World Book Day: yes, YOU could write a nonfiction book

Is it your dream to write your story to share with the world? Do you have a precious fund of knowledge that readers will find invaluable? If you’ve been through some difficult times, will a book about your experiences help others in the same circumstances?

Woman writing

Don’t forget that whatever you want your book to achieve, it has to be good.

New tech and new business models: making the dream come true

The entire international book publishing scene has changed a lot in the 21st century. Whereas becoming a published nonfiction author was difficult even until the end of the 20th century, now it’s comparatively easy due to the increased number of different publishing options, not to mention an increase in delivery options – print, eBook, audiobook, etc.

Undoubtedly the fact that producing and publishing a book has become a) easier and b) cheaper makes the whole book market more accessible to wannabe authors. Consequently there are literally millions of books for sale out there, and not all of them are good.

However the goalposts have been moved in recent times

Although in the past the only criterion for the publication of a nonfiction book was its literary and/or informational merit, today not all books are published with a view to becoming bestsellers so they don’t have to be “good” by mainstream publishers’ standards. Many of these books are published (often self-published) as marketing tools and as the means to a PR or promotional end, rather than as little profit centres in their own right, and are sold and/or distributed to audiences other than the general public.

What all this means, then, is that depending on your reasons for writing a book, its concept and content don’t necessarily have to conform to traditional mainstream publishing values.

Don’t forget, though, that whatever you want your book to achieve, it has to be good. Your book represents you and your professionalism / high quality. A badly written, badly produced book will convey a lot of negative messages and almost certainly will drain away whatever credibility it otherwise could have given you.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that to write and publish your book does not have to be difficult or expensive. Provided that you can talk coherently, you can write a book – with help, perhaps, but you can do it. And the best news is that these days the help you need, should you need it, is much more available – and affordable – than ever before.

So where have those goalposts been moved to?

It seems that every time you ask a publisher (usually a trade publisher) how the nonfiction/business book market is doing, they will say that it’s awful. However when you check out actual book sales the picture looks different. Perhaps we should conclude that it’s publishers who are having a hard time, not books. Many publishers still hang most of their sales opinions on what happens in bookstores too, which these days are not where most people go to buy business and other practical nonfiction books.

Business books get a particularly hard time in bookstores. In most of the bookstores I visit on a regular basis these titles are crammed into a few high shelves by the emergency exit. Bookstore managers don’t like the people who seek business books because they tend to browse a lot and buy little, or worse still browse a lot and then go home to buy the book from Amazon because it’s cheaper – hence the self-defeating policy of putting these books by the fire escape. article for World Book Day 2020I’ll never understand their merchandising policy. Even in other bricks-and-mortar retail environments like office supplies superstores – where you would think there’s a good market for business books – you’ll find them stashed away between the wastepaper baskets and the giant cans of instant coffee.

I believe people prefer to buy business and practical nonfiction books from related retail outlets, offline catalogues, or online. This isn’t the place to go into lots of statistics, but in the UK, vast quantities of nonfiction books are sold in venues like supermarkets, garden centres, gift shops, newsagents/ stationers, DIY stores, department stores, etc., as well as the various online sources.

And what about the bookshops? Are they on the way out?

Because trade (traditional) publishers have huge amounts invested in the heavy overhead of distributing books to bricks-and-mortar bookshops, they hang on to that with their fingernails. Some publishers are changing the way they do business, but I believe they still have a long way to go.

Trade publishers also are being squeezed by the rise in the number of self-published and assisted self-published nonfiction books on the market and increasingly these authors are getting their books into the main distribution channels.
Emoji used by Suzan St MaurFor a comparison, already we have seen how the whole pattern of the music industry has changed, largely due to piracy, free downloads, etc., and now if you’re a musician and want to make a living, the only way is by “gigging” – bums on seats in live performances. “Record sales,” as they used to be known in the Dark Ages and since were superseded by tape, CDs, DVDs etc., in other words related consumables – have been hugely devalued and their presence has shrunk.

Unlike musicians – who at least have their live performances as a product to sell – many of us nonfiction authors need to cling on to book sales, because without those there is nothing else. Unless you fall into the category of writing a book as a promotional tool for your business: see below.

The key benefits for you, from a ‘published book’

Well, to begin with there aren’t many more effective promotional tools. “Having a book published” still holds a certain kudos and perhaps in Pavlov-dog fashion, people automatically associate someone who writes a book about something, with that someone being an expert on the subject.

In the USA, one prolific speaker on business topics has been heard to describe his books – which he self-publishes – as “$30 business cards.” Cynical perhaps, but the folklore about the author of a book being an expert in his/her field is crystallised therein. eBooksIf you work as a public speaker (even part-time) or as a coach, trainer, lecturer, motivator, instructor, actor, comedian, musician, or in fact whatever occupation that gives you access to captive audiences – a book is a useful product. After your performance, presentation, workshop, seminar or course you can sign copies of your book for members of your audience and provided the price isn’t too high, you’ll sell a good few copies. Alternatively you can incorporate a “free” copy of your book for each delegate into the package for organisations booking your presentation or training course, thereby adding quite a lot of perceived value.

And all that’s before you look at sales of your book in the digital retail outlets, led in that field by Amazon.

Do you fancy writing a nonfiction book?

Think about it: it’s not as hard, or as costly, as you think!

Excerpted and adapted from Suze’s new book, How To Write A Brilliant Nonfiction Book, to be published later in 2020 by Better Books Media.