How Nonfiction Writers Can Own Their Niche

I’m taking a look at how nonfiction indie writers can find success marketing and promoting their books, since I’ve mostly focused on fiction writers. Today’s guest post is by Jennifer Hancock, author and speaker, who has some great insights on focusing on niche.

I published my first nonfiction book back in August 2010. My book was written for a very specific niche. Here are four things I learned about niche marketing.

1) It’s easier than selling to everyone

Like most nonfiction writers. I wrote my book to change the world. My wisdom is so amazing that the world would simply be a better place if everyone just followed my advice. The problem is that nobody knows me. Sure, I have friends who treat me like their personal encyclopedia, asking me for advice on everything from what bunnies and eggs have to do with Easter to how to reconcile their relationship with their estranged adult children living in another country.

But having a small group of folks who recognize and exploit my brilliance doesn’t help me to sell books. And every book I don’t sell means another person is suffering through life without my wisdom and assistance.

So, what is an aspiring guru to do? It turns out that focusing my marketing efforts in my niche was the best decision I ever made. My niche is rather specialized. I teach humanist life skills. Most of you have no idea what those are, that’s why what I do is considered a niche.

When I was writing my book, several people discouraged me from making humanism a centerpiece of my writing. Their thinking was that focusing my work so narrowly might discourage people who could actually benefit from my work. And, to a certain extent, they are right.

However, by focusing on humanism, I was able to focus my marketing efforts on humanist groups. There is a whole niche subculture on the blogosphere and podcast worlds that are explicitly humanist, Free thought, skeptic, atheist, or nonreligious. By focusing on them, I was able to sell my first thousand books fairly easily.

2) Be willing to switch your niche

About nine months into the release of my book I was at a coffee shop meeting someone who was considering hiring me to teach a six-week live class on the material in my book. In addition to getting the job, I also was approached by four women. One was behind me in line and was curious about the cover of my book. However, three were mothers of teens who had overheard me talking about what I teach and were so desperate for this material to share with their daughters that they interrupted us to get my card so that they could purchase my book.

A lightbulb went off above my head. Here was an entirely new market I hadn’t even considered. The first lesson I learned was always have business cards on you to share with people you meet who are interested in your work.

The second thing is that it is okay if the niche you thought you were writing for turns out not to be your real niche. My real niche, as it turns out, is moms of tweens and teens. Transferring my marketing to this new niche was easy.

It was the same process I had used for my first niche. My book was originally written to help youth educators discuss the importance of ethics, decision making and responsibility with tweens and teens. It turns out it also helps parents discuss everything from drinking, drugs, dating, finances, healthy habits, and more with their children. Because of my previous work introducing my book to my initial niche, my book had been endorsed by youth educators all over the globe thus making me an instant expert in my new niche.

Since transferring to this niche, my book has been on the Kindle Best Seller list for parenting/teens/morals and responsibility for over a year now.

3) It’s okay to create your own niche

The interesting thing about this journey of marketing and discovery is that I basically created my own niche. Most of what is published in the field of philosophy is academic in nature. I had written a book about a specific philosophy for the lay person, explaining how this philosophic approach translates into better thinking, more ethical behavior, improved relationships and a more fulfilling life. I’m told by fans that it is like a handbook for life.

The problem was, no one in my niche was writing this sort of material. Focusing on the practical day to day self-help aspect of this philosophy just wasn’t on anyone’s radar. It was on mine though because of how many people were contacting me asking me for this sort of practical advice. So, I wrote my book.

I self-published it because none of the publishers in my market were able to grasp what it was I was trying to do with the book. And for a while, I was the only person writing and publishing in my niche of applied Humanism where the focus is on how combining critical thinking skills with a vibrant compassion based ethic helps people solve their problems more effectively.

Two years later and the market has changed dramatically. There are now several people writing and publishing material similar to mine. It’s very exciting to see that I wasn’t alone in thinking that this approach was not only important, it is vital to the health of humanity.

When I started, I couldn’t get the national organizations interested in my book. Now, they call me. When one of the international groups wants to do a course on a humanist topic I’m the person they call.

The lesson is that if you are convinced what you are doing is important don’t let others stop you. Go ahead and blaze a new trail and create a new niche for yourself. You can still market to sister niches and if what you are doing has value, people will find you and embrace you and encourage others to do the same.

4) Don’t market to your niche

This might sound weird, but a huge amount of my status within my niche is that my niche isn’t really my niche. Yes, I write about humanism. But I don’t write these books for humanists. Humanists already know this stuff. My books are for non-humanists who are looking for ways to improve their lives.

The people who hire me to talk and who pay me to do presentations and who buy my books, by and large, aren’t movement humanists. They are unaffiliated with the formal niche. I am their bridge, which makes me rather valuable to my niche.

This non-niche marketing also helped me to create a whole new niche that I like even more than my first niche. In addition to creating materials that help mothers help their kids with everything from ethics to bullies to sex and driving, I am also creating materials for a niche that can best be described as people who want to approach life humanistically. And who better to teach humanism to the humanistic than a real live humanist who is considered the go-to person in her niche, which brings me full circle back to my original niche. And I got there, by not marketing to my niche.

Niche Matters!

The big lesson I think publishers of nonfiction should take away from my story is this: your niche matters. It enables you to effectively focus your marketing efforts. However, don’t be so married to your niche that you miss marketing opportunities outside of it. Don’t feel like you have to water down or hide your true colors to reach out beyond your niche. If your ideas are good, people will want to hear about it and you owe it to them to do whatever marketing is required to help them find you so that you can help them.

Final lesson: Own your niche. Embrace it. Help other people learn about and embrace it too.

Jennifer Hancock is one of the top writers and speakers in the humanist world today. Her primary focus is humanistic parenting and leadership topics. She has four books out including The Humanist Approach to Happiness, Jen Hancock’s Handy Humanism Handbook, The Bully Vaccine, and Why Bullies Bully and What Can Be Done About It. She is currently working on two new books, one on grief and another which is a humanistic business management primer. She also offers two online courses: The Bully Vaccine Toolkit and Living Made Simpler a Humanist Life Skills course. You can find her online at her website here.

 

4 Responses to “How Nonfiction Writers Can Own Their Niche”

  1. Stephanie Noel April 22, 2013 at 5:56 am #

    “The lesson is that if you are convinced what you are doing is important don’t let others stop you. ”

    Thanks for that sentence. I don’t write non-fiction but I think this applies to all fields of writing, and to life itself, really. Your story is very inspiring!

    • Jennifer Hancock April 22, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

      Stephanie – Yup – sometimes it is hard to find the motivation to keep going. But if you believe what you are doing is important, that at least is something! Glad my essay helped.

  2. Melissa Bowersock April 22, 2013 at 8:01 am #

    Jennifer, thanks for a very informative and thoughtful post. I, too, published my first non-fiction (after 9 novels) a couple years ago, and have found it to be a very different experience. Your process has given me lots of food for thought, especially about breaking out of a niche. Thanks for all the great information, and it sounds like your books are definitely filling a very timely need.

    • Jennifer Hancock April 22, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

      Glad this was helpful. It’s always nice when you find people using your writing in unexpected ways and getting out of it something you hadn’t considered yourself. It’s all a learning experience!

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