Testing Your Market and Your Ideas Before Publishing

DSC_0390_Iván_Melenchón_Serrano_MorgueFileHow do you know that your ideas are worth publishing—and that people will part with their money to buy your book?

In his typically blunt terms, James Altucher reminds us that we’re naturally biased about the value our own ideas: “It’s too easy to smoke your own crack. So it’s very important to make sure that other people want to smoke it as well.”

With traditional book publishing models, all we can do is make educated guesses about the power of our ideas and the potential market for them. Today, however, we have more options. Here are examples from two talented authors.

Charlie Hoehn on Testing Your Market

For episode 8 of his popular podcast, Altucher interviewed Charlie Hoehn. Charlie has worked with authors such as Tim Ferriss to create and launch best-selling books (more details here).

In the podcast, Charlie talked about developing his own book Play it Away: A Workaholic’s Cure for Anxiety. His comments are worth quoting at length:

I think it’s important to validate whether people are willing to pay money for the book that you’re making. You want to write a book that’s good, but I don’t think that’s enough, necessarily.

So the way I validated this book was I wrote a blog post called How I Cured My Anxiety. I just wanted to see what people’s reaction was. I wasn’t planning on making this a book at the time.

That post blew up. It did really well. In the last year it’s been in the top few results for “cure anxiety.” I put a sign up form at the end of that post and said: would you be interested in a book about this topic? A hundred people signed up within the first couple of days….

Another way that aspiring authors and self-published writers can validate whether a book is going to work is study the top charts on Amazon for a couple weeks and just see what people are actually buying. Take notice of the trending imagery and the title descriptions and the stuff that keeps coming up in your respective category that people actually demand.

Because you can actually write the book that you want, but if it’s not framed in a way that your target readers are familiar with and are already buying, then it’s going to be a much harder sell.

That’s the very first step—figuring out what people want and are actually willing to pay for. The rest going forward is much easier….

Hoehn also recruited beta readers for Play It Away via his blog and asked them for ruthless feedback on the manuscript. In return, he gave them free digital copies of the published book and included their names in the acknowledgements.

Leo Babauta on Testing Your Ideas

Leo Babuata created zenhabits, a popular blog. He sells ebooks and courses based on zenhabits content.

For his new book, Leo is taking a cue from software developers: He’s adding a testing phase to his writing process. Leo’s goal is to “put out the smallest version, have it be used in the real world, get feedback and improve rapidly.”

Here are the core stages in his process:

Alpha: I started a small group coaching program called Change Labs, with about a dozen people who I consider my alpha testers. I’m testing the ideas for my book on their real-world problems. I’m coaching them using missions they have to complete, articles I’m writing, live video calls with me, and journaling they have to do. During this process, I’ll be developing content that will eventually end up in my book, but I’m developing it for the Change Labs alpha testers. And they’re giving me feedback, so I know what’s working and what’s not….

Beta: At the end of the alpha program, I’ll put my content together into a small version of the book, and get a group of about 50 beta testers, who will be instructed to put the book into action, and give me feedback on whether it works….

Final: Once I’ve done the beta program, I’ll revise all the content into a manuscript for the final book, then have it edited, sent to a designer, then a printer….

For more details, see Leo’s post about the book.