This is an ongoing series about BigAl’s first experience writing a book. Join him as he flies by the seat of his pants and figures things out as he goes. For a more complete explanation about the book and this series of posts, you can read the series introduction here.
In this installment I’m going to briefly cover two areas. First, establish my starting point. Second, report on some non-writing activity I’ve done.
In the introduction I indicated that I’d previously started work on this book and then stalled due to other distractions. It seems reasonable to report on from what point I’m re-starting and a bit about how I got to that point.
Initially I created a rough outline of the things I felt needed to be included in the scope I envision the book covering. I’m sure you’re all aware of the description of “pantser” for fiction writers who start a book with a vague idea of where it might go and lets the muse take them from there. Other fiction authors have processes that are more rigid, some very much so, with progressively more detailed outlines. For non-fiction, some forms might work with a seat-of-the-pants approach. Certainly I could see writing a memoir that way. But at least as I saw it, a book like I’m writing, a how-to or instructional book, requires an outline to get a handle on what to include and to determine the best structure or order in which to present the information. Building the outline was an iterative process with thoughts about one area prompting the addition of new topics that were needed in other areas. I currently have an outline for sixteen chapters plus an introduction, each covering a broad subject area, with some number of bullet points listing the major topics to be covered and in what order. Of course, like every author I’ve ever talked to who uses an outline, it is subject to change.
The advantage I see to the method of outlining I’ve chosen is that it divides the work into bite-sized chunks. Each of the topics included in a chapter can be covered in a few hundred to a few thousand words. At least at first, having this structure allows me to tackle writing a draft for whatever topic tickles my fancy during any particular writing session. Before temporarily abandoning the project I’d written just over 12,000 words that were parts of nine different chapters.
Depending on his or her goals, a fiction author might do some minimal market research, possibly deciding to go ahead with a project in one genre instead of another because of a better market for those kinds of stories. But I don’t believe many do this. However, in the area of instructional or how-to non-fiction, it makes sense to see whether the subject already has a plethora of books available. If it does, you’d want to consider whether you have anything new to bring to the subject. It’s possible that your author platform is such that your book will attract attention regardless of it being aimed at a crowded market. (For example, Stephen King’s On Writing and even Joe Konrath’s A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing were both likely to grab a decent share of the how-to books on writing or publishing due to their author platform.) Or, this may be a book you want to write regardless, which is also okay. Even then, some minimal market research can serve to form more realistic expectations of how well the book might do.
I searched Amazon for books that were similiar to what I picture writing. (I’ll summarize my subject matter as the structural and logistical considerations in starting and running a book review blog with a brief introduction to the basics of writing a review.) Using a few of the obvious (at least I thought they were) search terms to discover any books like this, I mostly came up short. There are a ton of books on blogging, generically, or ones that focus on one particular aspect of running a blog (monetizing, promoting, technical – like WordPress for Dummies). There are a small number of instructional books focused on writing book reviews. I saw an avalanche (a tsumani even) of books on writing and publishing. There are even a few books on running a review blog that are close, but aimed at reviewing a variety of products or services, not books. I tried looking at the also-boughts of books that were close to reveal more. I tried drilling down on categories of books that were close in an attempt to find others. In the end I found exactly one book of about 100 pages that covers the same specific niche I’m aiming for. As I’m writing this post, that book is ranked just shy of 530,000 in the Kindle store with the paper version having a ranking slightly worse than 3 million It’s been out for about two and a half years and has five reviews (three with 5 stars and two with 4 stars) with one of the reviews from a major book blog and another from a top 100 reviewer.
This left me wondering what to make of what I’d found. Does it mean there is no market for a book aimed at this niche? Possibly. Although there are thousands of book review blogs and you’d expect a book lover who might consider starting one to look for a book on the subject, there is also the possibility that most don’t, getting their questions answered by piecing together the information they need from a variety of internet sources. Maybe potential readers are finding the information using some of the generic books. Possibly they aren’t willing to pay the asking price (currently $5.99 at Amazon’s flagship site for the Kindle version). Or maybe there is a demand, but the authors of this volume have done a poor job of getting the word out to the right set of people. (They might have also sold at a higher volume shortly after release – there are some used copies of the paper version available – but have slacked off since release.) I’m still going to proceed, but all of this will be something to consider when putting together marketing and promotional plans at some point.
In the next post of this series I’ll attempt to formulate a to-do list of items unrelated to writng the book which I’ll need to accomplish with some preliminary thoughts, plans, and decisions on some of the list items.