What, Why and How of Marketing Nonfiction Books

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Why and How of Marketing Nonfiction BooksThis is a guest post about marketing nonfiction books by attorney and author Helen Sedwick 

I made all the usual marketing mistakes when I released by novel, COYOTE WINDS. I had not decided whether my audience was young adults or general historical fiction readers. I had no blog, no twitter account, and no author platform. Worst of all, I had picked a topic of limited interest, the Dust Bowl era. While the book received glowing reviews, sales were disappointing. No Hollywood contract was heading my way.

I was determined to do better with my second book, Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook: The Step-by-Step Guide to the Legal Issues of Self-Publishing. Since I was now familiar with the process of self-publishing, I spent more time developing and implementing a marketing plan. I kept asking myself the following questions:

What book was I meant to write?

As a member of my local writing community and a lawyer, I found myself answering many questions from fellow writers, especially those venturing into self-publishing. They asked about protecting their copyrights, hiring freelancers, and managing taxes. They worried about using real people in their writing. They found the alphabet soup of DRM, DMCA, EIN, and COPPA daunting.

I also heard about mistakes, costly mistakes; writers who had signed on with predatory self-publishing companies and couldn’t get their rights back, and bloggers who had received letters demanding hefty payments for photos used without permission.

Indie authors needed an easy-to-follow resource. After thirty years of representing small businesses, I knew I could write this book. But was there a market?

According to Bowker, there were at least 391,000 self-published books released in 2012, a 59% increase from 2011. This was a groundswell of potential readers. I was intrigued.

Why would my book be different from what was already available?

Before I started writing, I researched similar books on Amazon and other sources. I found legal guides that analyzed agency and publishing contracts for the traditionally published writer, but not the indie author. I skimmed dozens of how-to-self-publish books, most of which avoided legal questions entirely. Clearly, there was a gaping hole in the market, a guide to business set-up, intellectual property rights, taxes, contracts and other legal issues of self-publishing.

What did potential readers want?

As soon as I decided to write the Handbook, I started a blog and began to use Twitter and Google+. I watched what information generated shares and retweets and what information just sat there. Better still, I heard directly from writers. They sent me questions and feedback. I learned what confused and frustrated them. I saw that they didn’t want any more warnings about what NOT to do; they wanted advice on how to accomplish their goals.

So I focused my writing on the HOW-TOs: how to choose a self-publishing company, how to protect rights, how to use images, how to avoid scams, how to save on taxes, even how to read key contract provisions.

Many people are intimidated by legal matters, but I am convinced writers are able to understand more than they realize. If they can master plot, characterization and structure, then they can learn to spot and avoid many legal missteps. I wanted to give them the tools for doing so.

How would I reach readers?

Like most writers, I don’t like the idea of selling. I prefer to think of marketing as providing information. I knew I had a helpful guidebook for indie authors; the challenge was finding a way to reach them. Where did they go for information about self-publishing?

Since I am an indie author, I started with the gurus I trusted, particularly Jane Friedman, Joel Friedlander, Joanna Penn, Nina Amir and Frances Caballo. I contacted them and asked for their advice on marketing the Handbook, which they provided. And I offered to write guest posts.

Anyone who blogs understands the pressure of generating new content week after week. I figured I could contribute something new to these bloggers, something their readers wanted to know. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I have as many requests for guest posts as I can handle. In return I benefit from the exposure.

I continue to blog on my own site and to tweet. I have also done the typical steps of boosting Facebook posts, running a Goodreads Giveaway, publicizing a Kindle Count-Down deal, and pitching conferences for speaking spots. All of those have helped.

By far my best marketing move was reaching out the self-publishing gurus who already had sizable followings. Writing for their sites has given me reach and credibility that would have taken years to build on my own.

Guest posting is not a fast and easy marketing technique. Identifying appropriate blog sites, researching topics, writing about them in a useful way, all this take times. But in return the Handbook sells well, and I have been able to help more writers achieve their goals and avoid legal mistakes.

Bottom Line

We all get the same emails promising marketing tricks that will sell our books by the boatload. In reality, there are no shortcuts. You may have to sow a lot of seeds before one of them grows into a tree. For the best chance of success, take the time to:

  • choose a topic where you have something unique to contribute,
  • research the competition to identify an empty niche,
  • write a book that is useful and informative,
  • introduce yourself to the leaders in your category, and
  • participate in the ongoing conversation and education in your field.

The more you plan and focus your efforts, the more time you’ll have to move on to writing your next book.

Related reading

Blogging Just for Writers

Avoid Social Media Time Suck

Social Media Just for Writers


8-11-14 HelenSedwick_300Disclaimer: Helen Sedwick is an attorney licensed to practice in California only. This information is general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for the advice of an attorney authorized to practice in your jurisdiction. Be sure to connect with her on her blogwebsite, Google+ and Twitter.



About theFrances Candid Shot 12-5-13 Author: Frances Caballo is an author and social media strategist and manager for writers. You can receive a free copy of her book Twitter Just for Writers by Clicking Here. Connect with Frances on FacebookTwitterLinkedInPinterest, and Google+.


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