Building your non-fiction niche
There’s no better way to establish your subject matter expertise than writing a non-fiction book about your specialist topic. Valerie Alexander, this week’s guest author, has taken her niche one step further and created a self-help brand around her “… as a second language” phrase. Let’s find out more about her successful book series and her approach to self-publishing, which can easily be applied to building your travel blogging niche.
How would you describe the type of books/genre you write?
I only write non-fiction books. I love writing fiction, but I save that for screenwriting, which is a whole other career. After writing Happiness as a Second Language and Success as a Second Language, I secured the registered trademark on the phrase, “…as a Second Language” for all books in the self-help, motivation and personal growth space, so now in addition to writing, I publish books in this series written by other authors. Parenting as a Second Language by Elisabeth Stitt already came out and it is outstanding, and soon Creativity as a Second Language by Nancy Pia will be hitting Amazon. There are several more in the pipeline.
What motivated you to start writing?
When I was practicing law, any time some document needed to be finessed or made better, the team always gave it to me. I just had a flare for language I went from law to investment banking to Internet executive, but after moving back home to take care of my mom while she recovered from a brain tumor (she’s still with us!), I decided that all I really wanted to do was make movies, so I moved to LA and started writing screenplays. Within two years, I was earning a living doing that and I loved it. Being able to express what I think and feel with the written word, and have it be effective and compelling is really a gift. I can thank both my parents for that (they are villains of verbiage!), so it would be silly to not use it in such a fun way.
Tell us the journey you went on to get your books published (e.g. direct on your website, self-published, assisted-publishing, traditional publisher)
After I wrote Happiness as a Second Language, I got signed by a very reputable agent. He represents the authorship component of a lot of big brands that also want to be authors (think of politicians, athletes, pop stars, etc.) There was a big disconnect because he thought I was going to make myself into a huge happiness brand and he could just pick up the phone and sell the book, and I thought he would sell the book, which would enable me to launch a happiness brand. Long story short, after two years under contract, we went our separate ways. One of my friends had self-published several books in the two years I was repped, and I wasn’t willing to go back down the agent road again, so I just hired a layout artist for the inside and a graphic designer for the cover I’d created, and six months after I got out of the agent’s contract, the book was on Amazon, and six months after that, it hit the #1 spot in the Happiness category.
What publishing elements do you most enjoy and most like to avoid, and why? (e.g. design, marketing, formatting etc.)
I love the writing, editing and designing. I HATE the marketing. At some point, when I have the resources, I will bring in someone to just market all books and speaking full-time.
With the hindsight of being a published author, anything you would have done differently?
Yes! I would have started my speaking career much, much sooner. I would have created several talks to go with each book and used each side of the business (books and speaking) to fuel the other. In fact, I wish I’d started speaking on the topic of Happiness as soon as I got the idea for the book, rather than waiting a year to write it, two years with the agent, and nine months after it was published to give my first talk on the topic. Now, this is the major source of my income, but I would be so much farther along if I’d been doing it four years sooner.
On the flip side, I was regularly giving the talk, How Women Can Succeed in the Workplace (Despite Having “Female Brains”), and it wasn’t until I saw almost the entire content of my talk appear in someone’s blog post (uncredited to me) that it occurred to me to turn it into a book. Now. that’s become one of my best sellers! Also, it makes a great add-on purchase option for clients of a paid speaking event, and they love being able to give everyone in attendance a book. As a self-published author, I can afford to sell them at a discount, so it’s a win for everyone.
What tips or advice would you give an aspiring indie author who is looking to self-publish?
Start building your network now. Get content out there and get a following. Have a website and a mailing list (both are free through WordPress and MailChimp. respectively). Just be KNOWN. And if you write about a topic that you can speak on as well, do everything you can to get in front of audiences. I don’t do unpaid gigs anymore, but when I did, I could often count on at least $100 in book sales, and often more than $500. Also, you have to constantly be marketing. It never goes on auto-pilot. The books never start selling themselves.
What marketing or promotional tools or techniques do you use to reach your readers?
For me, Facebook and my mailing list. I also had a very active blog for a while, but that became too hard to keep up with and it’s also really hard to cut through the blog clutter these days.
What impact do you want your books to have on your readers?
I write guidebooks that empower people to be the best that they can be, regardless of the circumstances they were born into. Nothing is better for me than getting an email from a reader that says she followed some exercise or advice in my book and had a big victory as a result. People have told me they are actually happier in their daily lives because of me. That is an incredible thing to hear and I am so grateful.
What is your latest book about?
Late last year, I launched a tech company to build communication bots that amplify happiness, so I am not working on another book right now. The next book in the “…as a Second Language” series is Creativity as a Second Language, and I am very proud of it. The author did an amazing job.
What’s next on your writing journey?
Just when I thought I got out…they pull me back in! Although I have been writing books and speaking almost exclusively for the past four years, I recently was asked by a producer to write a TV movie for a network that is looking to make a lot of content in the next several years. I can’t discuss the details beyond that, but this is a great opportunity and I hope to write several films for them. Writing screenplays, after all, is my first love.
Find out how Valerie Alexander from @SpeakHappiness developed her book ideas into a brand with a long tail. #nonfiction #authorinterview Click To Tweet
Valerie Alexander is a nationally recognized speaker, author and corporate trainer on the topics of happiness, happiness in the workplace and the advancement of women. She is a former securities lawyer, investment banker, screenwriter and director, and is the founder and CEO of Goalkeeper Media, maker of the Happy Couples Bot.
She is an alumna of Trinity University and U.C. Berkeley, and was Trinity’s 2016 Commencement Speaker. Valerie and her husband, writer-producer Rick Alexander, live in Los Angeles, California with their ill-mannered German Shepherd, Pepper.