Nothing out there like it?

In working on prescriptive non-fiction, I’ve noted a phenomenon among authors that I’ll call the “there’s nothing out there like it” fallacy. Interestingly, it seems to affect a disproportionately expert population—physicians, nutritionists, psychologists, trainers, counselors, and attorneys—writers with professional credentials whose proposed book emerges from a considerable knowledge of their target market. Indeed, the fact that these people come in daily contact with their would-be book buyers should mean that they have a better sense than anyone of the information their patients/clients lack. In theory, these experts are ideally positioned to perceive a book-shaped hole in the market. But interestingly enough, this is not always the case.

There are a few reasons; because the general public may be demonstrably in need of information (or perhaps just reluctant to implement it) it does not always follow that there’s a dearth of books on the topic. In my experience, experts may know their audience inside and out, but they don’t necessarily have a clear sense of the competition. Acquiring editors, meanwhile, have an overdeveloped sense of the books in the field; usually they’ve published them. (Agents do too, which, apropos of the recent discussion, is another reason why we’re handy). Busy professionals, even those who assiduously keep up with the relevant journals, rarely have the time to read books aimed at a general audience. They do, however, hear their clients/patients complain that there is a shortage of reliable information “out there.” They field the same questions again and again. They rightly perceive their clients’ points of confusion, and may be especially gifted at untangling complex information, or perhaps they’ve created a program that gets amazing results. It is not so very difficult to therefore imagine that all this would merit, even demand, a new book.

Maybe so. But in order to test this premise, writers need to do significant research, not only on Amazon.com, B&N.com, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, or Publishers Marketplace, but also in multiple bookstores and libraries. No single source is especially reliable: on-line searches may be too broad or too narrow; looking at the bookstore shelf may not give an accurate sense of all that’s actually on offer; libraries don’t necessarily reflect all the newest entrees. Ideally, aspiring authors should read, or at least skim, the likely competition, with a dispassionate eye (does the world really need another book on this subject) and in hopes of spotting an opening. If “nothing out there” really means “there’s nothing out there written by me,” bear in mind that publishing houses find this a persuasive argument only insofar as the “me” in question has one or more of the following: a national platform; a media profile; conducted groundbreaking research; a fresh approach to the subject at hand. It is this last aspect that is most tractable. It is true that most nonfiction is platform driven, but it is also concept-driven, and teasing out a hook—which is not so much a gimmick as a clever, easily-grasped, organizing principle—is essential. Finding a way into your subject that has not been done and done again is difficult, but not, I think, so difficult as acquiring the MD, MBA or PhD to begin with!


12 Responses to Nothing out there like it?

  1. Terisa Green says:

    I really enjoyed this post, Jessica. Coming across another book that was the same thing that I wanted to write was a secret fear of mine. I was mostly assured that the books didn't already exist, because I had once shopped for just such books and couldn't find any. But as I wrote my proposals, I dreaded my repetitive online searches, just knowing that someone was going to beat me to the punch.

    Even now, as I search out books on topics that I think (or hope) might be fresh, I am stunned at how poor my search results can be, to the point where I wonder if I haven't subconsciously sabotaged by own search criteria. I will often come back to a topic a few times, spread out over a few weeks, and see how radically the search results change, based simply on the keywords that I choose (or not).

    Thanks for the tips and for highlighting an area of research that often goes unmentioned!

  2. DGLM says:

    That's great advice, Terisa. Also, I don't mean to imply that if the market is a crowded one that a writer should abandon all ambition of writing a book that engages it, but rather he or she needs to be more strategic about seeking out that unusual angle.

  3. Jonas Samuelle says:

    Hmm, in light of this post I hereby request to edit and re-submit my query to Miriam. Just kidding, folks. Good advice, and an easy trap to fall into, it seems.
    You know we all think we are the most intersting and original writers out there. We don't always admit it, but, come on, we do.

  4. Minnie Klamn says:

    I seriously appreciate this great blog post that you have deliver to us. I guarantee this would be beneficial for the majority of people.

  5. Its such as you learn my mind! You seem to grasp so much approximately this, like you wrote the ebook in it or something. I think that you could do with a few percent to pressure the message house a bit, but other than that, this is excellent blog. A great read. I will certainly be back.

  6. I got what you intend, appreciate it for putting up.Woh I am pleased to find this website through google. “The outcome of the war is in our hands the outcome of words is in the council.” by Homer.

  7. mays says:

    We’re a bunch of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your website provided us with valuable information to work on. You have done an impressive task and our entire community can be thankful to you.

  8. Woah! I’m really digging the template/theme of this site. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s tough to get that “perfect balance” between user friendliness and appearance. I must say you’ve done a fantastic job with this. Also, the blog loads extremely fast for me on Internet explorer. Excellent Blog!

  9. Some truly fantastic information, Gladiolus I found this. “It’s not only the most difficult thing to know one’s self, but the most inconvenient.” by Josh Billings.

  10. Hello Nice blog. Do you need to invitee publish upabout mine sometime? If that’s the case make sure you let me know by way of email or just reply to this opinion since I subscribed to notifications and will understand should you.

  11. Pingback: Book of Ra ohne Anmeldung

  12. You made some decent points there. I looked on the internet for the issue and found most individuals will go along with with your website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>