Australian self-published author Jessica Bell provides a personal case study of how writers targeting small niches may increase the income from their work by embracing other genres, as she has done. She generously shares some impressive sales figures to illustrate her point.
I write literary fiction and poetry. And let’s face it, they’re a tough sell, despite doing everything that author entrepreneur experts deem to be effective. People have suggested that I jump aboard the lucrative romance/erotica bandwagon to financially support the writing I’m passionate about. But what if I get stuck in a rut and it ends up being all I write because it’s what makes me money? I don’t want that.
Are you nodding? Are you in a similar situation? Repeat after me: I AM NOT DOOMED.
There are other things you can write to create a name for yourself as an indie author. One is non-fiction. As you will see in my sales stats at the end of the post, branching out has proved effective in getting my novels noticed.
Why Fiction Authors Should Consider Writing Non-Fiction Too
The beauty of writing non-fiction is that it uses a whole different skill set to fiction. For me, this meant I was able to compartmentalize my writing projects. Nonfiction equaled job. Fiction equaled fun. I don’t think I would have been able to separate the two like that if they were both fiction. I would have got caught up in the excitement of storytelling rather than the neutralizing effect of fact telling.
I’m not saying this is an easy way to success. You will still need the time and determination to make this work. But if you are determined, I’m 100% certain you can make it work.
If you are in a similar situation to me, and thinking about writing a nonfiction book, let me offer you a few ideas.
Think about what field of work you are trained in. Are there skills you have acquired from working in this field that you could teach others? Think about how you can switch it up a bit, so it’s not the typical “how to” book.
Case Study 1: My Writing Craft Books
My writing craft books are not just writing craft books reiterating the same information from a different perspective. I’ve put a spin on the idea of teaching writing craft by focusing on one aspect of the craft at a time in each book (i.e. show, don’t tell; adverbs & clichés; incorporating sensory information). They also double as a workbook that encourages writers to learn by doing exercises rather than just reading about them.
“But I’m not officially trained in any field,” you say? That doesn’t matter. You can simply write from experience. Did you landscape your own garden without knowing the first thing about landscaping, and now all your neighbours want you to do theirs, and suddenly you’re making an income from it? Write a book on how you did it. From teaching yourself the techniques, to buying the right materials, to marketing yourself, to starting a new business, etc.
Not really keen on the “how to” idea? Why don’t you write a book that encourages others to try something new by writing it in the style of an informative memoir? People find comfort in reading about other people’s experiences when they’re hesitant to tackle a challenge.
Case Study 2: Joanna Penn's Public Speaking Book
I recently read a book called, Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and other Introverts by Joanna Penn. It’s not just a book about how to become a public speaker, though. Joanna writes from personal experience in a very friendly and genuine manner—it felt like I was conversing with her in her living room. Her style was kind, accessible, and authentic. She made me feel like an equal, and that I wasn’t alone in my fear of public speaking. I immediately recommended it to my friends. Look, I’m even writing about it here.
There are always going to be people who want to learn how to do something new, or be encouraged to do something new. And what’s the first thing, (other than the Internet), that you turn to when you want to learn something new? That’s right. Books.
Okay, this is all well and good, you say, but you have some questions.
How To Write and Market Your Non-Fiction Books
Q) Do I market them under the same umbrella?
A) I did. But that’s because I already had an established platform. But you know what? I don’t believe you need much of a platform to sell nonfiction. People will search for topics they need help with and buy a book they think will assist them regardless of who wrote it. Of course, if you are writing about something like law or medicine, they are going to want to see your credentials in your biography.
Q) Will I need to employ the same promotional tools I use for my fiction?
A) I did hardly any marketing and the books took off without much effort. You do need to be very careful with your keywords though. You want people to find the book by simply searching for what they need.
Q) Are there rules, or a structure for writing nonfiction?
A) The main thing is that you need a concise table of contents and indexes. And in the eBook version, make sure they are hyperlinked. The brilliant thing about nonfiction reference books is that you don’t have to read them from beginning to end. You can dip in and out to find what you need when you need it. So, make sure it’s as easy as possible for your readers to do this. I also advise you serialize it. The more separate titles you have available, the better chances you have of being seen. Also, don’t forget to link to your novels in the back the book!
Measuring My Success So Far
I am by no means an expert. I do not even earn anywhere near 10k a year from my books. BUT … I think this could be the year that I do. And I know it is the result of my nonfiction titles.
I’m going to be brave and share my sales statistics with you. Please don’t laugh. These are realistic stats. I am “surviving” as an indie author. I have been able to pay for my publishing fees, plus utility bills. And that’s good enough for me. I suppose it all really depends on what you want to achieve. Do you want to become the next Hugh Howey? That’s totally fine. You can aim for that. (Heck, I’m aiming for that!)
But in the meantime, you need to find a “safe goal.” What I mean by that is, a realistic goal that will satisfy you until you reach the better goal.
Okay, here goes:
- In 2011, I had one novel out. I sold 115 books the entire year.
- In 2012, I had one novel and two poetry books out. I sold 494 books. The majority of which were sold via a BookBub promotion in a couple of days. So that doesn’t really show “true” sales success there.
- In 2013, I published two short stories, two more novels, and my entire Writing in a Nutshell series (Book #1 released Nov 2012, Book #2 Apr 2013, and Book #3 Oct 2013), I sold 3544 books. 2520 were nonfiction sales.
- On January 3rd this year, I released the all-in-one version of the Writing in a Nutshell series. My current sales stats for 2014 (on February 27th) show 1520 books. That’s 1520 books in less than 2 months. And guess how many of the 1520 were novel and poetry book sales? 420.
That’s significant progress, isn’t it?
No, I’ve not become an internationally known bestselling author. Yet. But I am thrilled I have come this far, and my nonfiction titles have clearly helped boost my visibility and discoverability. To me, that’s success. I have reached my “safe goal.” And the only way is up, don’t you think?
Do you think you have a nonfiction title in you? What would it be about? Got more questions? I’m happy to answer them as best I can in the comments.