5 Ways to Take the Vanity Out of Your Non-Fiction Book No one wants to hear about how you struggled with adversity and came out on top without learning some lessons along the way.

By Ken Dunn

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


The idea of writing a non-fiction book to help bolster your credibility, draw in new clients or educate people is not new. Unfortunately, there are more people than ever that are deciding to pen their stories and publish a book that outlines everything they have been through. Their hope is that their story will inspire others and maybe even land them a few new clients.

With the ever-falling costs of creating, producing and publishing a book, we are being overwhelmed with more books being publishing on an annual basis than ever before. Over 1.1 million new books were published in 2013, according to Bowker, an international research agency that focuses on the publishing industry. Sadly, most of these new non-fiction books are poorly written and never sell more then a few dozen copies to friends and family. Most of these books are all written the same way: "I was born, I grew up, when I was young I had challenges, when I grew up I had more challenges, something tragic happened, it made me realize, I made some changes, now I'm successful and you can be too." Yuck!

Related: 7.1 Steps to Writing Your Book

The publishing industry calls these works vanity books. It is easy to see that the author had very little experience reading -- and even less writing. As the founder of one of America's fastest-growing new publishing companies and online book retailers, I recently took a survey of the hundreds of editors that work with our company and put together a list of five points that you could follow if you are one of the 75 percent of Americans that want to write a book before you expire. If your goal is to write a non-fiction book to push your own career or business along, then take these points to heart:

1. Every book has been written.

I write books on sales, business management, leadership and personal development. I am passionate about the subjects and have read over 1,500 related books over the past 15 years. The biggest piece of advice that I give to new authors is that every subject has been written, and your future customers are actually looking for a new, fresh, inspiring perspectives.

I once discussed this point with Nicholas Boothman, a Workman Press best-selling author who has sold over two million copies of his books including his block-buster success How To Make People Like You In 90 Seconds or Less. "You have to know who your competition is," Boothman says. "You need to study all the best books in your genre so that you can ensure that your book is unique."

I would estimate that as many as 30 percent of new non-fiction authors who come through our doors are not even avid readers themselves. If you want your books to sell, make sure they are unique, make sure you know which books are your biggest competition and take the time to read them.

2. People like lessons.

The books that sell are the ones that relate experience and teach lessons. The best non-fiction books set out a theory in the first chapter, then methodically use lessons to prove the theory and end with a call to action. You can use your personal stories as part of the examples, but don't write the whole book about you. Unless you are Tony Robbins, Brendon Burchard or Suzanne Somers -- who all have have the following to pull off a traditional vanity book if they wanted to -- a book like that just won't sell.

My suggestion is that you start off by writing your entire life story out. Then review your story and pick out the lessons you have learned. Build your book around the lessons. People love the three secrets to finding love, five steps to prosperity or seven habits of highly effective people. Research has shown that three, five and seven are magic numbers for people in writing books. Use them!

3. The stories of famous people will help you.

Once you have identified your theme and know what points you want to teach your readers, the next step is to do a lot of research.

If you take a look at the greatest non-fiction books written, the majority of them actually use stories or points from the lives of well-known or unique people. One of my all-time favorite non-fiction books is Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. In Gladwell's book, he created a theory that outliers had similarities in their make up that were key to their successes in lives. Then in proving his point, he told the stories of dozens of well-known people and not-so-well-known people. And those stories made the book.

The Internet has made research very easy. You can search things like, "famous people who suffered adversity" or "stories of business adversity." Another technique is to read all of the best books in your genre, and you will find great famous examples. Go back and do your own research on someone who is mentioned in another book. The old adage, "facts tell and stories sell," applies here.

Related: So You Want to Write a Business Book

4. You don't get a second chance to make a first impression.

I routinely see buyers at bookstores turning down books, because they feel that the cover makes the book unsaleable. As potential consumers are looking for their next read, they are going to stop when a cover catches their eye. Your cover is crucial to the success of the book.

Being at the helm of a hybrid publishe in which the author funds, controls and receives the lion's share of the revenue from sales, I constantly find myself having to help authors to understand why their cover ideas will hurt them. We study the best-selling book's covers in every genre. Our designers know exactly what covers are selling. We regularly order hundreds of books from our competitors to study the covers and see what is trending. If you want to make the best first impression and increase your sales, you need to consider doing the same things.

5. It's a long, lonely road.

My next personal release, The Greatest Prospector In The World, will be released in March of 2016, but 10,000 hardcover copies have already been purchased by 3 major corporations. I actually wrote the manuscript over the span of two years and finished it three years ago. Over the past three years, the book has gone through three different editors. The length of the book went from 295 pages to 261 pages to 183 pages. The book had four different cover ideas over the three-year period. We printed a total of 1,000 advanced copies of the book that were given to everyone from reviewers to friends and family. Every single piece of feedback was taken seriously.

I have invested thousands of dollars in editing and designing of this book. I am sure there are more then 40 people who have worked on the project. There is no way that the book would have garnered all of the attention or pre-sales without all of the people and funds that I have poured into it. The buzz that has been created has now helped to win orders from the retail bookstores.

The publishing industry has changed. The old plan of getting an agent to secure a deal with one of the old guard is gone, and big fat advance checks don't exist anymore for first-time authors. Massive super self-publishers, who are doing hundreds of thousands of books a year, do not give you the opportunity to get into the retail channel.

These days, hybrid publishers are the answer. They allow you to keep the rights and charge nominal fees while ensuring superior quality and opening the doors to retail channels. The point is to partner with a new hybrid-publisher that has your best interest at heart, has less then average fees and participates in the revenue from back-end book sales so they have some skin in the game.

Competition is getting fierce regardless of what genre you are writing in. Using these five keys will ensure that you differentiate and give yourself a competitive advantage.

Related: How I Landed My First Book Deal

Ken Dunn

Founder of Authority Factory

From his original days in police investigation and interrogation, Ken developed a fascination with the human subconscious. Ken now teaches entrepreneurs to build coaching business in the new Knowledge Brokering industry. He has helped hundreds to build six-to-seven-figure coaching businesses.

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