Lessons from a Nonfiction Author Whose First Book Was Never a Bestseller, But Has Contributed to Decades of Success
During the 1990s, I discovered, and immediately purchased, The Piano Book: Buying and Owning a New or Used Piano. At the time. it impressed me as the perfect blend of content, marketing, and—most important—author revenue.
The Piano Book’s lessons taught me are as valid today as they were decades ago. The lessons it teaches are as important to today’s self-published authors as they were then. By now, of course, much of its content has migrated to the book’s website.
The most important lesson it teaches is to take a long-term approach to revenue generation rather than income from book sales.
The Piano Book was never a bestseller. But more important, it launched a profitable, sustainable author career that continues today with an expanded team. This is an impressive accomplishment, especially given the way the piano market continues to shrink. The following are some of the lessons it teaches today’s entrepreneurially motivated nonfiction authors.
Title and subtitle
The book’s success begins with the title. Title impressions include:
- Three simple words concisely describe the book’s contents. Three simple words deliver an at-a-glance “billboard effect” on the book cover.
- Beginning the title with the word “The” subtly adds credibility. Larry Fine’s book emerges as not just one of several, but it stands alone as the category leader.
Subtitle impressions include:
- The first words in the subtitle target both piano buyers and those who already a piano. Either option personalizes the title. This expands The Piano Book’s Both piano buyers and current owners can identify with the title.
- The remainder of the subtitle, i.e. New or Used, further enhances the book’s appeal. Together, the two options include all the options. But specifying the market is superior to describing the market as all or everyone interested in learning more about pianos.
As the size of the piano buying market has contracted, some of the following income opportunities are no longer appropriate, but new opportunties have emerged. The following revenue generating allow authors to earn far more than available from book sales or trade publishing royalties.
- Telephone consultations. The initial editions of the book mentioned—but didn’t overtly promote—the availability of Larry Fine’s personalized telephone consultations. Topics could include the range of selling prices for specific models of new and used pianos in the caller’s market. Larry’s recommendations were based on his nationwide network of piano tuners and repair technicians. Call topics could also discuss the range of charges for routine piano tuning, the types of problems frequently encountered with specific makes and models, as well as informed information helping callers fine-tune their choices based on their experience and preferences. One telephone consultation likely earns more than sales of dozens of book sales.
- Advertising. Another source of recurring revenue continues to be the advertisements that piano manufacturers, local and regional piano retailers, and piano tuners can purchase in book and newsletter directories. Owners, too, can place ads for selling their pianos. Now, of course, these directories are available online. These ads can be filtered by distance from by the prospect’s postal Zip Code.
- Target marketing opportunities. Today, manufacturers can place ads in various blog post categories, i.e. digital pianos, upright pianos, grand pianos, etc. Online visitors can sign-up to receive announcements of new articles and features segmented by shopper/seller, tuner/technician, dealer/manufacturer, and pianists.
- Annual supplements. Originally, Larry Fine published annual supplements containing updated list prices and quality/reliability ratings for over 2,500 makes and models of piano based on the author’s proprietary research. Originally available in both printed and PDF versions, these annual updates now appear more frequently. What I found most revealing was the price differential between the 244-page printed book ($19.95) compared to the price of the 96-page Annual supplement ($14.95).
None of the above, or other revenue sources could exist without the credibility created by The Piano Book’s content. The edition I purchased was 8 ½ by 11 inches. It contained 244 pages. Each page contained two-columns of text formatted in two columns set in 8-point type.
The most arcane topics—i.e., music stands, pedals, and ideal temperature and humidity environments were described in detail from the buyer or owner’s perspective. Features and trends were continually updated. Buyer comments and feedback were frequently included.
Throughout the book and online presence, reading Larry Fine’s advice was like talking to him in person. His empathy contributed to the relevance of his advice. He obviously took the time to identify the questions his readers were asking, and his ability to address the questions with the right amount of detail, sets a standard for quality all nonfiction authors can learn from.
Each article, blog post, chapter, or newsletter rewarded him with years of equity. The payoff, of course, was the ability to target his obvious passion for pianos, piano buyers, and readers/website visitors.
- Don’t aim for a bestseller. Aim for sustainable long-term success.
- Choose a niche based on your background that you can dominate.
- Translate your market’s questions into understandable, detailed answers
- Leverage your book into proprietary profit sources.
- Focus on topics that require frequent updating.
Roger C. Parker has written over thirty books. His Published & Profitable program offered authors an alternative to “earn a million dollars overnight” approaches. Email him for a free copy of his 99 Questions to Ask Before You Start to Write or Self-Publish a Brand-building Book. Afterwards, schedule a free 20-minute call
It’s a step-by-step approach to planning, writing, promoting, and profiting from your book. “I’ve written15 books and each one would have been better had I answered the questions Roger presents before I started writing.” Bud Bilanich, The Common Sense Guy, Denver, Co.
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