Is there a market for your book?
Writing a book takes hours; perhaps a thousand or more including the research and editing. Needless to say it is a major commitment that authors expect will have a payoff of peer recognition, dissemination of ideas, and (gasp) maybe even a royalty payment. But how do authors know the marketplace wants their book?
Part of the determinant is finding a publisher and securing a contract. Surely, they would not sign a book if it did not have market potential, right? I suggest, however, we not solely rely on a publisher as the barometer as publishers sign and release books all the time that commercially miss the mark.
Instead, as a driving factor, you should feel comfortable before putting pen to paper, let alone contacting a publisher, that your ideas will find an interested readership.
Most academics that consider publishing a book, monograph, or textbook have immersed themselves in a topic for years, perhaps decades. As an example, let’s say your topic is the history of astronomy. They might be considering a brief, approachable book on astronomy from the Egyptians to the 1900s. Time to step back and do some research to confirm your suppositions.
- Look at Bookstores: Do some research at online stores like Amazon. Greatly narrow your search until you get to the relevant titles. Are there new works being published recently in this field? How recent? By which publishers? Are things static or highly competitive? Also, when you find specific publishers, go to their website and see any titles that might be listed there that may not have made their way to the resellers.
- Talk to Colleagues: Pitch your idea to a variety of instructors that teach in your field. Make sure they are not just at your institution or your close colleagues. If you have concern that you are letting “the cat out of the bag” about your new idea, then be very broad in your approach. Ask more about the current books in the field. What is hot?
- Read Survey Results: Many professional associations have a subgroup for individuals that teach in that field; think educators in engineering, or math. These groups or the certifying body for educational programs, sometimes issues summaries of surveys they have done about market trends. It takes some digging but these can be invaluable insights into market trends.
- Talk to Users/Readers/Students: A direct conversation with a wide array of readers is the best bet. Don’t ask just one. Ask them not only if the project is a good idea, but also ask them what they would change about it. Ask them if they would use it, buy it, adopt it. Try to get them to commit. Don’t let them off the hook of “maybe, I guess it depends, I’d have to see.” Be open to hearing that they are not Beware of confirmation bias.
- There is Always a Competitor: It could be by another publisher, it could be a website or video, or it could be just not buying your book (or anything else). Not buying something is the biggest competitor.
The reason to step back and assess if there is a market is the concern about the author’s interest bubble. The author might feel the “time is right.” “Everyone they know at work is interested in the topic.” They listen to podcasts about it. They attend virtual conferences on the topic. “Big developments are going on in the field!” “The market is ready!” But is it just they are immersed in the field and too close to the trees, let alone the forest?
I strongly suggest you do this research. It will ease your mind that there is a market for your book. A great side benefit is that if you find great news then you can use it in your book proposal or in discussions with a publisher. This market research might be the difference-maker in efforts to land a publisher.
John Bond is a publishing consultant at Riverwinds Consulting. He works with individuals on publishing and writing projects. Schedule an initial complimentary phone call at Publishing Fundamentals. In his career, he has directed the publishing of over 500 book titles and 20,000 journal articles. He is the host of the YouTube channel “Publishing Defined.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.