how to start a nonfiction book and do market research

So, you’re finally ready to pull all those journal entry notes off the closet shelf or out of your mind and get the content organized onto the pages of your intended book.

But where do you begin?

Maybe you’ve heard this before, but the same good advice applies to book writing: For best results, begin with the end in mind.

This will ensure that you have a well-thought-out project that needs less rework and correction in order to position your book for success when it is ready to meet the market.

Here are 4 critical steps to help you get yourself organized and ready to start writing your book the right way!

Step 1: Identify Your Mission or Objective

Before you begin writing, you need to know your mission when it comes to writing a book. In other words, what do you want your book to help you accomplish?

Do you have a story that you believe will inspire or entertain others? Or do you want to change the world because you have been through an ordeal you would like to prevent from happening to others?

If your mission is to tell the true story of your life or a particular period of your life, it is typically classified as part of the “memoir” genre. These are often the easiest books to write, because you’re relating things that actually happened to you. But others are part of every story, and people often wonder about their right to tell a story that involves other people.

Getting the Right Permissions

It is always best if you can get the permission from those you intend to include in the book, but that is not always possible. Sometimes it may be the relatives of someone deceased who take offense to content written about them or a loved one.

In general, if elements of your story are deemed necessary for the purpose of relaying information to serve a greater good—as in enhancing the learning or awareness of others—then memoir writers often have the law on their side. But contacting an intellectual-rights attorney is never a bad idea if there is a possibility of a concern arising.

It would also be best not to identify by name any individuals you think might have an issue with being mentioned in your book, unless you receive their written permission.

Step 2: Determine your Target Audience

The audience you wish to reach should be as specific and narrowly defined as possible. This will go a long way toward the success of your marketing efforts for this book… and your next one.

If you would like to build a following (marketing platform) and earn an income from your writing, you will want to create a niche for yourself in the market you choose starting out. You don’t want to be challenged with creating a different fan base with each book you write.

So, if your first book is a memoir about life stories, don’t make your next book a young adult fiction zombie mystery.

Remember: Different genre = different audience.

Also, never think it is possible for your book to best serve everyone, because the likelihood of that happening may be akin to winning the lottery. Think of a narrow, targeted segment of the population that would get the most value from the insights you’re providing.

For example, if you are writing about a health topic or event, ask yourself questions like these: Would men or women be most interested in it? Are they pre-med students or health champions? What age group might be most affected by the topic? Will the information you are providing be of more use to caregivers or patients?

Can you think of a follow-up topic for your next book aimed at this audience? People love reading series, and it makes your life as a writer easier as well.

Once you know why you are writing, and in what genre, and specifically for whom—then it’s time to put your marketing research hat on and check out the competition your book will meet.

Writers often want to simply write and leave the marketing for later or expect other people, like publishers, to do that.

But your book is your business, and you are the CEO. You would never start a business without planning for its success along the way. If you want your efforts to matter and your business to succeed, your book is no different!

Some of the best-laid marketing strategies are built into the book’s creation. If you don’t want to do it, hire someone who can help you.

 how to do a competitive market analysis for books

Step 3: Perform a Competitive Marketing Analysis

One of the best places to research the market for your book is where most books for sale can be found, and that is at Amazon.

Search on Amazon for books by your chosen topic and by title—if you already have one in mind.

Ask yourself a few key questions along the way.

How many have titles similar to yours?

Titles are not subject to copyright, but that doesn’t mean you want to have the same title as three other books for sale on the market, whether they are in the same genre as yours or not. It just makes it harder for your book to stand out.

What do the top 10 books in your topic area look like?

Find the top 10 books most similar to yours by topic and check their Amazon seller rankings.

How recently were they written? Are there any trends in the subject matter or any gaps in what’s being covered? What’s changed over time?

What do their reader reviews indicate?

Reading the reviews of your competitors’ books is the easiest way to find out what readers/buyers like and don’t like. This is valuable information to have before you begin writing.

You can potentially supply a need that readers are missing in competing books or possibly avoid writing-style mishaps or similar ill-fated or overlooked issues.

What tone do the books take? What material do they include?

Take advantage of the opportunity Amazon gives you to read inside the books of a similar topic as yours.

Chapter content would be helpful to see what else you could include that others did not.

How do the authors present themselves and their books?

Visit the Amazon author pages of your top-selling competitors.

This is a good way to get ideas about how to set up your own page and how to write the most compelling book descriptions.

Often, book descriptions on the author page come from the back cover copy of their books. This is the prospective buyer’s first stop to gauge their interest in your book, making it your first opportunity to sell your book after it gets found.

Once you’ve examined the competition, it’s time to think about maximizing your chances of success with your book.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a critical factor in book marketing success.

If your book is not showing up in searches on Google or other search engines, potential buyers are not finding your book online.

Try to use keywords in your title and book description that are searched on by 10,000-20,000 users monthly; these are the optimal competitive ranges.

Very high search ranges in a month may mean that the competition for a particular topic is potentially too large for your book to get noticed.

Marketing research may not be the most exciting part of writing a book, but it is one of the most important steps to take before you start writing. Undoubtedly, this is where many authors-to-be go wrong early on.

To accomplish your purpose and passion for writing in the first place, book buyers must find you, and then decide that your content is relevant to their wants and needs.

To build a following of fans, you’ll want to use traffic-driving techniques through a website or email system to enable you to grow a relationship and a business/marketing platform.

Nothing is sadder than spending months or years writing a book you think will change the world and then watching it go nowhere because it either can’t be found or people don’t want to read the content. Make sure your book is ready and waiting for anyone who might need it!

Step 4: Create a Chapter Outline

Now you’re ready to get to the meat of the matter. The best way to begin the writing process is to organize the major elements of your storyline in the order of events as they occurred.

Some people are visual and create storyboards to do this, while others write it out in an outline format. Either way, this is the blueprint that weaves the story construction from beginning to end.

Begin by planning for an average-sized book of about 100 pages, with 10, 10-page chapters. This is a good length for most readers and a good place to start out as a writer learning your craft.

You may want to include certain things before and after those 10 chapters to provide additional or background information for your readers.

Certain elements, such as the author dedication and introduction, are best written after the story has been laid. Including a foreword written by someone with name recognition who would well represent the book by adding to its credibility is a great idea.

Acknowledgments are often included at the end of the book, as well as an author bio, and perhaps a resource section, if applicable.

Up to 10 black and white photos are reasonably accepted through Amazon’s self-publishing arm, KDP. Color photos always look better but may not be cost-effective for book pricing.

You are now ready to begin creating your book and living your passion and purpose. Few would go to so much effort, otherwise.

If all this seems too overwhelming or more than you want or have time to handle on your own, good ghostwriters and publishing consultants can be worth their weight in gold and are an option worth considering. Finding both functions in one person is ideal for communication, project coordination, and budget considerations.

The important thing is that you take that first step to becoming a published author and accomplishing the mission you’ve set, and starting to write your book!

For more on how to write great nonfiction, check out these articles: