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Major Mistakes Beginning Nonfiction Authors Make and How to Avoid Them

Aug 17, 2007
It's never been easier to write a book than it is today. With the advent of print-on-demand and self-publishing, almost anyone can throw a book together - a real bound book, with pages and everything - for a few hundred bucks. This news should be encouraging, because there's no reason you shouldn't author the book you've always dreamed of writing.

The question, though, is whether it will be a book anyone other than your mother wants to read. Beginning nonfiction authors frequently make the same sorts of errors. While avoiding these errors won't guarantee that your book will become a best-seller (there are far too many variables for anyone to EVER guarantee that), it will give you a considerable head-start over other neophyte authors.

FAILING TO DETERMINE A NICHE AUDIENCE

The single biggest mistake new nonfiction authors make is failing to determine who their niche audience is, and if/where those people buy books.

You're writing a book, so presumably you have a message. But do you know who will receive that message? Do you know who your audience is? Do you know where they spend time, and if or where they buy books? Is your niche audience comprised mostly of men? More than 80 percent of books are purchased by women . . . so if your audience is mainly male, do they read, or have women in their lives who buy books for them?

Become intimately acquainted with your audience before you get too far into the writing of your book, and make sure you know who you are writing to. It's sometimes helpful to write to one person. You can do this by defining the entirety of your reader's demographics. Start by determining his or her gender. Then give them a name, like Stan, Joe, Sally, or Phyllis. Determine exactly how old he or she is. Where do they live? What do they drive? What do they do for a living, and how much do they earn? Married? Kids? Hobbies? Religious affiliation? Political persuasion? Paint as complete a picture as possible. Giving such specific characteristics to your reader will help you determine what to include in - and exclude from - your book.

WRITING WHAT YOU WANT TO WRITE - INSTEAD OF WHAT YOUR MARKET WANTS TO READ

Another place beginners err is by writing what they want to write, as opposed to what their market wants to read. Remember, we're talking nonfiction here. But even with fiction, if you write obscure, esoteric stuff that holds interest for only one crotchety, tenured 14th century literature professor at the University of Iowa, you'll have a nice little book that you, your mom, and Professor Snodgrass can enjoy.

The thing is, in order for a book to be born, you must have an idea that is exciting enough, first, to hold your interest (does it energize you so much that you can't wait to do the necessary research and legwork?) - but that will also hold the interest of your niche audience. The problem is that we often get so carried away with how great our idea is that we forget to find out if anyone else (i.e., our readers) also thinks it's a great idea . . . and provided they do, that they think it's a great enough idea to fork over some of their hard-earned cash for the privilege of reading our words.

Before you go through all the time, effort, and expense to write this book, you absolutely must find out if there's a market for it. Visit forums, Web sites, chatrooms, MySpace groups, and blogs on your subject. Read every article you can get your hands on, and talk with specialists.

SKIPPING THE DUE DILIGENCE

One more planning error that fouls up new nonfiction authors is skipping the due diligence. This is a BIG one. You've done your research and know there is a need for your book, but have you checked to see what else is out there on this subject? Have you looked at those books? Bought those books? Read those books?

This is a scary step for a lot of people - it's the place where they become intimidated ("Look how many books have already been written about garlic presses! Who am I to write another one?") and often decide not to write their book at all. That's NOT the intent with this directive. However, the fact is that unless you're performing cutting-edge scientific research or are the first to write a tell-all book about an emerging celebrity or the most recent victim of our scandal-driven mass media, the chances that no one has ever written some sort of a book on your subject are very small. That's why this step is so important. You absolutely must do the research to find out which other similar books are already in the stores, cover the same topic (general and specific), or have been written in the past.

This is for your own good. Let's say you have an idea for a new motivational book about two hamsters named Argue and Resist. It's a clever little parable, a quirky story about these cute little guys who have a hard time dealing with change. One, let's say it's Resist, manages to turn the corner on change much more quickly than his pal Argue. He learns that in reality, you must change or die. It's a clever enough idea. However, you will never sell a single copy. Why? You probably already know the answer, unless you've been living under a rock for the last decade or so. But in the unlikely event that you somehow missed "Who Moved My Cheese?" - through your due diligence, you would discover that your clever little idea has already been raking in the big bucks since 1999.

Does this mean you should not write a cute motivational book in parable form? Not at all. It just means that you would need to go back to the drawing board to come up with new characters in a new situation, perhaps learning a different lesson - or a particular facet of this lesson - or achieving a slightly different result from learning the same lesson.

This also would be true of your brand new marketing concept; real estate investing book; how-to manual for baby-boomer job seekers; explanation about the spiritual, holistic side of financial planning; or almost any other subject under the sun. It's likely there are other books out there on your subject, so you have to find out how yours is both different from and similar to the existing books. This will help you (a) determine the specific audience for your book, (b) sell your book to an agent or a traditional publisher, and/or (c) create a successful marketing strategy for your book. The other thing this research will accomplish is to let you know how well books on this theme, of this type, or in this general genre are selling right now. Are people still willing to plunk down a C-note for a coffee table book, or would a smaller, less costly gift book be more likely to fly off the shelves?

Taking some time to do the research to know who your audience is, understanding what they want to read, and knowing what other similar titles already are out there will help you build a stronger outline, and ultimately write a better book.
About the Author
Scott White has designed the bestSEO Program and SEO Book to rank your website.
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