Capitalizing on Current Trends to Sell Your Book

Guest Post by Irene Watson

Just because you publish a book doesn’t mean anyone will want to read it. Just like everyone else, readers want to know, “What’s in it for me?” before they spend their time and money. No matter what kind of book you are writing, if you want to sell it, you need to make it relevant to what currently matters to your potential readers.

A common mistake authors make is that they write a book first and think about how they will market it after it’s finished.

Instead, once an author has an idea for a book, he needs to ask himself the question, “Who will want to read this book? And why will anyone care?” Unfortunately, when I ask authors who will want to read their books, too often I hear, “Oh, everyone will like this book” or “Everyone should read this book.” It’s a big surprise for most authors when they realize that a large percentage of the public do not buy or read books (about 80 percent of the U.S. population according to the most recent figures). In addition, most authors don’t realize that their book will have to compete with about one million other books being published every year. In short, authors need to answer these questions beforehand to ensure their books have a market, they know what that market is, and they know how to reach that market.

How does an author make sure the reading public will want to read his or her book? By making the book relevant to potential readers. How do you make it relevant? By writing about issues that readers care about or current hot topics.

Let’s take well-known author James Michener as an example. Michener had a knack for writing big epic historical novels about specific places. A short list of his many titles include: “Hawaii,” “Poland,” “Texas,” and “Space.” His novel “Hawaii” was published in the late 1950s just as Hawaii was about to become a state, so people wanted to learn more about the future state, resulting in the book becoming a bestseller. Great timing. Michener managed to keep that great timing going throughout his career. His novel “Poland” was published in 1983, in the years when Poland was undergoing political turmoil that would eventually lead in 1989 to Poland shaking off Communism to become a democratic country. Poland was constantly in the news during those years, so it piqued people’s interest and they decided to read Michener’s novel. Again, great timing.

Many other authors will pick a relevant topic in the news and write about it. Anniversary events always generate book sales—on April 15, 2012, we marked the one hundredth anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking; it is estimated that some 100 books were published in the last year to commemorate its sinking. Other popular topics in the news that concern millions of people might include bullying in school, teaching children how to eat healthy foods, what the U.S. needs to do to handle its staggering national debt, Internet dating, corruption in politics, gay marriage, prayer in school, how to be prepared when a tornado hits, global warming, and even the future of 3-D movies.

Too often, authors tell me, “I don’t watch the news.” Then they end up in their interviews talking about their writing process. While talking about writing interests other writers, most readers are not writers so you will lose most of your potential readers by not telling them why your book is relevant to them. Find a way to make your book relevant. You don’t have to watch the evening news every night, but you can go online and do a little research and talk to people you know to find out what they are interested in and what currently most concerns them.

Even if you are a fiction writer, your book can still be relevant. Your romance novel could be about Internet dating or arranging a marriage with a woman from the Ukraine. Your mystery novel could have a political bent—a plan by the crooks to steal money from the Social Security Fund. Your thriller might include CIA agents hiring prostitutes in a foreign country, and then you can talk in interviews about how you based that on the true story of secret service men hiring prostitutes in Colombia in the spring of 2012. Your main character’s love interest could be a Nascar driver, which will allow you to reach racing fans, or at least their girlfriends. Even your fantasy novel you can discuss as a satire or thinly disguised allegory for current world politics.

Authors can find a lot of ways to make their books relevant to the reading public. They just need to remember it’s not about them or their book—it’s about what readers have to gain from the book. No matter how wonderful a writer you may be, reading your book is not the major concern of your readers. They are far more concerned with paying their bills, putting their children through college, making sure their children aren’t bullied, caring for an elderly parent, worrying about the sister who was just diagnosed with cancer, how to get their new puppy potty-trained, wondering whether they’ll have enough money left for retirement, searching for some sort of meaning in their lives, wondering whether they are getting anything out of attending church, considering going back to school to change careers, or even trying to remember to put out the garbage tonight. Somehow, you have to show readers that your book is relevant to a life that has all those demands upon it, and that the best way to spend those few minutes of free-time they have at the end of a busy day is by reading your book.

Tell your readers how your self-help book might lead them in a new direction that will make their lives easier. Tell them how your finance book can help them to invest their money so their incomes don’t run out. Perhaps you think all your fantasy novel has to offer is escapism from their demanding lives, but perhaps that escapism also allows them to return to the real world with a new way of realizing what is really important in life and what they need to focus upon. In short, the author’s job is to help his or her readers—to make their lives better in some way.

At book signings, the most frequent question an author is asked by readers is, “What is your book about?” You can give people a standard answer, such as “It’s a love story,” or “It’s a mystery.” Or you can realize that the question people are really asking is, “Why should I read this book? What’s in it for me?” and you can have an answer ready that will sell that book.

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Posted on July 22, 2012, in Publicity & Writing, Writing & Publishing. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. The Civil War and the various anniversaries of events and battles are an opportunity for me to do events that publicise the middle book of my Adelsverein Trilogy – which is an account of how the Civil War affected the German settlers in the Texas Hill Country. They were Unionists and Abolitionists generally, in a Confederate state, and suffered accordingly. I have a local event coming up in Comfort, Texas, which commemorates the Nueces Massacre. A party of Unionists escaping to Mexico were caught by a pro-Confederate militia and slaughtered. Only a handful escaped, and the military authorities refused to let the next of kin bury the bodies decently until after the war.I can usually quietly work in a few words about how dangerous it is to demonize the 'other' – and how easily feelings can be whipped up to the point where the persecution of these 'others' is tacitly encouraged – by a government or just society in general.

  2. Thanks Irene, for being able to distill so much wisdom in a friendly and accessible form. All writers, veteran or beginner, have their toughest work in that Big Decision: Should I write this book? I'm not sure all big trends make for big sales, however. How many books will come out on the Aurora, Colorado movie shootings? If all working authors worked only on currently relevant topics, the market would be no less glutted with books of varying quality, with most of those books being unsold. Sadly that 20% of the population who read books can only read so many. I've calculated that with the population of literate Americans numbering about 300 million, at the very best even if the one million books published had sufficient quality to get past the first paragraph, each writer would have an expected readership of about 300 people. But since only 20% of that population actually buy and read books, and roughly 3 percent of published books are readable or relevant, independent publishing has reached critical mass. It has become unpleasant for readers to spend their buying hours doing what big publishing company mail room rookies used to get paid to do, sort through mountains of mediocrity to find a gem. Perhaps the newness of easy publishing contributed to this glut, and in time, the markets will find reasonable barriers to the weaker offerings. Meanwhile it is of paramount importance for writers to craft the very best work they can, to submit to at least two professional editors before even thinking of putting anything before the public, and to keep expectations realistic. And one more thing. The work doesn't end upon publication — nobody is going to believe in your book more than you do. If you pound the pavement and visit independent bookstores, libraries, schools, even stand on busy street corners and hand your book to interested strangers, you'll develop a public persona that will give readers one more special gift that everybody needs — the personal touch.

  3. Thank you Irene for once again writing a superb article. As an addictive reader and book publishing I am saddened to hear your statistics on how many people are actually writing and buying books. The activities that have replaced the, video games etc. sadden me even more. What kind of cultural benefit will they get from these?One of the major current trends is child sexual abuse, set off by both the Catholic Church's many abuses at the hands of priests and Penn State with its Jerry Sandusky's molestations of children. Unfortunately, despite the need for a program that will help you recover from such abuse, my book REPAIR Your Life has not become the big seller I hoped it would be. People who have been sexually abused seem locked into a life of domestic violence, addictive behaviors, eating disorders, chronic illness, unhealthy choices in members of the opposite sex, insomnia, suicide attempts and low self esteem. They yearn to be healthy but are paralyzed by a fear that keeps them from taking that first step. Some, in their agony have no clue that their current life has any connection with the child sexual abuse they suffered. Even my Lamplighter Movement has chapters that are falling apart because of the inability to get people to come to meetings. Perhaps I should have written a book about how to be a famous movie star instead.

  4. Irene, I agree with Stephen Masse's comments, especially about your "being able to distill so much wisdom in a friendly and accessible form." I'm not sure following trends is the way to go for a writer of serious fiction such as myself. Today it's one thing; tomorrow it's certain to be something else nobody anticipated. Also, does every writer in our new publishing world need to hope to be a "best-selling" author within days or weeks of publication? I hope a large number of intelligent people eventually (ebooks are forever) read my books — and even more view the films and/or television series they become. Would I wish to be known as the author of "Fifty Shades of Grey"? Frankly, no. That's why I like this Masse sentence, with emphasis on the last three words: "Meanwhile it is of paramount importance for writers to craft the very best work they can, to submit to at least two professional editors before even thinking of putting anything before the public, and to keep expectations realistic."

  5. You're right, if what you are looking for is to make it big or make money out of the deal. I, however, write for the pure pleasure of putting my thoughts and memories on paper. I write to leave a legacy for my grandhildren, for friends to read, enjoy, and comment. If I were to think only of the money issue, marketing, etc. I would have never produced the 8 books I have already under my belt. LVC

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