Self-Publishers: Don’t Think Content, Think Problem-Solving

by | Apr 3, 2012

One of the subscriptions I’ve held onto through a lot of inbox purging over the last year is the feed from Nieman Journalism Labs, a part of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

Even though its subjects are often purely journalistic without much impact on book publishing or blogging, the stories they carry are almost always interesting.

Last week, one of these articles caught my eye: The newsonomics of 100 products a year—“Newspapers and other publishers are realizing the value of selling something other than their primary product to readers — and ebooks are leading the way.”

The article, by Ken Doctor (@kdoctor), really amounted to a call to publishers and journalists to look beyond the news content they are selling to other needs of their target market. Here’s the quote I pulled:

“Don’t think content; think problem solving: Publishers too often start with content. If we start with audience — college-planning students and parents, new mothers and fathers to be, bored cooks, and, big time, sports enthusiasts of all ages — we can see the motors of ebook publishing beginning to role (sic).”

This is so similar to lots of advice in indie publishing it really struck a chord. Getting traction as a publisher—really succeeding in the publishing business—is almost impossible with one book.

Not only that, it repeats the suggestions made to niche marketers of all kinds. Find your audience, niche down your topic, and find material that fits those specific interests and desires.

It’s advice that is equally good for self-publishing authors. What will really advance the plans of large publishers and small ones is the speed and ease with which these types of subjects can be issued as ebooks.

And when it comes to reacting to events or having the “pulse” of your market, I would have to say the small indie publisher or self-publisher is probably ahead of the game.

When you’re small and competing in a big market—like all of us self-publishers—you need to make the most of the advantages you have.

So while it might be impossible to get a self-published author onto a big TV show, we can market to niches more quickly and effectively than larger organizations, and we can certainly get content up on sale much faster.

And niche marketing depends on how well you understand the hopes and dreams, the fears and frustrations of the people in your market.

Do you do this in your own publishing? What’s your next book?

Photo by jhritz

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Barb

    Just a note of sincere thanks for all the information, help and guidance you provide. If you were near….I’d hug you. Thanks.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, Barb, all hugs gladly accepted, even virtual ones. Love your blog, too, and thanks for being a reader.

  2. Turndog Millionaire

    Yes, read this last week too and thought it had some interesting ideas.

    Understanding your market is key, and although reaching a huge audience is always the aim, a nice little niche can be very good indeed.

    Become the king of a pond is much better than a speck of dirt in the sea

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

    • Joel Friedlander


      Exactly. Breaking into a niche market is so much easier for a solo entrepreneur like a self-publisher. The model I’m most familiar is the “inch wide and a mile deep” one, where you find a niche with enough interest to sustain you and in which you can become dominant. Eventually you can grow up and out of that niche, spreading to related fields with the permission of your readers.

  3. Ryan Hanley


    If you’re a small indie publisher and you’ll looking to write on Topics related to Online Success…

    Would you say that series style is better than naming each individually? Helps to build an overall brand?


    • Joel Friedlander


      If you have an overarching concept you want to apply to different areas or activites, you have the elements of a good series. If you plan for the series in advance you can incorporate branding and other continuity ideas to make each book in the series part of the whole. If any one of these books becomes popular it will help sell the others.

      • Ryan Hanley

        Hmmm… That’s my thought as well Joel. Thank you!

        • Belinda Pollard

          Good point about the series, Joel. For novelists as well, the stats (which I can’t quote now offhand ;-) ) show that writing a series is more viable than one-off books.

          But problem-solving… now there’s an idea for how we look at our books. Not what we want to tell people, but what they want or need to hear. Thanks for the post!

  4. Matt

    Great idea. Maybe by focusing more on the problem solving aspect, also helps with your overall purpose or intent.

    • Joel Friedlander


      Yes, and this is the big difference between most publishers, who have for a long time embraced the “broadcasting” idea, and savvy marketers, who are tuned into the needs of their audience and find and produce content that meets those needs. This takes a lot more understanding of and contact with your target audience, something that social media has made much more possible.



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