew much more about the subject) so the new book had a lot more substance when it got to print. A couple of those books kept rooms full enough that I gave the same basic 75% programs all of those 25 years, and the back-of-the-room book sales from them paid all of my travel and costs.

In retrospect (as I write this) I had just the right audience to query too: they had paid about $50 to hear a how-to program about the very topic I was culling their questions about. Those folks were eager to know more and willing to pay to learn. They sort of pre-qualified themselves. (That assumes they weren’t there just to laugh at my three amazingly funny jokes or punishing puns.)

I’m not boasting because it was really happenchance, and then I just followed common sense. Since my most likely buyers were right in front of me, it also lessened having to work the bookstore for survival sales (although I did push library sales heavily). Lately, I’ve focused on niche publishing, but that too is the same kind of questioning, though a different marketing format of pretesting the topic before publishing the book at all, then letting the attendees tell me naturally what more they really wanted to know. (A lot of new info came from the informal Q-A that takes places during the breaks and after the program was over.)

Let me share a quick example. My most popular seminar (and book) was “How to Sell 75% of Your Freelance Writing.” While I focused on the writing and selling processes, from the outset folks asked how they could sell the same published magazine and newspaper articles over and over again. So I started outlining a book about that sub-theme right away, and as I went along I expanded that part of the seminar too. By the next year I had the “75%” book done, and a few months later a reprint and reselling book was ready too. The latter topic would never have occurred to me, that listeners wanted to know about secondary sales. Even better, I extracted 10 key points for the table of contents directly from what they asked me. The best news: that reprint/rewrite book sold very well for decades!

It all made sense: just ask your listeners what what they want to hear more of.

You get the idea. I’m talking about non-fiction and Rob was discussing fiction. I’ve barely dabbled in fiction (one dreadful novel) so I have no idea how well it would work there.

Best wishes,
Gordon Burgett

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