April 17, 2018
Note From Rochelle
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with a writer’s group in Gurnee, IL, about how to start a blog. In that talk, I shared how blogs can be a helpful tool for test marketing a book idea. Today’s tip talks about why you need to test market your book idea and how to do it.
Why You Need to Test Market Your Book Idea…and How to Do It
By Rochelle Melander
Most companies test market their products before investing time and money in producing and marketing them. But have you test marketed your book idea? We spend our time, energy, and money to research and write a book—often without knowing if we can sell it to an agent, publisher, or the public.
When I recommend this approach to my clients, they often express fear. What if someone steals my book idea? What if people attend my class on the topic and decide they don’t need a book? What if I find out no one likes my idea? These are all real and reasonable fears. People might steal your idea—though they could never write your book. Some workshop participants might not buy your book, but other clients will be hungrier for your book. And in the end, you get to decide whether to pursue your book or not, no matter what happens.
So why bother test marketing? First, test marketing can reassure you that your idea will engage readers. Second, it will help you discover who your ideal readers are and where they hang out. You might be surprised by the results! Finally, the process will help you sharpen and shape your ideas so that the book does a spectacular job of meeting the needs of your market.
If you’re game, here are five ways to test market your book idea:
Check the shelves
Are there other books like your book on the shelves that sell well? Counterintuitive as it sounds, a bestselling book in your field or on your topic might convince an agent or editor that your book will sell, too. Why do you think publishers flooded the market with dystopian books after Hunger Games took off? They were following a tested trend: dystopian adventure stories.
Your turn: Spend time on Goodreads and online book vendors like Amazon to research books like yours. On Goodreads, you can measure sales by the number of reviews. On Amazon, check out book rank in several different categories.
Pro Tip: As long as you’re researching, make notes about each book. Copy down the title, author, and publisher of the book. Make notes on the structure and content of the book as well as how your book will be different. Check the acknowledgments for the name of the author’s agent and editors. You can use all of this information in your book proposal.
Ask the bookseller
Your local neighborhood bookseller is another valuable resource in researching the marketability of your book. While online book companies can give you sales metrics, they cannot give you the kind of anecdotal evidence you need about what real customers buy. Booksellers with years of experience know what flies off the shelves and what languishes on the sales table. Interview several booksellers at stores in different types of neighborhoods. The memoir of a conservative thinker might bomb in a liberal neighborhood but be a bestseller in a conservative suburb. Ask the booksellers about books on your topic. What sells? To whom? What does not sell?
Ask the librarian
Librarians know what people search for. They prepare and host programs on a variety of topics—and see what brings in the crowds. They answer questions on everything from tulips to the Tasmanian Devil. Librarians can tell you if your idea has been done before or fills a gap in the shelves. Pro Tip: Find a librarian who works in a library that serves your core market. And talk to a variety of librarians. If you’re writing a book on meditation for adults, the children’s librarian may not be the best person to answer your question.
Research your readers
Create a profile of your ideal reader and figure out where they gather. If possible, join groups of people that fit the profile of your ideal reader and learn from them. Online networking sites like LinkedIn are wonderful for this. If possible, attend networking events and other gatherings for people in your ideal market. Ask people in your ideal reader groups what kind of resource would be most helpful to them. Find a few people to interview in depth about what sorts of books and resources they use and what they are looking for.
Write and speak about your topic
Perhaps the best way to test market an idea is to share it with your ideal audience. Blog posts, articles, programs, and speeches offer opportunities to find out if your idea resonates with your crowd. Publish a blog post and measure how much people engage with the post. Do they comment on it or share it with their tribe? Offer a program and see if your audience shows up. When they do, ask for their input—what else would they like to hear about this topic?
And that’s just the beginning! Some writers test out ideas by starting Pinterest boards, posting topical thoughts on Twitter, or creating courses. And you? What have you done to test market your ideas? Leave your comments.