Writing a nonfiction book? Compete with Google at your peril

Before Google there was a need for lots of books that shared information. Now? Who needs an encyclopædia when Google is at your fingertips?

Bang goes the door on your butt if you want to write a nonfiction book covering topics of a certain informational type that, now, are so hungrily available on Google.Google logoI had the painful experience recently of looking into the production of another “A to Z” book of terms for two particular audiences, each clearly defined, one of which I describe below.

All seemed clear and cracking until that “Oh No” moment hit me: why should people buy this book containing umpty-dump hundred entries when all they need to do to find out what any of that content means, is to key it into Google?

Further evidence right here on HTWB bore that out. Articles on specific, solo elements of those topics get a lot of traffic on here. Generalist articles on a range of such topics, don’t.

Here, now, are my conclusions and bits of advice for your own writing.

Leave the diddly bits to Google

book about wedding speechesLet’s not beat about the bush: those of you who are regulars on here saw my rabid promotions for a cute little eBook about wedding speeches.

I tested this as a DIY eBook, offering advice that covered everyone who possibly could be included in anyone’s wedding party. Great idea, right?

Wrong. Sales were poor, and this confirmed my original suspicions: people due to give a wedding speech aren’t interested in what other speakers will be talking about at the wedding. They are only interested in their own role. Even wedding planners, interestingly enough, whom you would think have an
interest in helping everyone in the wedding party get their speeches right.

Google provides endless information – not just about the whole picture, but about individual niche elements: the bride’s speech, the groom’s speech, and even some of the less usual speeches like those of the bride’s son or the groom’s daughter. All you need in a snack-sized package, and for free. Who needs a book?

Punchline #1: if your book is to be a compilation of multiple individual but loosely related topics, Google can beat you hands down.

Such books might include those about:

**Job search (readers just want info about CVs/résumés, or application forms, or covering letters
**College/university applications (readers want specifics on personal statements or essays)
**Technical terms and jargon (you just need to look them up on Google one at a time)
**Dictionaries and encyclopaedia (again, you just look the terms up)
**Household tips
**Cooking and recipes
**Gardening tips

Solution: preferably, be famous

If your book is to be a compilation or collection of fairly free-standing topics and sub-topics, it must come across as the ultimate uniqueness in expertise and hitherto unknown priceless information in its field. No sh*t.

It also helps if you, the author, are famous. Very famous is better. If it you aren’t and the book doesn’t match up, it’s just going to be an also-ran on Amazon and be very difficult to promote heavily enough to gain you much of a ranking on Google – or Amazon. But if you are famous – or at least have a large following and/or an unusual, attention-getting spin on your book (e.g. Recipes For Vegan-Haters, The 500 Rudest Insults In English, etc.) you should get luckier.

Now we know what Google can do to stomp all over your nonfiction book idea, let’s have a look at what it can’t **** up…

What Google can’t offer readers includes:

**You, your personality, your unique take on a topic
**Quick access to emotions, feelings, concepts, widespread problem solving, holistic notions
**Effective access to broad, generic topics like mindfulness, sales, psychotherapy, domestic abuse, handcrafting, becoming an author, special needs
**Your own personal experiences in memoirs, biographies and autobiographies

Once again, we face the fact that no matter how clever AI has become and how intuitive the digital platforms are, they are not human. They can’t think laterally, have children, crack jokes or make a decent omelette.

Straightforward, stuffy business / self-help books, factual documentaries, biographies, dictionaries, encyclopaedia and similar all formed the dreaded reference books of the past. But they were boring.

Today, if you want boring, you research on Google. If you want something softer, more human, something entertaining – humorous, even – that’s where we humans take Google’s pants down.

And that’s where the nonfiction books of today are scoring higher and higher: they’re human, informal, friendly and reflect the importance of “human conversation” as my good friend and client Jules White calls it in her bestselling book, Live It, Love It, Sell It: how to win at sales with the art of human conversation.

What if you intend to sell your nonfiction book privately to specific audiences?

Well, if online retail platforms like Amazon aren’t as important to your book sales as your own are, don’t worry too much. But Google is a different animal. In a pure business context Google’s output covers what people search for. If your book is too general, too vague in its online offering, it won’t match as many searches as it probably deserves. If it’s too specfic it will miss out on allied opportunities.

Don’t forget that a listing for your book and/or your/its website on Google is not the same as an entry on Amazon. The “Google Juice” you will get from a successful book (and of course all the spin-off activities like serialisation on your website, blogs, podcasts, video lives) is worth having.

Punchline #2: to get it right, make sure that the Big Picture – the portmanteau content of your book, not the specifics – is of sufficient perceived value to make people want to buy it 

An interesting writing test

As I mentioned above, I put Wedding Speeches For Everyone out as a PDF download from E-Junkie to see what would happen. All that cost me was my time in compiling the eBook and uploading it to E-Junkie, plus promoting it here on HTWB and on my main social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Eventually it got some exposure on Google, but it took a lot of time. One, the topic segments were too scattered (see above) – and two, who the hell has heard of moi? (Despite the fact that I am the author of a few books about weddings, BUT … too long ago.)

Result: I won’t be doing it as a full-length book.

Punchline #3: test your book’s concept before you write it up in full

It’s not hard to do and it won’t take you that long. If you haven’t already got a following for your topic, or are unsure of it, put together a pre-book PDF and offer it for sale on your website or Facebook business page.

Don’t offer it for free, because its results in that case are likely to give you a skewed view of the book’s appeal. Everyone loves a free lunch but may not love it enough to buy it. Offer it at slightly less than for the Kindle version of a roughly similar nonfiction book on Amazon.

It needs to be about 10,000 words or so long. A good and cost-effective way to do this is via a service like E-Junkie: you upload your book as a PDF, then they handle the payments and emailing-out for a reasonable percentage. Can be very handy if you get a lot of interest.

If you have a mailing list, obviously you will want to offer it for sale there too. Make sure everyone in your “tribe” knows about your eBook.

Don’t be in any hurry to judge the results, but be sure to keep promoting the eBook for a good few weeks or even months.

Then make your decision to write (or not) a full-length book, based on the sales you get and any other feedback.

What experience do you have about the relationship between nonfiction books and Google?

Please share your views!

Image by Lumapoche from Pixabay




  1. This article is a great time-saver that points to reaching your target readers. Thanks. I’ve posted a link on my social pages.


  1. […] This is a somewhat hard lesson older authors (like me!) have to take on board, but here it goes: if you want your book to sell make sure it offers readers a lot more than they could find just by searching for the information on Google. […]