Business, technology, and how-to books can be viewed as one-sided sales conversations. Though the author may hope to sell products or services, what’s usually being sold directly to the reader is an idea—a strategy or philosophy that can be used to achieve a benefit. And the author is not present when they make their pitch—hence the one-sided conversation. Before readers will invest time in consuming, understanding, and executing the book’s idea, they need to know that the author:
- Understands their culture
- Addresses their pain points and challenges
And that the author will produce specific benefits that:
- Save time and money
- Reduce stress
- Make them feel better about themselves and their place in the world
Chapter 1: Is My Book for You?
Nonfiction authors often wish to establish thought leadership. They want to build communities and catalyze movements around their ideas. To do this, they need to put their books in the hands of relevant readers. Have you ever filled out an online form and downloaded a piece of software only to discover that the developer failed to mention it only runs on whatever platform you don’t use? Failure to qualify your user/reader results in nothing but unread books and ill will. In the first chapter (and on the back cover), make it clear who your ideal readers are and what result you intend to deliver for them. Who is your customer and what is your value proposition.
- If you learned a few chords on the guitar and then got stuck, this book will enable you to improvise tasteful solos after a month of practicing 15 minutes per day.
- If you’re comfortable with simple hammers, saws, screwdrivers, and a paintbrush, this book will help you renovate and flip houses for profit. Identify and avoid houses with projects that are beyond your abilities. Learn ten magic steps to a one-week home makeover. Discover the secrets to securing financing so you can earn real estate profits using investors’ money.
The descriptions above make it clear who should read each book, and by inference who should not. If you don’t play guitar, like to work with tools, or care about writing code, buy books other than these. The goal is not to sell “music” books that will anger every clarinet player who finds that chapter one is about changing strings. Our guitar book writer assumes that his reader plays guitar, knows a few chords and has a certain level of dexterity on the instrument. Our real estate author has positioned his book for people who are handy with tools. Our code book author assumes his reader already has experience with basic markup languages used in web development. Authors build community by profiling their readers and clarifying what levels of experience and expertise are required to make reading their book worthwhile.
Also clear is what the deliverable is. If you want to play guitar better, flip houses for profit, or get a job as a UI designer, these books were written for you. If you want to restore your own house, you may find value in the real estate book, but some of the material about real estate financing may not be relevant to you.
Chapter 2: Overcoming Objections
In selling ideas (or anything else), anticipating and overcoming objections is essential. That challenge can be handled dynamically in a live conversation, but a prospective reader considering your book will not have an opportunity to voice concerns or ask questions directly. If the reader is not 100% confident that $20 and eight hours of reading will lead to a useful result, your book will not get read.
Very often, the quandary is that the people who need your book the most may not think they need it. Software developers and project managers desperately need books about graphic design, but left-brained thinkers are often satisfied with “functional.” They may think of design as superfluous decoration. The thinking style that makes them good at their jobs can lead to projects and products that users fail to engage with for reasons that are difficult to display on a spreadsheet If your mission as an author is to introduce new perspectives to those who are “just fine” with old processes, you’ll need to convince them up-front that they’re missing something you offer.
Professional readers are often engaged with multilevel decision processes. They may be concerned that if they design or implement something in a new way, they’ll disrupt a whole chain of causes and effects—even if they embrace your ideas. If they design a new type of training module, will the IT department voice concerns about online security? How difficult will it be to sell colleagues and collaborators and bosses on the need to adopt a new approach or bring in new skills? If your reader will have to not only engage with your ideas but upsell them, be sure to mention that you’ll provide them with ways to bring about cultural change within their organizations.
Your reader may be insecure—and this gives rise to objections that aren’t even conscious. Technology has job descriptions changing rapidly and unpredictably. College students scramble to prepare for careers that don’t even exist yet. If the description of your book makes prospective readers feel obsolete or out of touch, expect them to retreat. Today’s professionals live in a state of constant reinvention—and that reinvention will not always harmonize with the evolution of the organizations in which they work. Let readers know that you’re sensitive to their “evolve or face extinction” challenge, and that you offer strategies to address it.
Other objections may be practical. If your method requires them to spend more money, work with longer and more detailed processes, bring in more outside expertise, purchase new equipment, or retrain the staff, it’s easy to conclude that “management will never approve those expenses” and forego reading. If change costs money, do the ends justify the means? If projects are typically four times more profitable when your method is applied, let your reader know that your solution pays for itself.
As an author, think about what you ask of your reader: You want them to spend time and money to embrace your idea and then put that idea into practice. If you think of yourself as a book retailer, you’ve misunderstood the challenge. Have a conversation with a skeptical customer—either in your head or in real life. Selling ideas—even good ones—is not easy, but view your writing and publishing business through the lens of sales strategy. Identifying the target customer, establishing that you understand their needs and culture, and delivering a result that surpasses the value of the investment reveal pathways to successful leadership and reader transformation.