Choosing a Topic for Your Book
In this episode, I’ll mainly focus on brainstorming a book topic, but it’s most helpful to choose a great, general niche or topic to write about before you start to brainstorm an exact topic.
I feel I should mention niche selection because, while a good niche can mean (but not guarantee) success, a poor niche can mean utter failure. It’s not really something you should just choose off the top of your head.
Just because you like a certain topic doesn't mean everyone else is interested in buying a book about it. I don’t want you to write your heart out on a topic you’ve brainstormed that will never sell. That’s just not the way to go—unless writing is strictly a hobby for you. And I think you’re reading this episode right now because it’s not just a hobby for you.
Again, you have to make sure the topic you choose is selling well on Kindle already. Don't try to reinvent the wheel. Follow what's already working and already selling. If you publish on a hot topic, the chances are good that you’ll probably get some sales.
To choose a good niche or topic, go to Amazon.com's Kindle section and click through the various categories related to the general genre you’re interested in. It’s okay to choose categories that you're interested in yourself – that will make this so much easier, especially if you're very knowledgeable about the niche or topic already. The trick is to find something you enjoy writing about and that will sell really well.
As you click through the categories, drill down to the subcategories. Since you are writing a very specific book, you want to target a very specific subcategory. It’s going to be much easier for you to make sales if you target a subcategory.
Once you’re on a subcategory’s page, take a look at the bestselling books on that page. There are some things you want to note as you look at these books.
First-- are there other self-published authors within the first 20 best-selling books in the subcategory? You can and will beat traditionally published works. With that said, right now, you probably don't have the marketing muscle they have. If other self-published authors have snuck in and are at the top of these categories, it's a fairly good indicator that you can do the same thing.
Also, click on the first few top sellers as well as the bottom few sellers of the top 20. So, you might open up tabs in your web browser for bestseller 1, 2, and 3 as well as bestseller 18, 19, and 20. Look at the Amazon sales ranks of each of the books. The sales rank numbers can be very telling.
Make sure you take notes while you're doing this so you remember everything. Some people even like to keep spreadsheets as a way of tracking this research.
Of the top few bestsellers, what are the ranks? Ideally, you want the rankings to be under 20,000. The lower the ranking on Amazon, the better. The more sales the book makes, the lower its sales ranking gets. A 5,000 ranking, for example, would be very good. A 1 Milllion+ ranking would be bad. Keep that in mind because it's very valuable information when it comes to choosing your niche.
Now, take a look at the bottom few bestsellers that were in that top 20 of that subcategory. It's good news for you if those are at a 50,000 sales rank or higher while the top few books are at a 20,000 rank or lower. That means there's a better chance you can sneak into the top 20 with your self-published, short book and rank well. It can be worth checking on the length of the books that are doing well to see if the type of book you plan to write has a place there.
It can honestly take hours to go through this process. But, once you do it, you can save your notes forever and you'll have fodder for new books for months and months to come. Whenever you need a new idea, you can just take a look at your notes. Just make sure you check up on your idea if it is months down the line—the bestseller lists on Amazon do change very frequently (every hour, actually).
Also realize that this is not an exact science. Trends can and will change. What’s hot today might not be hot tomorrow. Some of the books you research don’t have staying power while others do. If choosing a bestselling niche were easy, everyone would release a bestseller every single time.
That’s another point--- you can click on the upcoming releases page Amazon will show you so you can get an idea of what’s on the horizon. The big book companies pay a lot of money and spend a lot of time in research. If their books are on the upcoming releases pages, you can scope trends out early.
It’s also important to note that you’ll be interested in some topics and not other topics—regardless of their ranking power. It's better to focus on something you have some interest in than something you absolutely have no interest in. At the same time, make sure people are interested in buying what you have to sell.
That's what a lot of writers get wrong. They think they can just write what they want and that people will buy it just because they are passionate about it. Well, when you self-publish for Amazon Kindle, you're not just a writer, you're also a marketer. Self-published authors wear all the hats. The sooner you realize and embrace that, the better.
It's best if you find a topic that’s profitable but not over-saturated. Remember to check those sales ranks. If the top 20 books all have sales ranks of under 20,000, it's going to be harder for you to break in.
Another thing to consider is whether there are opportunities for you to publish many books on a topic in the future. Remember that you don't want to just publish one book per topic, you want to corner the market on a topic. You want many great releases over time and a catalog that consistently sells for you.
The Topic Selection Stage
Now that you’ve done the preliminary research and you have an idea of what sells well on Amazon, it's time to choose your topic. Hopefully, you’re feeling pulled toward a particular topic already since you’re fresh off your research.
You may want to double check yourself, though. Is your chosen topic going to be profitable? Are there plenty of opportunities for you to write additional books related to the topic?
Do you enjoy the topic enough to write about it consistently? If you're passionate about a topic and have some knowledge on the topic even without research, that will shine through in your writing. It will also make it easier and faster for you to write
It can also be helpful if the topic you choose can be easily expanded into a series of books, as I mentioned earlier. Series books tend to sell well because people feel compelled to buy the next one in the series. At the very least, make sure the topic you choose has room for multiple book releases even if they aren’t in a series.
If you do choose the series route, I do caution you to approach your series with the knowledge that each book should be able to stand on its own. The books should complement one another, but not be incomplete without one another. The article you’re reading right now is part of a series. Each one stands alone yet they pack an even more powerful punch when you read them together.
Also remember to try to be specific with your topic for these shorter books. For example, if your topic is “weight loss,” that's way too broad. You should be focused on finding one problem your audience has and offering one solution or a few solutions for them within your book.
Focus on a narrow interest, passion, or subcategory. That’s the best way to break through on Amazon as a new author because there is less competition that way. It also makes it easier to write these shorter, yet extremely helpful books. Just make sure there’s a buying audience and similar books that are doing well.
The Brainstorming Stage
You can breathe a sigh of relief now that you've chosen your general topic. It may have felt like the decision was a long time coming, but you can rest assured that you’ve chosen the right topic and you're well on your way to releasing a successful book on Kindle.
Now, it's time to brainstorm angles and topics for your book and get your thoughts down on paper. Brainstorming is an extremely valuable yet underrated creative process. Don't think you have to just stick to the same old stuff all the other writers are sticking to when you write. No one wants to buy a dry, copycat of a book. They want something written in a unique voice that helps them or touches them in a way no other book can.
Take a look at what other authors are doing and brainstorm ways you can make your book and content unique and different. What unique angle can you take to stand out? Some authors like to brainstorm book titles first as a way of finding a unique angle. This can be a fun and motivating exercise. Get inspired by related book reviews on Amazon, social media chatter, and the questions and things people are talking about on related niche forums.
Go ahead and write down everything related to your topic you think your audience would want to know. Reflect on their problems, passions, and desires.
If you could look inside the head of one real member of this audience, what would they be thinking? What would they want more than anything else? What is their ideal book that they would buy in a heartbeat if it were available? Write that book.
If you're having trouble coming up with a reader avatar (a profile of your typical potential reader), Amazon makes it really easy for you to get inside the customer’s head so you can create one. Go back to those top 20 books related to your topic. Pay attention to the top selling few in the top 20 as well as the bottom selling few in the top 20. Make notes on the reviews those books have received. Pay particularly close attention to the top reviews that give the books five stars as well as any reviews that give them one star.
Make notes on what it was these customers liked and did not like. We’ll talk about how to do this in more detail later on when it comes to the niche research part of things, but this can help jumpstart you if you're feeling starved for ideas when you're brainstorming.
After you’ve gotten a little refresher on the likes, dislikes, and desires of your typical reader, go back to brainstorming. Now you have a feel for the reader and what people in this audience need and want. Brainstorm what you think you should include that relates to those desires, problems, passions, and interests.
Think freely – let your mind make new connections. Be creative and think outside the box. You'll be surprised at where your mind takes you if you allow yourself to freewrite and brainstorm.
The worst mistake you can make at this stage is censoring yourself – just don't do it. Write down everything that comes to mind even if it seems sort of silly right now. Later, you'll choose from the very best ideas you've brainstormed, but don't let that "editor" come out quite yet.
Allow yourself to be as creative as possible based on what you know. Follow your gut and your creative instinct when you’re brainstorming these ideas. Your brainstormed ideas will help give you some direction when you dig more deeply into your niche audience.