What makes a book interesting to buyers intrigues me. Last week I went to two book-signings for new authors—one was Nadia Bolz-Weber, my daughter’s 6’1”, tattooed, delightful preacher from Denver on a national book tour, and the other was my sister, Coleen Buckmaster, with “virgin arms” as Nadia would say, on an Oklahoma book tour.
Nadia’s book, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, is #17 on the New York Times Hardback Bestseller’s List.1 She is a paradox with the appearance of a person who has shunned “normal” but her religious dogma would rival the most devout. She attracts people of all ages who believe in inclusiveness or those who feel alienated from religion. Her book reflects her appeal to people who want honesty and captivating fun.
Coleen read excerpts from her first book, Ludmilla Drucilla Gorilla at the Old Wild Horse Ranch, which was over 25 years in the making to a crowd of friends and family at our brother’s restaurant, White Dog Hill, on Route #66 in Oklahoma.2 Both authors were radiant and excited with smug looks of satisfaction spread across their faces. Both books are selling well in their target markets.
I’ve been involved in at least 20 different professional books, as author, editor, or publisher. Some books were a collaboration with up to 60 contributors and others were my sole project. Every book felt like a breach birth—I was excited and exhausted at the same time when it was done. For the past 22 years, I have evaluated hundreds of books for self-study courses for my business, Helm Publishing. I thought it might be helpful if I shared some of the things that I’ve learned about what makes a nutrition book successful or not.
Seven Keys for a Successful Nutrition Book
1. The author—that’s right—who the author is and the passion and expertise he/she brings to the table are extremely important. The author’s credibility in the topic area, reputation for detail, familiarity with the subject, and often, willingness to stay visible, speak to groups or the media, exhibit at meetings, and act as a go-to expert on the subject sells the book. As you might guess, it also helps if the author is well-known and has written popular books in the past!
2. The premise of the book—is crucial. Years ago, I tried many times to interest big publishers in a nutrition book for the public and they said, “It’s been done. You have to have a ‘hook’ that makes it different! Good nutrition doesn’t sell without a gimmick or story.” Boy, I hated to hear that but when I became a publisher, I knew exactly what they meant and it wasn’t as mercenary as it sounds. Buyers look for books with new ideas and thought-leadership. Basically, professionals have lots of books, news sources, and health media where they can look up nutrition information. To buy your book, customers want to know the information is unique with a fresh approach or new research. One way to help you hone your concept is to look at your competition (publishers will want to know you have thoroughly researched similar books as well). You want to be different and better!
3. The title and book cover—make them distinctive walking that line between too flashy and too boring. Beware of too long, too cute, or using superlatives in titles. I once heard Thomas A. Harris, MD, author of the bestselling book, I’m OK, You’re OK.3 He said when his publisher launched his book in England, they changed the title to something more wordy and conservative, figuring the U.K. market wrong—it didn’t sell. At which time they changed the title back to its original name and it became a bestseller. I learned the hard way not to use the word, Death, in a title even if Nightline had the story on twice because the public interest and demand were so high. However, it would have been better to follow the example of Tuesdays with Morrie4 or Chasing My Sunshine5, but not A Good Death: A Couples’ Journey6. Who’s going to buy a book with that title other than a hospice? Not a dying person or his family who are in denial or holding out for a miracle! It also didn’t help that Terry Schiavo and the Pope died three days apart, the week our author was on his media tour.
On a lighter note, I’ve always found off-color pastels don’t sell as well when compared to stronger colors, but I’m sure there are exceptions. To make up your mind, go to the bookstore or Amazon.com and see the book covers that catch your attention—use them as a guideline for what you want.
4. Interesting writing style—use stories and case studies to illustrate practical application of the concepts or problems involved. As you have probably heard many times before, people love a good story. Involve yourself and your experience! Along with stories, people want a book to move along in logical order and in enough detail to explain something without boring the reader. We receive several thousand evaluations each year on books involved in our courses and readers complain when the train of thought jumps around and doesn’t flow logically in a book, or if content is repeated too many times. When there are multiple contributing authors, it is important that the editor checks the content, such as protocols and lab values, to make sure they agree between the chapters. Readers love a book that is so captivating they can’t put it down. That’s your job and the goal!
5. Well-researched—readers want to know that authors have thoroughly looked at the research and considered various points of view, if they exist. References are important either at the end of each chapter or at the end of the book. Today, more publishers are posting a short bibliography in the book and full references online.
6. Layout—should be easy to read! That means using a decent size font with white space between the lines and in the margins. Use clean, strong charts that look professionally done. Small, faint text really turns readers off. Whether you are self-publishing or working with a publisher, you will see the final page layout before the manuscript is printed, and if it does not look good, say something!
7. Don’t be afraid of controversy! You don’t have to agree with the government, your profession, or peers. Speak your mind and support your arguments! When I was on NBC-TV as the NoonDay Nutritionist in Denver many years ago, I had a listener tell me, “I don’t always agree with what you say, but I think you are fair.” When I started covering more controversial subjects, I had to spend twice as much time getting ready for the show, including interviewing experts for their quotes, but our viewership doubled! I’ve tried to bring that respect for and use of controversy into my speaking and writing for the profession.
- Bolz-Weber N, Pastrix: the Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. 2013. NY: Jericho Books. www.sarcasticlutheran.com
- Buckmaster C, Ludmilla Drucilla Gorilla at the Wild Horse Ranch. 2013. Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing.
- Harris T, I’m OK; You’re OK. 1969. NY: HarperCollins.
- Albom M. Tuesdays with Morrie: an old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson. 1997. NY: Doubleday.
- Harris M. Chasing My Sunshine. 2013. Amazon Kindle Books.
- Schmidt L, Pizzarello J. A Good Death: A Couple’s Journey. 2005. Lake Dallas, TX: Helm Publishing.