The Birds and the Beasts: Good News for Non-fiction Writers

When I’m browsing the fiction in a bookstore, I’m like the choosy female bird in a nature documentary.  I’m fickle.  Picky.  Suspicious.  I actively try to find fault in a novel’s efforts to seduce me into buying it, no matter how showy its feathers and how elegant its sales copy.  More often than not, I walk out of a bookstore empty-handed—not because I don’t love fiction, but because my aversion to spending money is stronger than my temptation to buy a novel whose characters may or may not enchant me.

It’s a teensy bit different for non-fiction.

A few months ago, I was eagerly awaiting the release of my first book from a traditional publisher and looking for ways to promote it.  My local library was sorely lacking in books on this topic, and the information I found on the internet was infuriatingly vague (“send press releases to important media contacts”—yes, but how do I find those important media contacts, and what do I say in my press release?).  The local bookstore didn’t have what I needed either.

That’s when I turned from a fickle bird into a blood-thirsty beast.

I went online and bought three different e-books about book promotion within ten minutes.  All of them were self-published:  two of them were written by freelance book publicists who were selling their self-published e-books through their websites, and the other one was by a self-published writer on Amazon.  It was, for me, a veritable book-buying rampage.

This latent beastiness is exactly why non-fiction writers should be very, very excited about e-books.

Unlike fiction, where readers need to be seduced, convinced, and subtly cajoled into taking a nibble, non-fiction readers are already hungry (or, in my case, ravenous).  Not just hungry, but  impatient.  I want to know something;  I want answers to my questions, solutions to my quandaries; and if I can click a link and pay $5-20 to get those answers RIGHT NOW, I’ll do it almost every time.

Here is a hungry beast’s list of demands:

High-quality, in-depth information on a specific topic. Whether it’s book promotion or bee-keeping, hungry reader-beasts want the kind of detailed information they can’t find for free on the internet.  Can you promise us information we can’t find elsewhere?

Instant gratification. Can you answer my question or solve my problem right now if I click on this link to download your e-book?  Yes?  Well, alright.

Solid writing and well-organized information. Hungry beasts get very, very angry if they download an e-book riddled with confusing sentences and disorganized information.  A good outline for your e-book is crucial (I’ll give tips on this in a future post).

Delivery on promises. Hungry beasts get especially rageful if an e-book makes promises (“How to Get On Oprah In The Next Ten Minutes”) and then doesn’t follow through.  Always give readers what you promise in your book’s title.  If you build up our trust, we’ll keep coming back for more.

In the next few posts, I’ll talk about how to make your e-book irresistible to readers by coming up with a tantalizing title, killer table of contents, and a promise readers can’t resist.  The hungry beasts are out there—all you need to do is show up with the feast.

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