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The 4 Best-Selling Non-Fiction Book Topics

September 7, 2013

If you’re a self-published, non-fiction author, listen up because this post is for you!

non-fiction Books

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/cote/

Despite all the hype about the “self-publishing revolution,” half of all self-published authors earn less than $500. Here is how to improve the odds at you won’t be one of them.

As you know, in addition to my work in book publishing, I work in a similar business, the music business. In the music business, like the book business, most releases lose money. It’s commonly accepted that only one of every eight albums released makes a profit.

Here is the good news. The one out of eight albums that makes money makes enough to cover the cost of the seven others that don’t make money.

Same for the book business. You can make a lot of money if you have a winner. So how to you improve your odds of this happening?

The 20% of Books That Make 80% of the Money

By now you’ve probably heard of the Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule), which states that roughly 80% of the results something gets come from 20% of the efforts applied. If you’ll look at your life (or business), you’ll see this frequently is the case.

For example:

  • 20% of your blog posts generate 80% of your traffic
  • 20% of your customers account for 80% of your sales
  • 20% of your investments are responsible for 80% of your profits

If you can harness this type of efficiency and apply it to your books, you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish and how much money you can make. And when it comes to book publishing, one of the ways to do this is by selecting the right topic to write about.

There are four types of non-fiction books that account for the majority of sales. If you are writing a book that uses one of these, you’ll vastly increase your odds of having a successful (and profitable) title.

Topic #1 – Success

Your reader at at “Point A” and wants to get to “Point B.” Can you help him? Write a book about it.

A great example of an author who does this (about 5-6x over, the last time I counted) is Dave Ramsey. If you’re broke and in debt, Dave gives advice on how to make money (deliver pizzas) and get out of debt (don’t spend money on stupid stuff).

Before he was a big shot with a radio show on 500+ stations and a book deal with a major publisher, Dave was just a normal guy on a single radio station with a self-published book…about success. He gave people hope, gave  them an action plan, and hasn’t looked back since.

Examples of “success” books:

Topic #2 – Safety and Security

Your reader is scared about something (health problems, lack of money, losing his house) and you can provide comfort, hopefully packaged with a solution for his situation. What you’re looking to do here is basically satisfy the second level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — security of family, health, and property.

Once again, Dave Ramsey shines in this area. Not only do his books talk about the topic above, success, he doubles down and goes after a reader’s safety and security needs as well, which makes his books extra enticing to people. Once somebody follows Dave’s plan to acquire money, he’s going to want to hold onto it and Dave is right there with options on how to do just that — or at the very least, say something scary about how topsy-turvy the world is and how important it is to achieve financial success in the first place.

You’ll often see authors in the “save your marriage” space doing a good job of blending success with safety and security as well. Those in the health or weight loss niches are also very good at this. It’s easy to do when your book focuses on a goal that is directly related to personal longevity or economic status.

Examples of “safety and security” books:

Topic #3 – Status

Your reader is an “outsider” and your book can help him to become an insider.

Status is often the reason behind our pursuit of other things in life — fame, money, an American Express Black Card… If you can help somebody achieve a certain status, you will sell books.

This is where Dave Ramsey really goes for the jugular. If you buy his books, and follow his financial plan, you’ll not only achieve success and attain security, as mentioned above, you’ll also set yourself apart from “everybody else” and have the elite status of being debt-free with money in the bank. As he says, “Live like no one else, so you can live like no one else.”

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris is another example of a book that sold status. Get Patched: How to Join an “Outlaw” Motorcycle Club is another. If you want to see non-book examples, look at network marketing (also known as multi-level marketing) and churches.

Topic #4 – Sex

Here’s one Dave Ramsey missed…unless you think being debt-free with money in the bank will help you get laid.

Seriously, this one shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. Sex sells. Larry Flynt built a publishing empire on it and he was drugged out of his mind for years, so how hard can it be?

Do you really need an example of this kind of book? Probably not, but…

The Bottom Line

Nothing sells itself, including books. All things being equal though, you can greatly improve on your ability to sell your book by writing about one of the four topics listed here or, at the very least, slanting your topic in one (or more) of these directions.