10 Ways to Test Market Your Nonfiction Book Idea Before You Publish

by Joel Friedlander on June 11, 2014 · 22 comments

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By Nina Amir

Writing and publishing a full-length nonfiction manuscript represents a big commitment in time and effort, let alone money. The fear that the book may flop, meaning never sell, stops many aspiring authors in their tracks. But it shouldn’t.

There are ways to gain certainty about your book’s ability to sell once released. Approach your project like an entrepreneur with a new product idea. After all, that’s what a book is—a product you plan to introduce into the marketplace. Think about its early stages as research and development, and, like any smart businessperson, employ test marking techniques.

Prior to writing your book, conduct strategic tests to determine market, meaning reader, interest. Do this before you begin writing to ensure you target content to your readers’ needs and interests and waste as little time writing and producing a book that doesn’t offer them the benefits or value they seek.

If test marketing shows your original angle, subject or story needs revising, you want to do that before you get too far into the writing process. Plus, if you find no market exists for your book, you don’t want to waste your time writing the whole book. Rather, you want to place that particular idea in the “circular file” and begin on a new one or determine how to re-angle for success.

How do you test market a nonfiction book idea? Here are 10 effective ways for you to try.

Book Test-Marketing Strategies

  1. Start a Subject-Dedicated Blog

    Create and write a blog with content dedicated to the subject of your nonfiction book idea.

    Write posts often and consistently (2-3 times a week for 6-12 months). Watch your unique visitors (real readers) and page views by using a free program like Google Analytics. Your self-hosted blog will also have analytics you can use. See how quickly you get traffic to your blog and if it continues to grow. If it does, you’ll know interest exists in your topic.

    It can take a little while for blog readership to grow, and sometimes it goes up and then back down before it grows on a continuous basis. So don’t get discouraged. Also, if you slack off in writing and publishing posts—or in promoting those posts on social networks—this will affect your results.

    A program like Google Analytics will help you discern where your traffic comes from—what countries, what search engines, what other websites, etc. This helps you fine tune your market.

  2. Write a Blog Post on Your Book Topic

    If you already have a blog, write a blog post—or two or three—on the topic of your book. Then track readership for that particular post using Google Analytics or some other analytics program. If your readership is higher on that day than on others, you know that subject is of high interest to your audience.

    You can repeat this type of test to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. Write one blog post a week or a month on the topic over six months and track the data. Additionally, you can watch over time if that particular post or posts garners more traffic than your other posts.

    You also could write guest posts on the topic. Ask those bloggers to tell you if the post had good traffic.

  3. Write an Article on the Book Topic for a Major Magazine

    Mainstream commercial magazines publish articles they feel interest their audiences. Many publish articles on currently trending topics.

    If you can get an article assignment (or two or three) from a national magazine, or a publication in your niche, for a piece related to the subject of your book, this may be an indication that your book topic is viable.

    Query major print publications. Watch the reactions of readers. (Some have online versions that allow comments.) Also watch for other correlations. For example, does this media attention result in more traffic to your blog or website? Does it result in more media inquiries? Does it result in more clients? Any clear positive change post-publication is an indication that your book idea may be worthy of publication.

  4. Write an Ezine Article on Your Book Topic

    Write a short article on your topic and offer it for free to ezine article directories, like EzineArticle.com. These allow you to provide a short resource box with your bio and links back to your website, blog or email list (or wherever you like).

    You can then track increased traffic to your site or new email subscribers. Or visit the ezine directory to see how many times your piece was picked up and reproduced or shared. These statistics alone provide an indication of market interest.

    Of course, you can write more than one ezine article on the topic. Do this over the course of several months and see how they fare.

  5. Produce a Press Release on Your Book Subject

    Write a press release on your topic and distribute it widely via a service like PRWeb.com. You quickly will know how many hits it receives. Lots of hits equal lots of interest. These companies offer statistics on how well your release performs.

  6. Survey Your Blog or Email Subscribers

    If you have a blog subscriber list or an email list, the people on these lists equate to your target market—unless your book will target a new market.

    You can send these potential book readers a survey or poll or put one in a blog post asking questions related to the subject of your book. This is an easy way to find out if your readers or subscribers are interested in your topic. You also can ask them what they are interested in!

    You also can send them information related to your book and ask them for feedback. Ask directly: Would you be interested in a book on this topic?

  7. Offer A Free Teleseminar Or Webinar on Your Book Topic

    Webinars and teleseminars, even Google hangouts, offer phenomenal ways to gauge interest in your book idea.

    Create an event and promote it via your lists and social networks. See how many people register and then actually show up. If you get high registration, super! If you get over 30 percent of those who sign up actually present on the call, you’ve done well. Then you can ask attendees questions live, poll them, and generally discover their interests.

  8. Use Social Media as a Tool

    Social media provides plenty of opportunities to test market your book idea. For example, consider creating a Facebook page related to the topic of your book and see how easily you gather a community there.

    Or try starting a Twitter chat using a hashtag (#) related to your topic. To do so, every week moderate a conversation on Twitter related to your book. Make it easily discoverable with that hashtag. For examples of such Twitter chats, check out #blogchat or #writechat. Promote your event each time you hold it—give it a few months to catch on—and see if anyone is interested.

    And don’t forget to use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google Plus in general to gauge interest in your book topic. Post statuses, share blog posts, or curate content on your book topic and see if those particular updates get more engagement than others. That’s a sure indication that the topic is hot, or of interest to your followers.

  9. Publish a Shorter Version of Your Book

    If you don’t want to wait to start writing, produce a short version of your book. For example, take one chapter and release it as an ebook. Watch sales; if they are good, move forward with the next chapter or with the full edition. Or produce a condensed version; include your introduction, a shortened first chapter and a few short chapters with tips and advice. If sales take off, expand the content and produce a revised full-length edition.

  10. Blog Your Book

    If you’re really impatient to get started, but you don’t want to invest in editing and design before you’re certain you’ve got a sure bet on your hands, blog your book.

    Map out the content of your book so you have a table of contents, and break that down into post-sized bits. For each chapter, you should have 10-20 blog posts ideas that range from 300-500 word in length. Then write and publish these mini “installments” on your bog in, thus creating a first draft of your book on the Internet. Promote these posts on your social networks.

    Track your readership as you write, publish and promote the book on your blog. If those particular posts are successful and your readership grows as you blog your book, you’ll know it’s worth moving forward and editing and designing the blogged book for sale as an ebook and a print book. That’s why there continue to be so many blog-to-book deals in the traditional publishing world; publishers consider blogs with many readers successfully test-marketed book ideas.

As you try these test-marketing methods, keep in mind that one method might yield no real interest while another might garner a huge amount. For this reason, consider trying one to three methods before making a final decision. If the first one you try provides a landslide of potential book readers you likely have your answer. The average of three will give you a more definitive answer in any case.

Nina AmirNina Amir, is a Contributing Writer for TheBookDesigner.com. She is also the author of How to Blog a Book and The Author Training Manual, transforms writers into inspired, successful authors, authorpreneurs and blogpreneurs.

You can learn more about Nina here.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

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    { 17 comments… read them below or add one }

    Michael N. Marcus June 11, 2014 at 4:00 am

    >There are ways to gain certainty about your book’s ability to sell once released.<<

    Nina has presented some good tips but there is no certainty about selling anything. There are many things a writer cannot control.

    Research, testing and advance publicity might be useful but trying to tailor a book to perceived reader interest can lead to yet another redundant barbecue cookbook, stop-smoking guide or celebrity confession.

    Market research is no substitute for PASSION for the subject of the book and strong PROMOTION. Without passion writers are factory laborers. Without effective promotion potential readers won’t know the book exists.

    Also, delaying publication so you can blog for a year and submit queries to print magazines will greatly delay publication. Interest in the subject may pass by the time your book goes on sale and competitive books may beat you to the marketplace.

    If an author is aiming at traditional publishing, a year of advance research before a search for an agent and publisher can be an eternity.

    Self-publishing greatly reduces the time-to-market compared to traditional publishing. A book can be published in a few weeks or months.

    Also also, spending money to distribute a press release for a book that may never be published seems like a waste of money, and it may frustrate potential readers.

    Over a dozen of my books have been Amazon bestsellers with ZERO market research. Steve Jobs developed Apple products based on his own passion and instincts, not on market research.

    Reply

    Nina Amir June 11, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    Michael,

    All your points are valid. And passion is extremely important — always. In fact, speak about passion often.

    However, test marketing is still a good idea. Many agents recommend this step as well, and as an indie publisher you are your own agent and acquisitions editor. No one else is going to help you determine your work is marketable — and passion doesn’t make a book marketable in and of itself.

    Of course, you can just put something up on Kindle or CreateSpace quickly and just see how it fares. You can even change it after the fact and re-release it if you find that is necessary. But, if it isn’t time sensitive, test marketing can prove extremely valuable.

    Reply

    Prasenjeet Kumar June 12, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    I agree with you completely, Michael. I don’t believe that blogging can be an effective way to determine what readers want even when you are writing on a popular topic like self-publishing.

    It takes time to establish your brand. All the most popular blogs have taken years to get considerable traffic.

    And just because your blog does not get traffic that does not mean that the topic is not of interest to the readers.

    It is the same case with ezine articles. You have to publish on a constant basis to be recognised as an authority.

    On the other hand, as you say that a dozen books can become Amazon bestsellers even with ZERO market research.

    Following your passion is important. You definitely don’t want to write on a topic you are not passionate about simply because it is a best-selling topic.

    You are right when you say “Without passion writers are factory laborers”.

    Reply

    chris June 11, 2014 at 6:38 am

    I appreciate this article but will mention two issues regarding points 4 and 5. Don’t bother with ezine article directories. Years ago, these were great for building traffic due to how the articles ranked in the search engines. Not any more. As for press releases, I’ve heard from a few places that press releases are being overused and therefore it’s like adding one more press release to an already-oversized pile.

    I will add one more to the list: READ YOUR EMAIL. If you have a blog readers find useful, you’ll get questions via email. Look back on all the questions. Is there a theme? Is there a common problem? There’s your book.

    Reply

    Nina Amir June 11, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I stopped using ezine articles for a long time after one of the Google updates. I have done a bunch of research in the last two years and talked with some experts. They are still recommended by many people. So, I’ll stick to my guns there, although I wouldn’t not have that method as my first choice for test marketing a book.

    As for press releases, they remain very effective if you use your keywords effectively. Plus, if done well, they may even garner you some media attention, which says something as well.

    I love you point about email…and about questions in general! Indeed, the things you get asked about often prove there is a market for something on that topic.

    Reply

    Colin Dunbar June 11, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Hi Nina
    Thanks for a great article.
    I got your book, How To Blog a Book a couple of years ago (actually as soon as it was available), and eventually did start my book blog. The last couple of months things went a little off track, but I should going full steam shortly.

    Reply

    Nina Amir June 11, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    Hi Colin,

    Thanks for purchasing How to Blog a Book. Let me know how you get along with your blogged book. I’m always looking for bloggers/writers to feature on my blog by the same name. In fact, I’m currently looking for people who have successfully blogged books.

    Good luck!

    Reply

    Frances Caballo June 11, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    This is a great post, Nina. I love all the points you made. I have a client who is a big believer in press releases. I always submit them to online press release directories and it’s amazing that magazines will call him and interview him. When I published my first book, I sent press releases out and received a couple of calls from reporters that resulted in stories in regional newspapers. As a former reporter, I can attest to the fact that newspapers do get inundated with them, however, press releases can still be effective, especially if you have media contacts and follow up with a phone call or email. This discussion reminds me that I still need to write a press release for my second book!

    Reply

    Nina Amir June 11, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Frances,

    Thanks so much for confirming the effectiveness of releases!

    I am a member of Expertclick.com, where I can write many press releases for the price of my membership, rather than writing just one for $200+. I don’t use the service enough, but I should…and I’m trying to do so…especially since it targets journalists. (Anyone interested should use my name when they register to receive discount–and yes, I’m an affiliate.)

    I am a magazine journalists by trade, and I always appreciated a great release that turned me on to a good story. But journalists interested in your book or your book idea means it’s a hot topic. That means they think readers should be interested — and that they think it also might generate some advertising revenue.

    Reply

    anita & jaye dawes June 12, 2014 at 1:16 am

    Interesting ideas here, some of which we will definitely be trying…
    Thanks for the heads up!

    Reply

    Pamela Ravenwood (@SedonaSEO) June 13, 2014 at 8:10 am

    Great list Nina. It reminds me of Lean Startup methods. As a marketer for authors, I agree with your concept. Also my good friend Pamela Slim blogged for years and was actually asked to write a book based on the popularity of her topic – she went on to write “Escape from Cubicle Nation” and most recently wrote Body of Work”.

    I have seen many self-publishers passionately write their book and receive no results. Unfortunately writing is a business and has to ones art has to be marketed in the same manner as a product.

    Again, your list is on par.

    Reply

    Nina Amir June 13, 2014 at 11:17 am

    Thanks for your comment, Pamela. Actually, Pamela Slim is one of the success stories in my book, How to Blog a Book.

    I totally agree with you. Passion is very important. I usually say passion+purpose=inspiration and you can then get inspired results. BUT when it comes to books, you can write with a ton of passion, and even passion+craft and still produce a book that doesn’t have a market, isn’t unique or necessary in its category and ultimately doesn’t sell. And if you only have the passion for writing but not for helping the book succeed, even a marketable book may fail. Of course, passion can help you market the book, so it is necessary for that.

    Reply

    @EdGibney June 16, 2014 at 1:06 am

    Yep! Doing all of these to build my platform on my site. I’m a writer who writes to illustrate his philosophy so I blog the philosophy and sell the fiction. It’s slow, but it does work, and I’ve got content for blog posts for ages!

    Reply

    Nina Amir June 16, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Ed,

    I’m so glad to hear that you are blogging about a topic and producing fiction related to it. Very smart! Maybe you can also cross over into nonfiction.

    Reply

    @EdGibney June 17, 2014 at 12:57 am

    Yes, I’m trying that too—though the market for non-fiction philosophy books by non-academic philosophers is pretty small. : )

    Reply

    Tom Evans June 16, 2014 at 1:56 am

    I agree with all these tips and have used another strategy.

    Most of my non-fiction books are based on real world experience working with clients, either one-to-one or in workshops. So for my next project for example, the practical tried and tested techniques came first, then I generated the complimentary self study programme and the book gets written last.

    Happy Days :)

    Reply

    Nina Amir June 16, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Tom,

    Super addition! I’ve done the same, in fact, when I wrote The Author Training Manual. Teaching your methods and philosophies is a superb way to test market and to get anecdotes for your book at the same time! And you can build your course–and even write your book. I wrote mine as the text for the course, then edited later. Now the book serves as the text.

    Reply

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