What I've learned from books publishing

Difference between books that no-one-wants-to-read and bestsellers

Elena Astakhova
UX designer
15 min read
I have been writing books for the last 4 years - some of them could be called “successful”, while others have become “don’t do this” lessons. I had a book that no one wanted, and I had a best seller.

I was lucky to work with one of the most well-known Russian publishers - "Mann Ivanov and Ferber", and gain experience from professionals.

Sometimes people want to write a book themselves. They share with me their concept, and I see that they are about to repeat the same mistakes I made when I was writing my books.
In this article, I explain what was behind the “successful” and “failed” books.

I had a book that no one wants, and I had a best seller

Here is what I've learned.

Define your goal
Writing a book could be challenging: it demands commitment, discipline, and a significant investment of time and energy. It often means spending a lot of time alone, compromising personal and social life.
Before starting any project, we need to have a clear understanding of goals to stay motivated in the long run. If you don't have a long-term plan, you may give up once you hit the first barrier.

You need to answer this particular question
How do I want this book to impact my life?

I’ll share with you my goals, which made me very motivated in the long run - I’ve published 4 books that you can buy in any bookshop in Russia.

Clear goal is everything. Method is the variable tool.

Goal 1: Win the trust
As a fashion illustration tutor, my job was to teach fashion designers how to bring their ideas to life through drawing. At the beginning of my teaching career, I faced the ongoing task of building trust with each new group of students. I needed to establish myself as a credible and trustworthy guide. Interestingly, gaining their trust often hinged more on instilling confidence in them rather than solely demonstrating drawing skills.
I realised the magic of trust when I created my YouTube channel and started to record online tutorials.
I’ve met people I saw for the first time in my life and they smiled at me like they knew me!
This is when I’ve learned the lesson - demonstrating in-depth knowledge and experience in your field can help you to win the trust in potential clients, employers, or business partners.

Goal 2: Market yourself or your business
Ask yourself: what do you want to sell through the book?
A few years later, I had my own business - a school of sketching and design. We were teaching fashion, interior and product design. I did the same thing with other tutors - we recorded some free tutorials, so people could see a real person, their skill and methodology.
With this marketing strategy, we did pretty well in the first two years, until new competitors entered the market and started to sell very cheap courses. They had to compromise on quality to make it more affordable (cheaper art materials, lower hourly rate for tutors, cheap rent).
I didn’t want to win a competition for being “the cheapest”. I wanted to keep the same quality of art materials and keep our cool fashionable loft in the city centre. I thought that instead of cutting expenses, we could add more value to the service and professional image of the founder.
And this is when I thought this was the right time to write a book.

After publishing a book, I had no free chairs in my classes. My courses were sold 2 months ahead and I had to increase the price for my offline lessons. This book became a free advertising tool. My publisher wanted to make it popular - they made a great marketing campaign, with no efforts from my side.

Goal 3: Sharpen the saw
Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,
Habit #7 - sharpen the saw.
“Sharpening the saw means continually honing our personal development through deliberate actions that renew and recharge our energy. The result is a happy, holistically healthy, and effective individual.”
Writing a book is a great way to develop your knowledge: When you explain something to someone, you often gain a better understanding of the topic yourself.

When you explain something, you naturally organize the information in a way that makes sense. You connect the dots and put everything in a nice, tidy order. It's like arranging your thoughts into a well-organized story that makes the topic easier to understand and remember.
Stephen R. Covey’
"The more you explain something, the better you remember it"
Prepare a concept: solve a problem with a book
If you want people to read your book, think about what people want to learn from you. One of the biggest mistakes of book authors - they write about what they want to write, not considering the demand on the topic.

Successful authors often find a middle ground by selecting topics that align with market demand while also tapping into their passions and strengths as writers. Researching the market, understanding reader preferences, and finding a unique angle within a popular genre can help authors find a balance between market demand and personal fulfilment in their writing journey.

Take research seriously - go to online and offline bookshops.
Make spreadsheets.
  • 1
    Define your target audience
    Start by clearly defining the demographic and psychographic characteristics of your ideal readers. Consider factors such as age, gender, location, interests, and reading preferences. Understanding your target audience will help you tailor your marketing efforts and reach the right readers.
  • 2
    Research your genre and competition
    Study the market and identify books that are similar to yours in terms of genre, theme, or style. Analyze their sales performance, reader reviews, and overall popularity. This will give you insights into reader expectations, popular trends, and potential gaps in the market that your book can fill.

    Remember that market research is an ongoing process. Continuously monitor industry trends, engage with your readers, and adapt your marketing strategies based on the insights gained. This will increase your chances of effectively reaching and engaging your target audience.
  • 3
    Engage with potential readers
    Connect with your target audience through social media, writing forums, book clubs, or online communities. Engage in conversations, ask for feedback, and observe their preferences and opinions. This direct interaction can provide valuable insights into readers expectations, interests, and what motivates them to choose certain books.
  • 4
    Conduct surveys and interviews
    Create online surveys or interview readers who fit your target audience criteria. Ask questions about their reading habits, preferred book formats, genres they enjoy, and factors that influence their book-purchasing decisions. This primary research can provide quantitative and qualitative data to inform your marketing strategies.

  • 5
    Analyze reader reviews
    Read reviews of books similar to yours on online retailers, book review websites, and social media platforms. Pay attention to what readers like or dislike, what elements they find appealing, and any recurring themes or preferences. This analysis can help you understand reader preferences and adjust your marketing messaging accordingly.
  • 6
    Study industry trends and best practices
    Stay up to date with the latest trends, marketing strategies, and promotional tactics within the publishing industry. Follow industry blogs, attend writing conferences or webinars, and read books or articles on book marketing. This knowledge will help you make informed decisions and adapt your marketing approach accordingly.
  • 7
    Utilize keyword research
    Identify relevant keywords and phrases related to your book's genre or theme using tools like Google Keyword Planner or Amazon's search suggestions. This will help optimize your book's metadata (such as title, subtitle, and book description) for better discoverability in search engines and online marketplaces.
  • 8
    Seek professional assistance
    If you're unsure about conducting market research on your own, consider hiring a professional market researcher who specializes in the publishing industry. They can help design surveys, analyze data, and provide expert insights tailored to your specific needs.
Problems to solve
Expensive concept validation
Sometimes designers need to present a sketch or draft of their design - to get funding for the collection or seek customer feedback.
By having a draft sketch of the design, they save a lot of time and effort and validate the concept before production.

Lack of communication
With the drawing skills, fashion designers can improve their ability to convey design ideas, present sketches, and collaborate more effectively with others
Improving design workflow
Many fashion designers may struggle with their drawing abilities, especially when it comes to illustrating fashion figures or capturing garment details. A comprehensive "how-to-draw" book can provide step-by-step instructions, techniques, and tips to enhance their drawing skills, allowing them to create more accurate and visually appealing fashion illustrations.
Start writing
Yes, “writing a book” comes at the very end - after you've signed the contract.
I have made a mistake with my third book - I’ve spent almost a year writing and drawing 300 pages. I prepared a concept after that, and when I started communicating with publishers, they said this market was too complete and sales were not great.
I’ve learned a lesson, dedicated several months to reorganising the content, and submitted it again with an altered title. It worked out.
This is how you can maintain a structured approach
1. Outline your book. Start by creating a comprehensive outline that outlines the main sections, chapters, and subtopics of your book. This provides a roadmap for your writing and helps maintain a logical structure throughout.

2. Set aside dedicated time for writing and stick to a regular schedule. Consistency in your writing routine helps maintain focus and momentum, ensuring steady progress in developing your book's structure.

3. Write an introduction at the end. You don't know what your book would be. It is more likely that you'll have a clear purpose and scope only when you finish.

4. Each chapter should have a clear focus and contribute to the overall narrative or argument of the book. Arrange the chapters in a logical sequence, ensuring a smooth flow of ideas and information.

5. Break down your content using headings and subheadings to guide readers and create a visual hierarchy. This helps readers navigate through your book and locate specific information easily.

6. Smooth transitions between chapters and sections improve the overall coherence of your book. Use transition sentences or paragraphs to link ideas, provide context, and maintain a cohesive narrative flow.

7. End your book with a conclusion that summarizes key points, restates the main message, and provides a sense of closure. Connect back to the introduction and leave readers with a lasting impression or a call to action, depending on the purpose of your book.

8. Once you have a draft of your book, seek feedback from trusted individuals or writing groups. They can provide valuable insights into the structure, pacing, and overall effectiveness of your book, helping you refine and strengthen its structure.
writing is a life style
Create a concept. Outline the structure. Get feedback. Walk a lot.
Keep moving
Writing a book is exciting, it is very engaging and it stimulates your nervous system. You think about what you want to write and imagine how great you'll feel when you hold a real book in your hands...
This article can not be complete without mentioning a mental condition you face when you are in the "productive phase".
Physical exercise activity, including walking, stimulates the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Walking in nature or simply changing the environment can stimulate creativity and improve cognitive function. It allows the mind to wander, facilitating new ideas and fresh perspectives. It also helps to shift the focus, redirect their attention, and gain a fresh perspective.