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Should I Publish This Book?

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This little publisher went to market; this little publisher stayed home; this little publisher ate roast beef; this little publisher ate none. And this little publisher went We! We! We! have got to have better guidelines for choosing our manuscripts!
Investing in a new book is like investing in a new business. A significant amount of start-up capital is required to produce each book, and a complete, well-thought-out marketing plan must be developed for each book in order to begin the climb toward success. That’s a lot of time and money invested before the book has the chance to prove its monetary worth, therefore each manuscript considered for publication has to be judged by its potential to make a sizable profit. Is there an easy way to tell a sure shot from a dud?
I think there is. Successful venture capitalists know which little start-up businesses will eat roast beef by analyzing all of the consumer and product factors that have consistently spelled success. These same principles can also be applied to the publishing industry on a book-by-book basis. The following eight factors will help to determine a manuscript’s success in the marketplace, and through its probable success, the manuscript’s profit potential can be measured. A significant absence of any one of these factors can spell financial disaster for the hopeful publisher who is looking to recapture their investment. Answering the questions that follow will help shape the marketing direction that the book should take, if the book should even be taken to market. Though I am primarily referring to nonfiction manuscripts, many of these factors and questions apply to fiction as well.1. Does a qualified audience exist for the book?
The audience has a problem. The book addresses this problem and offers itself as a solution. The audience for the book knows that they need this information. They are willing and able to pay for the information if the solution, the book, really solves their problem.
What is the problem? Who has the problem? Is the audience immediately identifiable, such as artists, hang gliders, or social workers? Is the audience currently looking for a solution to this problem? Or will the audience need to be informed that this problem exists? Is the information contained in the book offered free of charge by others? Does the book offer information as a solution (need) or as trivia (fun)?2. Does the book offer a one-size-fits-all solution?
The problem that the book solves is essentially the same for all buyers, with only minor differences in degrees or severity. The information does not have to be customized for each individual.
Does the targeted audience share the same set of needs? Is there anything in their psychological, geographical, or economic, etc., make-up that would require information customization? Is the information general enough that a large portion of the identified audience would be able to use it, or is the information too specific or technical, geared for only a small segment of that identified audience?3. Is the book a bargain to the buyer?
The price of the solution, the book, must be equal to or lower than the current cost of the problem, the lack of information. Whether the cost savings are direct or hidden (time and trouble), the customer must think that the price of the information is a bargain in comparison.
Why does the audience need the information? To save time or money, to make time or money, to make more knowledgeable decisions, to look good or feel good? What is the actual cost of the problem to the audience? Are these costs hidden or direct? How much time, trouble, or money will the customer be able to save by buying this book?4. Does a sizable market exist for the book?
A large number of people share the same problem, the same lack of information. One way to quickly judge the potential gross profit of the book is to multiply the number of potential buyers (the size of the audience) times the price they would be willing to pay for the solution to their problem (the book). Multiply this number by 1%, the number of probable responses you would get if you could reach the entire audience through direct mail. If the number exceeds $10 million, run, don’t walk, to market. You may be the little publisher who eats roast beef!
Is the identified audience easy to reach through magazines, newsletters, or direct mail? Are there clubs or associations to which this audience would belong? Can you get ahold of solid numbers such as the circulation of magazines or data taken from the census? Are libraries included in the number of potential buyers? How much of the potential gross profit will be eaten up in trying to reach the market?5. Is the book easily promoted by word-of-mouth advertising?
The solution is easily passed along from buyer to buyer by word-of-mouth advertising. This is the most effective and least expensive form of advertising. The word of a friend is much more trustworthy and persuasive than the words of an advertisement.
Is the targeted audience made up of people who will likely stay in touch with one another through conferences or homespun newsletters? Or is the targeted audience more scattered and unorganized, such as first-time home buyers? Can you obtain recognized and respected endorsements for this book? Is this book likely to get favorable reviews, pre- and post-publication? Can you send out news releases? Can spin-off articles be written for newspapers and magazines? Is the subject matter of the book suitable for seminars, workshops, radio, talk show, or other speaking engagements?6. Do sales outlets exist that are convenient for the customer?
Convenience is frequently more important to a customer than savings, particularly if the cost savings are not overwhelmingly significant. The title of the book needs to be easily understood as the solution to a specific problem, alleviating the inconvenience of confusion. The longer it takes a potential customer to consider buying the book, the more investment capital the publisher will require.
Are there a significant number of nontraditional retail outlets or mail order catalogs that cater to your specific audience through which you could sell your book? Can you buy or rent a mailing list for this audience? From whom and for how much? Will you be able to obtain a distributor for this book to get into the national bookstores and libraries? Will the book be easy to order directly from the publisher? Will you include an order form in the back of the book? Will you offer a toll-free number? Will you accept credit cards? Will you have an Internet Web site? Will you offer the book through an online bookstore?7. Does the book have little direct competition?
The more books that offer a similar solution to the same problem, the smaller the market share each book will attract. More competition means more money will need to be spent on book packaging, advertising, and promotion. Speed of publication may become a factor if the subject matter is a hot topic that is sure to have competition.
How many books are currently on the market offering the same solution targeted to the same audience? Can the book be revised to target a different audience with a similar but as yet unaddressed problem? Is the competition made up of frontlist first printings, or backlist revised or reprinted editions? Will the cover of the book stand out attractively from the rest of the competition? Is the book one-of-a-kind, or part of a larger, previously recognized series? Does the author have a recognized name? Is the author well-connected in his/her field? Is the author able to afford and generate a lot of interest through his/her own promotional tours?8. Are there no institutional obstacles standing in the way of the book?
Any legalities and formalities have been taken care of or accounted for. The audience is not restricted from buying the book in any way. They are not held accountable for their actions by a regulatory body. For example, schools may be restricted from buying educational textbooks that have not met with school board approval. Certain religious sects may take offense, ban the book, and threaten to kill the author.
Have the necessary permissions been obtained for the book? Do any social, industrial, professional, or governmental obstacles exist? How can these obstacles be overcome? Can you secure one or more distributors to overcome the industrial obstacle to national bookstores and libraries?

Weighing the Factors

If seven to eight of the above factors are present, there is a strong potential for the success of the book. If only five or six of the above factors are present, consider carefully whether or not you still want to try to market this book. It will probably require a substantial investment in time and money, both from the author and the publisher, and the chances of success are slim. If fewer than five factors are present, reject the manuscript or be prepared to take a heavy loss. Either the book will not be able to reach the audience, or no significant audience exists for the book to reach.© 1998 Alexsandralyn Stevenson
All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced in any way without the express permission of the author.
Alex Stevenson is the co-owner of Cattails Publishing and the author of “The Artist’s Studio: How to Build Your Own Professional Studio Easel.” She can be reached at 2501 W. 12th Street, #116, Erie, Pennsylvania 16505; 814/838-7029; fax 814/835-4968.
This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor March, 1999, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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