by Dr. Joe Vitale
How can you tell if your book will sell well before you even print it?
I get asked that question more than nearly any other. If I knew the answer, I’d be one rich man. While you can somewhat test titles and book ideas by taking classified ads in targeted publications and seeing what results you get, actually discovering if your book will sell or not is a completely new marketing challenge. Most manufacturers of products can perform test runs of their items and see if the public wants them. Most authors and publishers, on the other hand, just jump in with their finished book and hope for the best.
Isn’t there a better way?
I think there is. One of my clients is a printer. I’ve been doing his marketing for nearly five years, so he’s familiar with all of my books.
One day he suggested that I use the methods in my most popular title,The Seven Lost Secrets of Success, as a way to evaluate the marketing feasible of books. It took me a while to figure out how to apply the “lost secrets” to unpublished books, but I think I have the hang of it now. Before I explain the process so you can apply it to your own titles, let me explain what the lost secrets are.
Bruce Barton was a legendary advertising genius, bestselling author, congressman, and cofounder of one of the largest ad agencies in the world, BBDO. He was a celebrity in the roaring 20’s but died a largely forgotten millionaire in 1967. I discovered Barton and was mesmerized by his work. He helped five men become U.S. Presidents, helped numerous giant companies survive World Wars, the Great Depression, and numerous recessions, and made two of his eleven books “New York Times” bestsellers. What were this man’s secrets for success? I had to know. I spent two years researching, digging, traveling, even hiring a private investigator and a historian to help me unearth the facts. The result of my obsession was my 1992 book, which is now going into its fourth edition.
All fine and dandy, you might say, but what does this have to do with selling books? As my printer friend pointed out, the lost secrets can also be a way to test the marketing potential of any published or pre-published title. To prove this, and to illustrate the process, I’ll pull three 1996 books out of a box of books I have at my feet waiting for evaluation, and I’ll walk you through the process. The books are —
When You Stop Believing by Raymond Brantley, Gangsta in the Houseby Mike Knox, and Alive and Well by Rita Justice
Secret #1: Reveal the Business Nobody Knows
This refers to Bruce Barton’s tendency to create ads that revealed something new or surprising about a product or service. In 1925 he told the American Petroleum Institute that they were selling a gasoline as a bad smelling liquid instead of as “the juice of the fountain of eternal youth.” He explained that fuel enables people to experience travel, romance, and even health. He “revealed the business nobody knows.” If a book doesn’t offer new insights or information, or a fresh view of an old subject, why would anyone want to buy it?
Brantley’s book is a self-help, positive thinking work that doesn’t reveal anything new about motivation. For this reason I’d give him a low rating on this point. Rita Justice’s book is about learning to love the body you have, and her insights about the body seem fresh and even surprising. She gets a high rating here. Mike Knox’s book is about street gangs and is very eye-opening. He gets a top score for this first secret.
Secret #2: Use a God to Lead Them
People like to know they are dealing with authorities. Bruce Barton was an authority, or “God,” on advertising. If a book isn’t written by someone with obvious expertise, experience or credentials, it will probably do poorly in the marketplace. Brantley’s book is about his beliefs, but he lacks any particular credentials to make him an authority. I’d give his title a low rating here. Rita Justice is a psychologist with over 23 years experience. She’s obviously an expert. Mike Knox was a policeman for over 15 years. Both of these authors get high marks in this category.
Secret #3: Speak in Parables
Barton wrote books, sales copy, and even campaign speeches that were packed with stories. He knew that stories communicate messages better than most first-person narratives or dialectic approaches. Brantley’s book gets a high rating here because his book contains many riveting stories which communicate his message. Rita Justice has some stories, but most of her book contains exercises. While it is billed as a workbook, a few more stories would have made it even more marketable. She gets a slightly lower than perfect rating here. Mike Knox’s book begins with a riveting story about a fictional drive-by shooting and weaves stories into the rest of his book. His work gets top points here.
Secret #4: Dare Them to Travel the Upward Path
Barton wrote ads and books that challenged people. One of his famous ads began with the headline, “This book may not be intended for you–but thousands found in it what they were seeking.” Do you hear the challenge in that statement? It was a subtle approach to getting people to act in their own best interest.
Does the book in question encourage people to “travel the upward path,” to move in a positive direction? Brantley’s book does challenge people to lead more inspired and inspiring lives. So do Justice’s and Knox’s books. All get high marks.
Secret #5: The One Element Missing
In 1925 Barton wrote, “I believe the public has a sixth sense of detecting insincerity, and we run a tremendous risk if we try to make other people believe in something we don’t believe in.” Does the author believe in what he or she is saying? Does the book come across as sincere? If not, the marketplace will sense it and reject it. Brantley’s book feels sincere, as do the other two. All get high marks here, as well.
Secret #6: Give Yourself Away
While Barton was a great philanthropist, this secret really refers to a book not holding anything back. In other words, does the author deliver, or does the author tease the reader with a little information and a giant sales plug in the back of the book to get the rest of the information? An author who gives himself away in his or her book will please the buying public. Brantley delivers in this category and so do Justice and Knox. You can buy their books and not need to call the authors afterwards to get the rest of the information.
Secret #7: Sharpen the Knife
This final secret suggests that successful books are ones that give readers something to do, or think, that helps them sharpen who they are. This differs from secret number four, as the earlier method was about challenging readers on a philosophical or psychological level. This one is about giving readers practical things to do. Brantley’s book suffers a little here as he doesn’t give readers specific suggestions for change. Justice’s book, being a workbook, earns obvious high marks here. While Knox’s book offers some suggestions, there may not be enough for most readers. He would get a slightly lower rating here.
Based on all of the above, Mike Knox and Rita Justice’s books should be well received in the marketplace. Brantley’s book has a lower score, and may struggle. Of course, how you market the book will play a powerful role in how well the book actually sells. All we are trying to accomplish with this method is a thumb nail overview of the book’s actual marketability. If a book has high marks on this scale, I’d say go for it. Publish and probably flourish. If a book has extremely low marks here, I’d suggest backing off and thinking twice, or more, before printing and promoting.
Obviously all of the above is very subjective. I wouldn’t use this method to evaluate my own books, and neither should you. Every author thinks what they have written is worth publishing, else they wouldn’t have offered it for publication. I would ask three people to evaluate the books in question using this method. Then take their input, weigh it, and make a decision.
As a way to gain insights and perspective on titles you are considering publishing, this may be a way to help decide if a book is marketable, and how to correct it if it falls short. Since there doesn’t seem to be any guaranteed way of determining if a book will sell or not before you publish it, the “lost secrets” seem as good a way as any for helping us think through our marketing–before we spend all that money on printing and promoting!
The Seven Lost Secrets of Success by Joe Vitale
is available from 1-281-999-1110
When You Stop Believing by Raymond Brantley
is available from 1-800-968-7065
Gangsta in the House by Mike Knox
is available from 1-800-758-1870.
Alive and Well by Rita Justice
is available from 1-713-528-6571.