How to Determine the Marketability of Your Ebook Idea


It’s the age-old publishing question: How do you determine if a book will sell before you actually release it? As many of you become indie ebook publishers, you have related tough questions, like “How can I make sure my ebook stands out in the crowded marketplace?” “Can I sell enough ebooks to make money in the market I’m targeting?” and “How do I develop a topic that successfully targets a niche market?”

With the advent of ebooks, publishing a book has become a less risky financial proposition. However, if it doesn’t sell, you—the author—still lose precious time and effort that you put into producing that book.

As a busy entrepreneur, you can’t afford that. You must determine your ebook’s marketability prior to producing a manuscript so you ensure your time and energy are put to good use and produce a viable product. That means, you must answer those questions before you write a word.

How the Publishing Industry Determines Market Potential

Market viability for any nonfiction book idea, including an ebook idea, revolves around:

1. size of market or niche
2. competition
3. unique selling proposition

Historically, the publishing industry determines these things with market research, competitive analysis, and something called a book overview. All of these are included in a nonfiction book proposal.

The nonfiction book proposal serves as a business plan for traditional publishers. Indie publishers should use its format to create a business plan for their ebooks as well.

Now, before you start jumping up and down and yelling, “I don’t want to be traditionally published! I don’t need a book proposal!” Hear me out.

How to Create a Business Plan for Your Ebook

The nonfiction book proposal is used by the publisher as the business plan for a book. It’s a necessary document for any book—even an independently published one since you will be the publisher of that book. That said, you do not need a formal book proposal if you plan on self-publishing. You do, however, need a business plan.

In the process of researching the information necessary for a book proposal, you’ll answer the pressing questions you have about your ebook’s marketability—and you’ll write a business plan for your ebook.

Create a business plan for your book by going through what I call the “book proposal process.” Compile the information necessary for each section of a nonfiction book proposal by actually writing a draft proposal. Then use this document as your ebook business plan.

Once finished with the proposal process, you’ll have a clear idea if your book idea has any potential of success in the market—and you’ll have the makings of a business plan. Armed with that knowledge, you then can begin writing a book that should, indeed, succeed, which means sell or make money.

Three Steps to Determine Your eBook’s Marketability

Although there are eight steps in my proposal process, three in particular determine the marketability of your ebook idea and provide the answer you need before you begin writing your ebook. These steps would produce the “Markets,” “Competing Books,” and “Overview” sections in a book proposal. In my process, I call these steps:

1. Know Exactly What Your Book’s About and Why Someone Would Want to Read (Buy) It
2. Make Sure You Write a Unique and Necessary Book
3. Figure Out Who Wants to Read Your Book

Let’s look briefly at each one of these.

Figure Out Who Wants to Read Your Book

It’s important to know who you are writing for—both the individual reader and the larger group within which that reader is a part. The larger group is called your “market.” A “niche market” typically is a smaller segment of a larger market.

If you are writing a book for pet owners, for example, you want to know how many people in the U.S. own cats, how many licensed veterinarians practice in America, and how many people belong to pet-related groups online and off. This is your market. If the number is large, potential to make money with your ebook exists; if the number is small, you’ll likely make less money.

But some niche markets are tremendously profitable. (Check on their buying habits—see below.) If you want to write for a niche, research how many people own a specific type of cat or a cat with a type of problem. You can actually make a lot of money with a small target market.

Now look at your individual reader. Describe your reader’s sex, age, socio-economic status, interests, buying habits, etc. Research how much pet food or pet accessories they purchase, where they shop, if they vacation with their pets, etc. Hang out in pet forums and read pet blogs and listen in on their conversations. Discover your readers’ biggest pet-related problems and most pressing questions.

Now decide if your book idea fits the needs of these readers. Are they your market or not? Do they need your book? Will they spend money on it?

Make Sure You Write a Unique and Necessary Book

In almost every area of business, it’s a good idea to know your competition. And publishing is a business. Complete a comparative study of other ebooks and pbooks written on your topic. Go to physical books stores and conduct research in online bookstores to learn about the:

• Content
• Author
• Price
• Number of pages
• Binding
• Publication date
• Special features
• Sales ranking
• Reviews
• Advance (if traditionally published)
• Sales

Traditional publishers will purchase (or reject) a book idea based on competing book sales. If particular books sell well, that’s a reason to take on a book project. So look long and hard at these titles to determine if they are selling (if they have a market).

Then determine how you and your book can stand out from the pack and provide something totally unique. Can you provide a new solution? Can you provide a new answer? Do you have a new angle on or approach to a popular topic? Or do you have different credentials than all the other authors? If not, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and rework your idea—or throw it away and start on a new one.

Know Exactly What Your Book’s About and Why Someone Would Want to Read (Buy) It

Combine your market knowledge with your competitive analysis to create a unique selling proposition (USP) for your ebook. A USP tells buyers:

• the specific benefit your ebook provides
• what the book offers that other ebooks cannot or do not offer
• what makes it unique on the cyber bookshelf

Describe your book as if you were writing the copy for the back of a physical book or for the metadata for your ebook. Compose a brief statement that describes your book followed by the benefits it will provide to readers. Imagine you have seconds to capture someone’s attention, get them to pick up your book and take it to the register. Or consider you must tell a prospective reader about your book while in an elevator with them. Give an elevator pitch!

Potential readers (in stores or in elevators) want to know one thing—and it’s not what your ebook is about: They want to know how your ebook will benefit them. If you can serve their needs in a unique way, you have written a necessary book for your market—and one that will make money—in other word, a book that will sell.

Average book sales for each market differ. Events like Hurricane Sandy, will cause a dip in sales, but if your readers have a need for your book, if you have a large market and if your book is unique, your book will sell consistently.

Go through these through steps as soon as the light bulb goes off with an idea for a book. You won’t regret it. In fact, your earning potential as an author will increase considerably even if you have to throw a number of book ideas into the circular file or revamp them before you begin writing.

And don’t forget to create a full business plan for your book by completing the book proposal process. Having a plan will help you sell more books over time.

I’d love to hear what you think about these ideas in the comments below…

Nina Amir
Inspiration-to-Creation Coach and author of "How to Blog a Book, Write, Publish and Promote Your Work One Post at a Time," inspires people to combine their purpose and passion so they Achieve More Inspired Results. She motivates both writers and non-writers to create publishable and published products, careers as authors and to achieve their goals and fulfill their purpose.
Nina Amir
Nina Amir


  1. Identifying our target audience of readers can be somewhat challenging, especially right up front. I have been giving a lot of consideration to the three points you mentioned. What I’ve discovered is that I may be limiting myself, or on the other hand I may be flattering myself, depending on how I define my target audience. I guess I’m stuck at this point in the process.

  2. I’ve also said for many years now that the prep is as important as the book itself. Good words of advice!