best way to see if anybody in your target market will buy your book is to ask
them. Simple? Alas, it’s not so simple.
you know people in the target market, can you trust their response—or
will they say yes because they’re your friends? Whether or not you know them,
how do you know that they are representative of the larger market? Is there a
danger that somebody you tell about your book will beat you to the market with
a similar book? And how can you find out how much people will really pay? Given
choices, won’t everybody pick the lowest price?
best source of mailing lists for a test population is <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>SRDS Direct Mail Lists,
found in the larger libraries. Limit yourself to your target market and select
a relatively small number of names for your test. Generally, list renters
require an order for several thousand names with a minimum cost of $150 or so.
But you can contact the mailing-list manager and explain what you are
doing—you will rent the full list later, but you’d like to test an <span
sample (say 200–500) now, and secure those names on pressure-sensitive
labels for a low, introductory price (like free?). Sometimes they will agree.
Usually they won’t, in which case you must pay the price or pick (a) friends,
(b) others in the target market suggested by friends, or (c) target market
members chosen in other ways.
aren’t very reliable. Often they would rather tell you what they think you want
to hear than what they really think. And who has 200 or 500 friends from a
of friends might be a better source, particularly if the person recommending
them doesn’t tell them about your survey first. But 200–500 friends of
free or low-cost mailing list sample isn’t available, consider using a list of
people in the target market, such as an association membership list, names from
club rosters, or professional listings in phone books. This may allow you to
test in various geographic areas or nationwide. There is no way to be certain
that what respondents say represents all the other members of the target
market, of course. But the larger your test group, the better the chances that
it will be fairly representative. If the list is big enough, you can make your
selection (like every 5th or 20th name).
you mail material about a book you’re publishing, how do you protect the book’s
theme and content? There is no way to protect an idea other than to keep it to
yourself. You can avoid including certain people in the test group, such as association
officers or others with widespread market contacts, niche-media folk, seminar
givers or book writers in the field, or anybody else you suspect might put your
idea or information in print.
must take some risk if you want to find out whether people will buy your book,
since they’ll have to know what the book is about.
your presentation to selected names professional in tone and appearance; imply
that the book is nearly ready for release, and tell only what people must know
to provide valid responses.
deciding exactly what to send, focus first on what you want to discover.
Probably the answers to: Would you buy a book about my subject? and <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Would you pay what I want
a one-page flyer that describes your book’s purpose, contents, length, cost,
type of binding (cloth or paperback), and illustrations, and includes a short
author bio. The flyer needn’t contain a photo of the cover or the author, but
it should have enough promises and information to give recipients a solid grasp
of the book you will produce.
compose a very short letter to accompany the flyer. In the letter, ask for a
favor—a quick, 30-second reply to the questions on an enclosed postcard
(which should be addressed to you and have an actual stamp). Explain that you
are completing work on the book described in the enclosed flyer and simply need
a sense of the target market’s response so that the book can be designed to
meet the needs of those most interested in purchasing it.
just a few simple and straightforward questions on the postcard and
encourage people to “Return the card by mail today!” Thank them on the postcard
as well as in the letter. And don’t take up space by asking for a respondent’s
name and address; anyone who wants to can provide them on the front of the card
as the return address.
you test the price? Gently. The best way is to divide your test market into
three equal groups with the same geographic spread. Send the same flyer and
postcard to each group but price the book differently for each.
example, if you start with a test run of 500 names, you might send flyers and
postcards to 70 with the book priced at $14.95; to another 70 with it priced at
$19.95, and to a third group of 70 with it priced at $24.95. Then double-check
on the price that gets the best response and/or the price you wish to charge by
sending flyers and cards with the book at that price to the remaining 290
get a solid sense about whether the book will be sufficiently profitable from
the positive responses on the postcards. Do these exceed, equal, or fall short
of the percentage of potential return you need to realize the kind of profit
you want? If they exceed or equal that percentage, charge ahead. If not, find
out why. Is it the test? The title? The subject? The book’s contents? The
best time to alter or abort a book is before the hard work and the hard cash
come into play.
Burgett has been publishing for 25 years and currently consults and lectures
about niche publishing and empire-building nationwide. His 30th book was just
published; he has 1,700-plus freelance articles in print, and he has offered
more than 2,000 paid presentations.