THE BLOG
04/03/2014 02:42 pm ET Updated Jun 03, 2014

How to Create Best-selling Book Ideas

It's one thing to write a book -- it's quite another to write a book that will sell. We all want to follow our passion, write our dream and dance creatively with our muse, but wouldn't it be fantastic if, amidst all of this creation, we also managed to produce a bestselling book? That is, after all, the dream.

Specifically we'd all like high ranking on Amazon and though I've addressed that and reviews in other pieces, I thought that a step back to the beginning might be a good place to focus on.

Finding Best-selling Book Ideas

I know this gal who fraternizes with a lot of SEO people; for those of you not familiar with the term, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. These are the folks who spend their life trying to get on the first page of Google. One day several years back, she and I were talking about the topic of how to create ideas that sell. She told me that many of her SEO buddies would write books literally just based on keywords. It had nothing to do with their passion or what they really wanted to write about; instead, they focused on saleable terms, meaning phrases that were getting a huge bounce in Google. Now this may not be how you would ever consider writing a book, but there are merits to this methodology:

  • Book focus: Where will you focus your book? Don't get too caught up in a set plan. Leave some room for flexibility and consider what's "hot" to write about right now. What is an immediate need? You may still stick with your original plan, but slant it a bit more towards seeing what's hot in search or in the media. Keep in mind that the speed of book production often allows us to jump on a trend or hot topic so take advantage of that when you can.
  • Book title: If you have identified your best keywords for this market (which we'll focus on in next month's article) then you can and should use them here. Keywords in a title can really help to boost your exposure not just on Amazon but on Google as well.
  • Book subtitle: If you already have your title set in stone, consider using keywords in your subtitle to help boost your exposure in search.
  • Book topic: Let's say you know your market, but you aren't sure what to write about. Sure, you could align this with "book focus," but consider that you're an expert in consumer finance and want to write a book on this topic. Knowing what consumers are searching on (as it relates to finance) could be a great way to address the immediate needs of your reader. This is where keywords come into play but the research I share further in this article will help with this, too.
The other element here is to create a topic that's narrower. Instead of focusing on one broad area, focus in more granularly. For example, I recently taught a class about this very topic and we brainstormed ideas on creating segmented topics within one broader umbrella. Consider the real estate gal who has a book on buying or selling your first home. I suggested that instead of trying to reach a big, broad and cluttered market, that she instead focus on isolated industries. The ideas we brainstormed were: Buying Your First Home for Singles, Buying Your First Home for Seniors, Buying Your First Home for Domestic Partners. You get the idea, right? Create a series of books that sits under a broader market. This will net you better sales. Consumers like specialized topics that help solve a specific problem. And the books don't have to be long, but we'll cover that in more depth later. Once you find this market or niche, you'll want to publish regularly to it. Amazon and the associated algorithms tend to trigger quicker when an author has multiple titles so consider that as well.

So, let's assume that you've done some keyword research or are at least familiar with the keywords in your market. Let's see how these searches relate to popular topics on Amazon.

Step-by-step, here is what you'll need to do:

  • On the Amazon page, search in the Kindle store tab. I want you to isolate your searches there for now.
  • Plug in your search term and see what comes up. You'll generally get 5-10 suggestions. Click on one of them.
  • Look at the books that come up in search and click on the "customers also bought" section.
  • Your focus should be on books that have a low sales rank. Depending on the category, it could be as low as 20,000 or as high as 50,000.
  • You want to make sure there's a variety of books in this segment, preferably more than five and they should all have this range of sales volume. If it's lower than 20,000 that's great, but when you get into the super saturated or unpopular categories, neither of those will help you.
Some Amazon experts say that a 20,000 rank indicates that the book is selling five copies a day, but I find this hard to prove either way. Just know that given Amazon's volume, it's definitely not languishing. Regardless, this research will really help to expose hot topics and market segments within your area of expertise that are selling well.

Staying on the Short and Narrow

While full-length books will never go away, there's a surge towards shorter, niche books--books that "own" a narrow market segment. When I first published How to Sell Books by the Truckload on Amazon, I was surprised at how the sales outpaced my other books. While I know the title had a lot to do with this, it was also the fact that the book was shorter and focused on one particular area.

If you decide to do this (write shorter books), I wouldn't suggest just keeping the book short. While short is the new long, there's still plenty of room for full-length books, too. So, in other words, if you can mix it up, that's the best track for success. How short can short be? Ten thousand to seventeen thousand words is generally acceptable. Keep in mind that if you do short, you don't have room for fluff. You'll want to be as crystal clear as you can be on specific instructions, maybe even include step-by-step instructions or checklists, which readers love.

Other Ways to Develop Book Ideas

There's an element of research that goes into every book you create, and I'm not just talking about the topic research, but content, too. When you're developing your book idea and trying to decide what to include and exclude from the book, consider spending a bit of time doing a comparison with other, similar books in your market. Take a look at their book pages on Amazon, read through their reviews. In particular, the negative reviews that give constructive feedback about what the reader thought was missing, or things they wished had been expanded upon, will be particularly helpful. Readers will tell you what they want, and they'll often do it in a review.

One Final Note on Shorter Books

On Amazon there is the "look inside the book" feature. This covers just a short section of your book, so be cautious when you're preparing your final content. If your book is too short, the "look inside" feature will reveal most of the book, or enough of it that readers may glean what they want and not buy it. You want to fill the book with sufficient content so that you don't end up with this problem. If you've finished the book and it seems a bit too short, consider adding things like checklists, free resources or bonus chapters from other books you've written that relate to this topic. Keep in mind that this isn't meant to pump up your book page count just for the sake of doing that, but if the book looks too much like a white paper or report instead of a book, you may end up with a lot of window-shoppers who don't end up buying. How short is too short? Anything under 50 pages is too short. Generally I'd recommend that you sit somewhere over 55 pages, ideally 65 pages to be safe. And again, don't stuff your book with useless content. Make sure that if you need to add pages, you are adding helpful, useful information.

Doing some book research is not just a great idea to help develop some high-selling product, but a great idea overall. We invest so much of our time and effort into our books that the more we can make sure we're on target, the less time we'll spend languishing in obscurity. Given that there are 3,500 books published every day in the US, whatever you can do to stand out above the crowd can make all the difference.