Can you make money from an “orphan” book?

People ask me that a lot, usually when I’m giving a seminar about publishing. I presume they ask it because they are one book deep.

Incidentally, an “orphan” book is a stand-alone, in a field without support products or other books to promote along with it. Like a publisher of fly fishing books releasing a singular tome about stud poker or cat whispering.

We have a long-earning, very successful “orpan” but I’m always reluctant to go into details because it’s wiser to bunch up books or products that are related so one sells another.

Or at least that was the case (and probably still is the best advice) before “ancillary publishing” came along and made it fast and almost free to publish your book. (That’s what I explain in How to Get Your Book Published Free in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days.)

I’ll tell you the story. The book in question is Treasure and Scavenger Hunts: How to Plan, Create, and Give Them. It’s now in its third bound and fourth digital editions.

When I was in college, in the knicker era, a fraternity member where I waited tables asked if I knew how to lay out a treasure hunt. I asked why. He said that his brothers had a mixer scheduled with a sorority and they had promised a treasure hunt, but none of them had been on one. He also mentioned $20 if they could get one done by the next day. I was an instant $20 expert!

By the end of that year I averaged a couple of hunts a weekend, for $25 each. There were 56 fraternities and 28 sororities at the University of Illinois then, and I guess they talked to each other because I never spent a penny advertising.

I also quickly discovered that I needed hunts where nobody picked up clues–because the first team there would just pocket the others’ clues!

About 20 years and 100+ hunts later I was in a publishing lull, had three weeks open, and thought it might be fun to write up the process, get some artwork and a cover, and release the how-to mystery to the world.

It took longer to get the cartoon-like drawings than write the 140-page text, but about five weeks later out came the first edition.

It was a tough little critter to sell in volume. Bookstores didn’t know where to put it, it was hard to promote as a stand-alone, and soon I got involved publishing a new niche line.

Yet the book somehow found its own buyers, and I still get a weekly order from Mostly, the digital copy gets downloaded since folks who Google and find it seem to have their party a day or two later! And there are party planners, tour hosts, cruise directors, and school teachers who apparently tell each other…

It earned about $800 the first year, then kept increasing to about $10,000 annually until a couple of years back, and now it’s back to the $800 level again. It may have topped six figures. I’ve lost the exact amount from the early years.

I know: it’s a lousy example to share, and that I should have vigorously marketed it, or at least given it diligent promotion. Except it was always the least promising book in the herd, and it seemed to do okay on its own.

So I can hardly encourage my hungry listeners to do as I did, particularly when the Niche Publishing system is so much more rewarding and far easier to explain!

But if you have a book, write and publish it. Be more creative in its marketing. The important thing is that you wrote and published a book, and your genius is exposed for others to use and appreciate. And it might even, despite itself, linger around forever and bring a healthy sinecure!

What did I do to deserve such a generous but forgotten book? I’ve mostly just kept it in stock, with a website link and order page. It’s even less demanding now with digital download and P.O.D. printing–though today it’s on my mind because I just ordered 150 more copies the day before Thanksgiving.

I’m also thinking, again, for the 20th time in 20 years, of getting serious about this lovely “orphan.” Yet it’s still as baffling to promote as it was before.

So that’s why I don’t mention it in my seminars, unless asked. Nor boast much about it, though it probably put both of my girls through college.

It’s turned into my own quiet, hidden treasure. The best kind of wee treasure: it finds me!

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. I talk about more substantive things in my newsletter, free and monthly. You can also see a few of my other non-niche, “orphan” products at

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Do you really want to sell your book(s) or articles?

Then ask yourself every time before you query an article or title your book, “Who cares?”

Beginners all reply, “Everybody!”

Veterans know the truth: probably nobody, or a handful of folks with unbridled curiosity or too much free time.

But there’s almost always a cure. Make your title or your query selling the piece so compelling that the buyer or editor can feel immediate reader interest.

Just aim it at those who should be the most interested. In other words, list those who benefit most from wanting to know what your title or topic is about. Go straight for them; forget the rest.

If you are writing about the best goat feed anywhere for the least cost, don’t query the editor of The Nation or don’t have a photo of a barn painter on the book’s cover.

You already knew that? Great! I wish when I was editing and reading query letters you had written to me! At least half the pleas I saw never ever would have worked on our pages. (And, sadly, many of those that were miraculously on target were too poorly written to be considered.)

If what I’m saying seems like common sense, it is. But it doesn’t seem to be very common!

Here’s the trick.

Write out your title or summarize your query in a few words. Then take a card and list the 10 most likely potential buyers. After each answer, in a word or two, write down why they would buy it.

Write #1 by the most motivated, the most benefited, on your list. Continue writing until you reach #5.

Go back and picture #1 in your mind, and see if you can make the title or query more precise, more appealing. Spend time here.

You can do the same for all five. You may even change the numbers–or a new buyer may come to mind to replace one of the top five.

Pick a winner. Focus. A friend of mine says that time spent here is worth a sale a second! Find those goat feeder magazines, newsletters, feed catalogs, the mailing list… and sell your words.

There’s not much sadder than having a great idea, great copy, and the wrong buyer. Think buyer first.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. I talk more about selling writing at my newsletter, free once a month.

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“How to Create an Extraordinarily Effective Speech-Marketing Tool” now available as an e-report

I now have a 33-page report (with a pair of example downloads totalling 135 pages) available that is roughly based on the 60-minute Speaker Net News teleseminar (with the same title) I gave on Oct. 25.

Here’s a brief write-up, with more details at this landing page.

How to Create an Extraordinarily Effective Speech-Marketing Tool:
Your Own Self-Selling Book or Booklet

To regularly earn many thousands of dollars from speeches or seminars, invest a few hundred dollars now–once–and create a surefire selling tool that you can send to every booker in your universe. Build a book or booklet from something you uniquely know—solve a gnarly problem, retool a case study, explain a process that works —so the booker sees your brilliance, wit, and special insight and can hire you for a related presentation you want to give!

Best yet, you needn’t pay a penny to publish your gem in either bound or digital format, and it can be yours in minutes or days. It can also be an income source forever!

You will learn:

* how to strategize your speech-marketing campaign, and what singular tool will distinguish you from others seeking that booking

* the contact letter, flyer, and “kit” components you will have digitally accessible to accompany your new speech marketing book or booklet

* what the new tool must do to positively persuade the programmer that you are the person to pick, and to whom it should be sent for maximum effectiveness

* where you can send the tool to get it published free and fast, looking the way you want, both bound and digitally downloadable!

* how you can later (or simultaneously) re-publish that core book or booklet in-house as often as you wish without rights problems or ISBN issues


It tells how to get this report free at my (also free) November 17 newsletter.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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Four great tips for digital book layout and design

We used to print our books by offset (a thousand at a time) but mostly we now do it digitally, particularly for print-on-demand products.

The latter is what I talk about in my book How to Get Your Book Published Free in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days, a step-by-step guide that mostly helps you submit comfortably to ancillary publishers.

So I was particularly delighted to read Joel Friedlander’s article in the current (November, 2010) issue of the IBPA Independent where he gives valuable tips on laying out and submitting books to Lightning Source and CreateSpace.

Doubly delighted because it’s what Joel does for a living, book designing. (And just as surprised: his Marin Bookworks is about 15 miles away, in San Rafael, California!)

Here are the tips:

(1) Because the equipment creating POD covers is less precise, the copy can shift as much as 1/16″, which to the eye is a lot. So he had to adapt, which meant keeping the spine the same color as the base front and back, avoiding having to line up two colors at the spine folds;

(2) Moving any copy close to the top (or bottom) edges of the cover further away from the edge, so any misalignment would be less evident;

(3) Expanding the bleed from 1/8″ to 1/4″, and

(4) making the inside margin larger for digital books than the offset model suggests.

The best news is that Joel has a super blog that zeros in on just this kind of valuable insider information. See it at

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. I’ll see you at my newsletter?

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Become an expert on something, if you’re not already…

The world is starving for specific, how-to information that will make it richer, healthier, and happier…

In fact, it scarcely matters what you create expertise about, others are eager to reward you to the degree that you share your special inside information and boundless enthusiasm with them!

I see this particularly with speakers, where I’ve vocationally resided now for decades. The fringers, bless them, have 12 speeches about 14 topics, all about 2″ deep. But the folks who consistently get the big bookings either have a giant topic (“it’s not what you look like, it’s what you do with it”) and a giant skill in booking and speaking or they know something so specific to a particular group of listeners (chiropractors, CEOs, front line fast food managers)–and they are good, sometimes great speakers–that the booking gatekeepers almost have to book them every other year.

The point is to capture one thing and become its champion and expert, then move out from your strongest skill (writing, speaking, teaching) by the other dozen information dissemination means until you have built an empire. Write the definitive core book or give the knock-them-over-with-substance speech, then move out… You become the emperor or empress about that thing, and it will feed you well for years.

The hard part is the discipline to find that something that you love, want to know everything about, and must share. Plus the vision and tenacity to build and climb your own empirical mountain.

Just thoughts,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. I talk about empire building in my free, monthly free newsletter. In fact, one of the three free reports is about empire building! Glad to have you with us.

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Summary of Nov. 4 Newsletter for Writers, Speakers, Publishers, and Empire-Builders

My most recent (usually monthly, always free) newsletter was just posted.

Here’s a fast summary of items included:

* The big houses are buying less literary fiction. See the rates they pay.
* There’s a new ancillary publisher, like Lulu and Kindle. (I’ll report how it works the first week of December.)
* Also, a new design program that converts your text in Kindle–and keeps everything as is and in place!
* Smashword’s Mark Cooker tells you the “Seven Secrets of Book Publishing Failure.”
* A quick case study of a four-book fantasy fiction release.
* A study telling why people buy books–and don’t.

Why we are writing English as we are today.

Some tips about finding your royalties or payments at Smashwords and CreateSpace.

Subscribe here, it’s free and fast–and you get three free solid download reports too. If you aren’t pleased, just unsubscribe. It’s that easy. And keep the reports!

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. My description of my book that explains how to get your words in print through ancillary publishers is found at The book is How to Get Your Book Published Free in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days

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How do you sell the book you just wrote?

Since I offer workshops about publishing (mostly in CA), I often hear back from participants when they finish writing their book. That’s great!

But then they ask me how to sell it! My new book How to Get Your Book Published Free in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days explains some of that, for ancillary publishers (like CreateSpace, Kindle, iPad, Smashwords, and Lulu) but for the world, it’s mostly the old-fashioned way: bookstores (good luck), distributors (good luck), libraries, and to niche buyers (the best luck).

What is my response, particularly when they add in that they are eager to sell the book on tour–but don’t tell me anything about the book? Here’s one reply:

“Since I know nothing about the book, it’s hard to know where/how you market it.

“My initial thought is to zero in on what makes the book compelling and instantly buyable, figure out the most likely buyers (women, seniors, a niche group), and figure out how they find books to buy, then put your book there. Get it reviewed there too. Otherwise, how would you plan a book tour?

“Or follow the path of lots of others. Find a good book about book marketing (John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Book is great for self-publishers) and zero in again on what you think will work.

“The tough first part, the writing and publishing, is done. The tough second part is the marketing. Wish I had magic dust or ideas for you. Mostly I sell niche books–much easier.”

For the niche books, simply use Niche Publishing.


There actually are some good clues in that reply. When I find new marketing info I put it in my free, monthly newsletter too.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. Write the book anyway. Most folks figure out the selling…

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