Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How to Create a Popular Non-Fiction Amazon Bestseller

How to Create a Popular Non-Fiction Amazon Bestseller like Steve Scott

Who wants to be the next Steve Scott? You and I are still trying to routinely crack the bestseller ranks on Amazon. Steve has done this several times.

How he did it takes some sleuthing. How you could do it better takes even more sleuthing.

But that's why this blog is here. I do this work and write it up to save you time.

You deserve to get a 6-figure income from your books like Scott did. Providing you do the work you need to.

Today's breakthrough is how to improve the quality of your book - which is what Scott has been working on for some time. Better quality books sell more and better and longer. You want your book to sell well right off (which anyone with a list can accomplish) and then continue to sell after that.

What makes books sell more and better

As you've been following this blog, you'll note that I've published several dozen-dozen books. And by this (and being Scot-Irish frugal) I 've achieved financial freedom and fired my last boss.

These books were published as tests of the ebook publishing model. Those tests showed me what books would do on their own with the only marketing consisting a good title, good cover, good description, and decent price point. Nothing else.

Again, I was able to live off what I made just from these tests. This is how the system works just on volume publishing alone.

These books were mostly public domain (PD) and private-licensed rights (PLR) books. They ran the gamut, but typically fell down into the usual curve for sales:
  • Most didn't sell.
  • Many sold a few books a month.
  • A small few sold several books a week.
  • A couple became regular bestsellers on all platforms.

When I was dissecting Steve Scott's success recently, I started making a checklist of publishing that I use.

Then I ran across this quality point. While Steve somewhat regrets writing an ebook about cranking out a new ebook every 21 days, he never says what writing a quality book consists of - no matter how long it takes.

How to Write a Quality Book (and sell longer).  

My book-publishing tests prove a single point - the consistent best sellers are decent enough quality that readers buy them routinely.

Those with crappy titles or covers or indifferent descriptions (or priced too high) sell poorly. Look on Amazon at the bottom of their lists and you'll see this far too often. Or take "habit stacking" (which built Scott's empire) and you'll see the wannabes at the bottom which sell a fraction of a book each week - and you won't see the ones that never sell at all.

But what keeps them selling after that point is how well they were written. Quality.

Amazon pushes up the books that routinely sell and pushes down the ones that don't. This is why they are known as the "ebook graveyard." Just like any bookstore - they're in it to make profits (although somehow, Amazon continues to run at a loss each year - like the Hollywood movie industry. Taxes, probably.)

The books which sell routinely are well written. Many people say so, but more than that, my book sales say so. PD books generally do better than PLR books (depending on what distributor) - and PD Classic Fiction sells better than others. Why? Because they are evergreen bestsellers - they were well written even centuries ago and still appeal.

Scott's success was with non-fiction. And while he covers the points on how to get good titles, covers, and descriptions (in general terms) he doesn't say what a well-written book consists of - other than it needs to solve the problem area or answer the common questions in a quick, and precise method.

There is more to it than that.

Look up a book called "The Story Grid", written by a 20-year veteran of editing, Shawn Coyne. He lays out what makes a fiction work into a real page-turner. And he also does this for non-fiction as well (but not in such detail.)

He says there are four "silo's" of non-fiction out there:
These are essays/books that are written for and read by a very focused readership.These groups of readers are clearly defined, but small in number. As Seth Godin would say, these are Tribal readers dedicated to very specific passions/professions. The narrative form of the writing is far more about “presenting the findings” than it is about entertaining the reader. The assumption of the writer of academic work is that her readership is absolutely engrossed by the subject matter itself and so really just wants to get the skinny on what it is the writer discovered or what the writer’s particular argument is. These readers don’t need to be spoon-fed the previous data or history of the art. They just want to know the innovative stuff.


These are generally prescriptive books “for the trade audience.” What that means is that these books are written for the general Joe who wants to learn the best way to plant his garden, without having to enroll at Penn State’s Agricultural school. Or a general Jane who wants to learn how to change the oil in her old Volkswagen Beetle without going to a mechanic’s trade school.

Narrative Non-Fiction

This category has exploded in the past half century...
It’s completely Story based. That is, ...the writer/journalist collects the usual data involved in reporting a story. But instead of just presenting the traditional Who, What, Where, When and How? out of the old-school reporter’s toolbox, New Journalists focused on the Why? something happened....
What Narrative Nonfiction allows is for that subjective point of view (the writer/journalist) to argue his case. But the journalist can’t just “make things up.” He has to present the “evidence,” the details of the reporting in support of his particular point of view. But more importantly, he can’t just make declarative statements like an academic.
He has to tell a Story…like a novelist or short story writer would.

The Big Idea Book:

The Big Idea Book draws from all three of the nonfiction categories above and when one succeeds, it’s capable of satisfying readers of all three too. Academics appreciate the research cited to support the Big Idea. How-To readers take away actionable steps that they believe can better their lives. And Narrative Nonfiction readers are captivated by the storytelling.
It is Academic in its rigor.
There is a crystal clear argument being made in a Big Idea book that the author builds and supports in much the same manner that an academic writer/researcher would. That is, he is making a case for demystifying a particular natural phenomenon and will support his conclusions with the applicable data etc.
It is prescriptive for the layman like a How-To book
. The writer of the Big Idea book writes for the non-expert, not the specialist. He also contends that there are real world applications of his Big Idea that can change the lives of his readers. So the implied promise is that after you’ve read the Big Idea book, you will have the tools to apply the knowledge imparted in much the same was as you would be able to apply the principles of square foot gardening.
With varying degrees of success, it uses narrative nonfiction storytelling to impart a deeper theme/controlling idea into the work than just “how to use this knowledge and get a great tomato harvest.”
Steve Scott only wrote the in the How-To style. He never broke into the far more popular narrative or the legendary Big Idea. 

Scott recommended the time-worn "index card" method for book writing:
  • Research and compile the common questions or problems in a profitable niche.
  • Research and compile the answers/solutions to these.
  • Put the questions/problems onto index cards, along with any ideas for titles and chapter headings.
  • Organize these cards into some sort of logical order in a stack.
  • Make an outline for these.
  • Fill in between the lines with the data you know.
  • Add an introduction and front-matter, along with back-matter.
  • Come up with a catchy title, an attractive cover, plus a benefit-bulleted description.
  • Publish.

Of course, there's a little more than that, but those are the broad strokes. This system works for this How-To type of non-fiction book.

Making even more money by writing better

But if we want to get even more income, we need to raise the bar.

What is makes narrative non-fiction sell well?

Basically, you need to tell a story - yours, the reader's, or someone else's. Coyne says that it has the same breakdown as fiction. Every part, from the story outline down to the smallest piece all have these in common:

1) Inciting Incident
  • Caual
  • Coincidence 
2) Progressive Complication
  • Active Turning Point
  • Relevatory Turning Point 
3) Crisis
  • The Best Bad Choice
  • Irreconcilable Goods
4) Climax
5) Resolution

    And a bigger bunch of editor-speak I've never heard.

    Here's what all this means (with apologies to the classics):

    • Problem: Something bad happened
    • Worsens: And it got worse - something the hero/ine did or discovers
    • Choice: What do the hero/ine chooses – between two bads or two goods
    • Action: Here's what the hero/ine did
    • Results: Here's what they got out of it
      And there's more to this (see Coyne's book, and go read your favorite fiction again with this in mind.)

      That's the simplicity to any story ever told. You can go further with this, like Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, or just KISS for now.

      The How-to actions to take can come in on the last two points - or you tell an anecdote about how someone solved it, and then come out with your recipe of steps to take.

      Using emotion in your text

      This is the next one to master. Any copywriter knows that people decide emotionally and justify rationally. If you're going to carry people along with your story, you're going to have to involve them.

      One of the all-time great copywriters was a guy named Eugene Schwartz. His single book sells for hundreds in hardback where you can find a copy. He recommends a book by Walter S. Campbell called "Writing Non-Fiction". Here are my highlighted notes from the relevant first two chapters of that book:
      Fiction must have some facts and ideas to justify the emotion it offers. Non-fiction must induce some emotion in order to maintain interest in the facts and ideas which it offers.

      The non-fiction writer has another, more difficult but more profitable method, which consists in arousing emotions about things not hitherto considered exciting by his reader. Here lies the true opportunity of the writer of non-fiction.

      He must present fact with passion.

      If you propose to write upon a subject in a factual, coldblooded manner, without permitting your own enthusiasm for your material to saturate it and so interest your reader, you will be obliged, if you publish, to write on subjects about which the reader is already excited.

      But once you have acquired a platform and a reputation, you will find that, if you believe in your ideas and in the value of your facts, you will wish for a larger audience. Indeed, if what you have to say is important, it will be your duty to reach a larger audience.

      [The non-fiction writer] has for his public practically all literate mankind. He has for his subject practically everything that is known and everything that can be guessed about the universe in which his readers live. His success will depend upon his ability to choose his subject wisely and to find a reader who can be brought to take an interest in it.

      Writing non-fiction is essentially the problem of rousing and maintaining the reader’s interest in something outside himself.
      This general subject-matter may be anything, provided the author loves it, feels at home in it, is interested enough in it to learn all he can about it, and to take the pains to make his reader enjoy it too.

      The author who commands such a field of human interest and uses it consistently also has the advantage of a steady market for readers who like that sort of thing. They will remember him as the purveyor of stories about that subject-matter, and will look out for his work, knowing that they can always depend upon him to please them. 

      This subject may be compared to the grain of sand which gets into an oyster and forms the irritating nucleus of a pearl. It is seldom that the author chooses it; rather, it chooses him, inhabits him, and may remain with him throughout life. Every piece of work he turns out has or lacks quality according to the degree in which this intimate subject appears in it.

      It appears that the intimate subject is, as it were, the soul of the author’s work, while the subject-matter is only the flesh and blood. Both should belong and work together, if the work is to be a masterpiece.

      In non-fiction, the emotion is that of the writer. That is why it is so necessary that you write about something that interests and excites you. For where your task is to serve your materials hot, you will not and cannot succeed, if there is no fire in you. You must always write of what is cooking. Your reader will not accept anything served cold.

      Probably, it will be best not to worry too much about your intimate subject, particularly after you have discovered what it is. Rather, let your mind dwell upon the general subject-matter, dream about that, and you may find the intimate subject taking hold of those raw materials, shaping them to its own purpose, and making them go along without trouble.

      Between Coyne and Campbell's books, we have the core of how to write narrative stories that will be popular (meaning: sell well) and then result in continuing passive income from here on out.

      You also see in this the key idea that Scott followed - finding an "intimate subject" which remains with you and helps you find many outlets through several titles. There's your "catalog" and that rising tide lifts all your boats.

      That, then brings you right back around to using - and improving - on Scott's methods to create your own catalog of bestselling books.

      How to mix and match to get the title your audience wants. 

      Of course, you don't have to change anything you're doing.

      But let's just say that you're using that index card method for writing How-To books.

      First step would be to start using more emotion in your copy. Search for Power Words, particularly on CoSchedule's site (and don't forget to test your ebook title on their Headline Analyzer.)

      After that, start keeping track of anecdotes and stories as you search for problem-solutions and question-answers. This will help you personalize your copy and incorporate these Problem|Worsens|Choice|Action|Result steps.

      Once you get in habit of getting all these points in - down to even the subsections of your blog post, then it will become a regular habit in your writing and you'll be able to move onto writing Big Idea titles.

      (Approach: just as I recommend blogging your books, the Big Idea could be taking your books and editing them against the theme - Campbell's "intimate subject" - and putting them all together in your own "Tipping Point" or "Future Shock" book.)

      Where to from here?

      There are still a few technical details to iron out - but the above is the key research I did to ramp up my next books to be regular sellers on Amazon. (And if they sell well there, they should sell well everywhere.)

      I'm in the middle of a checklist for publishing, taking my tips from Scott and refining these to be even more effective.

      When it's ready, I'll let you know (should be available as early as this afternoon.)

      Then you can get started on your own - or revise it as you see fit.

      After all, this isn't a Gospel, it's only what works for me - your mileage will definitely vary.

      Back to the grind for me.

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