Posts Tagged ‘research’

Thought Readership #20: The GOODREADS Challenge

by Liz Alexander on January 21, 2013

GaneshaWhen you get to a certain age you think you’ve seen everything, right? But no, I logged onto LinkedIn recently to find a “Can you recommend me?” request from an “award winning fiction author/top client” I’d never heard of (although I was obviously daft enough to accept a previous request to connect) whose 76-page novel was compiled by a self-publishing services entity called Infinity Publishing. Currently ranking 797,095 on Amazon, her various reviews point to the “terrible” writing, “disjointed” plot and a comment, from someone giving four stars, that “I wish it had been edited a little better.” So where did the “award-winning” part come in? (And, no surprise, I declined her invitation!)

In a world in which anyone can (and does) claim “best selling” or “award winning” status for their book I thought about how, when talking or writing about thought leadership, I remind people that this is a term that’s meant to be bestowed on you by others, not something you get to adopt just because it sounds cool. So in that vein I went searching for last year’s Best Books lists. Who gets on them, anyhow?

After giving up on the undoubtedly worthy but dull-sounding (and long!) lists of nonfiction books I’d never heard of, produced by the likes of Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, and the New Yorker, and stopping briefly by the business-specific books reviewed by strategy +business plus the December 2012 best-sellers offered up by 800-CEO-READ, I decided to wander over to Goodreads to see what had shown up in their Choice Awards nonfiction category for 2012. Why? Because what we want for our books (or, at least, I do) is approbation from a mainstream audience—people who typically read rather than get paid to review. And who do so NOT because of the “I’ll-offer-you-entry-in-a-drawing-for-a-free-iPad-if-you’ll-write-me-a-five-star-review” tactics of some self-published authors that increasingly taints the comments seen on Amazon.com; in genuine appreciation of good quality writing.

The following observations will (hopefully) spark some spirited discussion about what still constitutes successful nonfiction (at least as far as unbiased readers are concerned) in an era when it sometimes feels that we are being drowned in mediocre dross.

Among Goodreads’ Top Ten (books garnering 1,000 votes or more)

–          Despite (I’m assuming) no discrimination against self-published books, ALL of these books were published by major houses—Random House; Little, Brown; Free Press etc. Not a single CreateSpace original among them!

–          All were written by journalists or self-proclaimed professional writers (with a sprinkling of academics).

–          None was the author’s first book and several had appeared on the New York Times’ bestseller list.

Of Goodreads’ Top Three:

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.

Common praise for these three very different books covered many of the themes I’ve discussed in this column over the past year:

–          Quality writing.

–          Well researched, providing not just the author’s experience and opinion but third party “science” or other content.

–          Entertaining, strong on storytelling.

–          Addressing topics that haven’t been done to death already.

–          Interesting conversation starters.

So what’s the point I’m making? Am I suggesting that, if you’re not already an award-winning, professional writer who has nothing else to do but research and write then you should give up the goal of ever crafting a book that could inspire readers to consider it (as one did for Boo’s book) “an impressive achievement”?

Not at all! But that’s where the bar is set, so it behooves those who are supporting the self-publishing revolution to rise to the challenge, not drag standards lower.

How?

  1. Stop thinking of your book as a spare-time project. Get into the mindset of a professional writer. Make regular “appointments” with your book when you do nothing but write it!
  2. Write every day—quality prose, not informal email exchanges, tweets, or stream-of-consciousness blog posts. Writing well comes from writing well a lot.
  3. Leave aside your opinion and personal experience and do some objective research. Who is supporting or rejecting the premise of your book? How can you weave this into your manuscript?
  4. Become a better storyteller. There are no end of books, articles, and blog posts (my favorite site being Copyblogger) on this topic. Take a screenwriting or novel-writing course to learn the rudiments of crafting a powerful, emotionally engaging story.
  5. Do your due diligence before you begin writing your book. There’s a reason why publishing houses (big and small) ask for a competitive analysis when you submit a book proposal: you need to be aware of what’s already been written about your topic (even tangentially connected topics) in order not to simply repeat what’s already out there.
  6. For goodness sake, hire a professional editor to help you craft a quality manuscript before self-publishing. At the very least, one who will help you avoid readers’ comments like: “terrible writing” and “I wish it had been edited a little better.”

Your thoughts?

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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During the past 28 weeks, we’ve been exploring ways to plan, write, and promote your book. Now, it’s time to enter the final stage of the Publishing Success Cycle, Step Four, Profiting.

During the next few installments, I’ll share ideas and tips for leveraging your book into higher profits for your business.

Learning from the successes of others

As we have seen so often in the past, the starting point is to get in the habit of constantly researching the competition online, studying the websites of authors who have written books in your field.

The goal of analyzing your competition’s websites is not to copy them, but to explore ways other authors have profited from their books, suggesting ideas you can adapt for:

  • Creating information products, like reports, updates, videos, worksheets, templates, and webinars that readers of your book are likely to be interested in.
  • Developing coaching and consulting services that will help your readers implement your ideas and recommendations.
  • Building your speaker’s platform, cultivating invitations from event planners and speaker’s bureaus to deliver high-paying corporate keynote speeches, presentations, and workshops.

Research tips

Here are a few ideas to help you make the most of your explorations:

  • Look beyond the obvious. When searching for profit ideas on author sites, expand your search beyond the authors and experts in your field. Explore the websites of authors in a variety of subjects.
  • Know where to look. When you’re at their websites, explore keywords and navigation links like Products, Services, Coaching, Consulting, Assistance, To Learn More, and the like. You may also locate useful ideas in the Calendar, Press, or Media sections of their websites.
  • Expand your horizons. Look for profit ideas used by others who write books in similar fields. Look for ideas that you can be the first to offer in your field!

For example, instead of just exploring author profit ideas from authors who have written books in your field, consider expanding your research using, as a guide, Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten’s The 100 Best Business Books of All Time. Start by creating an alphabetical list of the authors of the 100 Best Business Books, search for their websites, and create links to the websites. Then, visit each website and explore how each author profits from their books.

Another option is to visit the archives of Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten’s 1-800-CEO Reads Top 25 Business Books of the Month to identify successful business-oriented authors and study their websites. You can go back many years, studying the most important books from different months.

Or, you can visit the Author Page of the Harvard Business Review, and similar book publishers, and track down the websites of their authors in order to study how they profit from products, services, and speaking.

Tracking the results of your research

As always, the key to success is to carefully track the results of your research, so you can easily pull-out the most important lessons.

To help Published & Profitable members and my personal coaching clients keep track of the author websites they visit, and the profit ideas they’ve gathered from each site. You can download my Author Profit Tracking Worksheet, along with previous worksheets, from Published & Profitable’s Active Garage resource page.

You’re invited to download the worksheet, and print as many copies as you need on 3-hole punched paper. Fill out the worksheets by hand, tracking each author’s products, services, and speech/presentation topics. Then, store the worksheets in a 3-ring binder.

Author profit ideas and examples

Few authors are fortunate enough to be able to ignore profit opportunities generated by their book, beyond what they earn from the initial sale of their book!

I encourage you to spend a minimum of 30-45 minutes a week studying how other authors profit from their books. For more inspiring ideas and examples of how other authors are profiting from their book, I invite you to visit my growing (22+) online list of Author Profit Ideas at http://urli.st. In fact, you’re invited to add links to your favorite author profit ideas to my online list, or you can add submit your author profit ideas below, as comments

rcp-heming-picRoger C. Parker helps others write books that build brands. He’s written over 30 books, offers do-it-yourself resources at Published & Profitable, and shares writing tips each weekday. His latest book is Title Tweet! 140 Bite-Sized Ideas for Article, Book, and Event Titles
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No publisher wants to publish a book that covers the same ground existing books cover. Likewise, no intelligent self-publisher wants to waste the family’s resources on a “me too!” book.

Thus, not only does your book have to serve your intended reader’s needs instead of your interests or your ego, your book also has to bring something new to the table.

The starting point is to evaluate the current competition. This is a task that you can easily accomplish online in two steps:

  • Step One is to locate competing books in your field. You want to know what’s already available, so you can avoid rewriting an existing book.
  • Step Two is to organize the results of your online research into a visual format that will help you position your book relative to the competition.

The procedure outlined below will help you keep track of existing books in your field and save you time identifying the ideal position for your book.

Step l: Locating competing titles

Start by creating a 4-column worksheet similar to the Competing Titles Worksheet shown at left. You can easily do this using the table feature built into your word-processing software. You can also create a spreadsheet using Microsoft Excel, or a mind map using Mindjet’s MindManager. (A writing tool we’ll be discussing in an upcoming Author Journey.)

As an easy alternative, to get you quickly get started, you can also work by hand using sheets of lined yellow paper, as described below:

  1. Draw 3 equally-spaced vertical lines on the sheet of paper. This divides the page into 4 columns of equal width.
  2. Add “Author/title” to the top of the first column. When entering author’s names, of course, be sure to begin with the author’s last name, followed by their first name. This will pay big dividends later.
  3. Title the second column “Big Idea.” Or, you can call it “premise” or “type of book.” The goal is to briefly describe the author’s approach to the topic.
  4. The title of the third column should be “Pros & Cons.” This is where you briefly comment on the book’s strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Add “Keywords” to the top of the fourth column. This purpose of this column is to pay attention to the Search Engine Optimization keywords associated with the title. The best book titles are those that contain the keywords readers are searching for online. The sooner you identify the keywords used with successful existing titles, the easier it will be for you to incorporate the right keywords in your book marketing and promotion.

Note that the above worksheet is not intended to include every detail about the books you locate online. Instead, it’s main purpose is to provide a handy way of seeing–at a glance–what’s already been written in your field as a prelude to positioning your book.

Step 2: Visually positioning your book

In order to position my forthcoming book apart from existing books on the topic, I created a simple Book Positioning Worksheet that you can use to position your book apart from existing books. This book will help you identify the most popular categories of existing books, so you can stake out a new territory for your book.

In my case, my goal was to help business professionals write a book that would position them as thought leaders and obvious experts in their field.

Surveying the available books in the writing field, I quickly noticed how most books fell into one of eight categories. For example, there were numerous books in the following categories:

  1. Introductory books about writing and publishing
  2. Locating an agent or preparing book proposals and query letters
  3. How to self-publish a book and make oodles of money
  4. Inside story, or “publishers are mean” books
  5. Creativity and inspiration books
  6. Editing and self-editing books
  7. Marketing and promotion techniques for authors
  8. How to make money writing books

With the competition displayed in the outer 8 boxes of the Book Position Planner, I could see that the missing book–the book that no one had yet written–was a book about book titles!

And, I was off and running! The breakthrough was being able to view existing titles as groups of titles, rather than individual titles.

In the next Author Journey, I’ll address the steps I took to choosing the right publishing alternative and the right publisher.

Offer

If you like the idea of a Book Positioning Planner appeals to you, drop me an e-mail at Roger@Publishedandprofitable.com. I’ll send the first 10 who respond a PDF copy of the Book Positioning Planner shown above. (Please include Book Positioning Planner in the subject line. Thank you.)

rcp-heming-picRoger C. Parker helps others write books that build brands. He’s written over 30 books, offers do-it-yourself resources at Published & Profitable, and shares writing tips each weekday. His latest book is Title Tweet! 140 Bite-Sized Ideas for Article, Book, and Event Titles
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