This might seem like a silly question, but exactly how will you know if your nonfiction book is successful?

The reason it sounds so silly is because people tend to think about book success for nonfiction books the same way they think about success for fiction books or sales or just about any other industry:

  • After you sell a lot of copies.
  • After you reach a bestseller’s list.
  • After you (or your book) receives an award.

But are these things really hallmarks for your book’s success?

How will you Know if your Nonfiction Book is Successful? blog title overlay

Don’t get me wrong, each of these things are amazing accomplishments. But if you only deem your book as successful after you achieve one of these things, you’re going to be waiting a very long time.

First of all, “after you sell a lot of copies” isn’t a goal for an author – that’s a goal for a book-salesperson.

Do you want to be a book-salesperson?

My guess is probably not because a book-salesperson is not writing books.

Secondly, “after you reach a bestseller’s list” is kind of an empty goal because you have no control over it. No matter how many books you sell, you cannot guarantee whether or not someone chooses to place you on the bestseller’s list.

And you read that correctly: someone chooses to place you on the bestseller’s list.

New York Times spokesperson Jordan Cohen told Vox: “The Times’s best-seller lists are based on a detailed analysis of book sales from a wide range of retailers who provide us with specific and confidential context of their sales each week. These standards are applied consistently, across the board in order to provide Times readers our best assessment of what books are the most broadly popular at that time.”

The don’t actually go by the numbers, they make a best guess and then choose who to place on that list.

Other lists use other criteria for choosing who gets onto their lists, but all in all it still boils down to someone’s opinion as to whether or not a book gets placed onto their list.

So if it’s not something you have any control over, then is it really a goal?

Finally, “after you (or your book) receive an award” is another empty goal because you have no direct control over whether or not you can win an award.

Sure, you can boost your chances of winning an award by applying or nominating yourself or by approaching your audience and asking them to nominate you or your book. You can even try to sway the results by asking everyone you know to go and vote for you (should the award in question be determined by voting).

But, in the end, no matter how good your book is and no matter how many people you ask to vote for you, it’s still up to someone else to decide to give you or your book that award. So, is that an award you can really work toward?

Define your Success: Know if your Nonfiction Book is Successful by Setting your Own Terms

The best way to know if your nonfiction book is successful is by defining what success will look like to you as it applies to your book.

What is it you want to get out of writing this book?

No one sits down to write a book just for the sake of writing a book without getting at least something out of it.

Creating an Additional Stream of Income

Writing a book or a series of books can (and does) create an additional stream of income. But, of course, it’s not as simple as that. You’re not going to write a book, release it, and then instantly start making passive income off the sales of that book.

To make a living off your books as an author will require a strong marketing strategy and the consistent publication of new books.

This is, typically, a vision of success for many fiction authors – to turn being an author into their profession. But for nonfiction authors, it’s not really a goal they strive for. They have a job – in most cases they own a business. And while having a book may add a revenue stream to help support that business, they have no plans on trying to replace their business with books.

Scale Your Audience

Even the best coach or mentor in the world can only meet with and influence so many people.

Even when scaling your coaching business into a course, you can still only reach so many people before everything caps out and you have to find another venue.

For some, that next step means hiring a team or starting an agency. For others, that means getting onto stages and speaking at conferences.

Either way, writing a book is a great way to help catapult that step and solidify your name and positioning.

Build your Brand and Influence

While this is similar to scaling your audience in terms of aiming toward speaking engagements and media exposure, the overall goal of this one is slightly different.

This one aims to replace your coaching business with the media coverage and speaking engagements as your primary source of income. And rather than trying to scale your audience, you will be actively helping and influencing others who are in your industry and serving the same audience.

Sort of a train-the-trainer situation.

Stand Out and Get Noticed

Ever notice just how many people do exactly what you do?

When I first got into ghostwriting, I didn’t know any ghostwriters. Now they’re everywhere, with more entering the industry every day.

And my clients have all experienced similar circumstances: they look around one day and realize there are more social marketing coaches, more Pinterest managers, more SEO and blog coaches out there selling their services every day.

But the same is not true for books. Even if it feels like you’ve seen several authors writing about your industry, I can guarantee you that it’s a much smaller crowd than the number of people working in your industry.

And, more than that, they may have a very different definition of a target reader than you have. So it may not even matter how many people are already published within your field – your audience may not overlap as much as you think they do.

Which also means that publishing your nonfiction book will automatically help you stand out from the others.

Did you enjoy this article? Here are some other posts about nonfiction book writing you may like: