Write Useful Books

If you want your book to thrive, you need a better process.

My first two nonfiction titles have grown organically to reach more than 100k happy readers and are now generating $160k per year in royalties. All with nearly zero active marketing. This is due to how the books were built.

The process for building useful nonfiction is iterative, data-driven, and reader-centric. It's the polar opposite of the standard gamble of “plan, polish, publish, and pray.”

This guide contains everything I know about how to design, test, and refine nonfiction that is able to endure for years, get recommended, and grow on its own. Whether you're aiming for royalties, reputation, reach, or impact, this guide can help you get there.

By Rob Fitzpatrick, author of The Mom Test and The Workshop Survival Guide.

Pre-order for immediate access and more

  • 📑 Instant access to the current manuscript containing 30k words of actionable guidance and advice
  • 📘 A paperback copy once it's ready (shipped anywhere)
  • 🙌 [Subscription only] Invitation to our nonfiction author's community for accountability, Q&A, problem-solving, and events
  • 🙏 My undying gratitude for your support

*Full refund available any time within 30 days — just email rob@robfitz.com

Resources & articles

The book and its contents

This guide is not a magic-bullet marketing strategy; rather, it's a modern approach to product design. It will apply to both traditionally-published and self-published works. It won't help with narrative nonfiction (like biography or history), but will be invaluable for any author who intends to help their reader to achieve a goal, improve at a skill, undergo a process, understand a concept, or solve a problem.

CHAPTER 1. What this guide is and isn’t, how it can help, and who I am

  • Why I’m a relevant source of advice
  • The goal of book marketing is to stop needing to do it
  • The motivations and business models of writing a book
  • Profitability and self-publishing
  • Some encouragement for folks who don’t think they can write a book
  • This isn’t the only way, just my way

CHAPTER 2. Useful books are a problem-solving product

  • Make a clear promise and put it on the cover
  • Narrow the Reader Profile to become the world’s best solution for someone
  • Desirable books begins with a strong Scope
  • DEEP books vs. ineffective Problem-Solvers
  • Word of mouth can be anticipated and designed for
  • Recommendability removes competition
  • Write for the back catalog with timeless content

CHAPTER 3. Improve your book before writing it

  • Escape the Curse of Knowledge
  • Listen to their life, don’t pitch your idea
  • If they care and you care, then it’s worth writing
  • Build your Table of Contents from Learning Outcomes, not clickbait
  • Your ToC will require testing and iteration
  • Teach the book to test its contents
  • How to find people to talk to
  • What if nobody wants to talk to you?
  • Expand the Table of Contents into a first draft

CHAPTER 4. Design a stronger Reader Experience

  • What keeps a reader reading
  • Value enablers vs. actual value
  • Front-load the value
  • Length is a liability; value-per-page is an asset
  • Hunt for fluffy chapters, sections, paragraphs, and words
  • Visual callouts break the reader’s flow
  • Avoid cross-references, teasers, and hooks until the manuscript is solid
  • A strong bio creates just enough credibility for them to start reading
  • Revise into a second and third draft

CHAPTER 5. Use Beta Readers

  • Invite Beta Readers over time to find the next set of problems
  • Your Beta Readers will show you when you’re finished
  • Prepare the manuscript for live commenting and encourage negative feedback
  • Evidence of value, insights, and takeaways
  • Confusion, skepticism, and missing information
  • Factual inaccuracies, oversimplifications, and overgeneralizations
  • Boredom, abandonment, and the hidden analytics of reader engagement
  • Feedback, defensiveness, and ego
  • Follow ups, check-ins, and Beta Reader communities
  • Save the most influential readers for last
  • For feedback to be useful, you need to use it

INTERLUDE: The path toward the finish line

  • Begin pre-sales as soon as it’s working for Beta Readers
  • Polish and publish
  • The book design process (quick reference)

CHAPTER 6. Find your first 1,000 seed readers

  • Launch is unfair, but growth is meritocratic
  • You must seed an initial audience by hand before organic growth can begin
  • Five steps to seeding an audience
  • Four reliable paths to seed readers
  • The “normal” approach: build an author platform
  • Most authors ignore their fans, so you should engage with yours
  • Once the book is selling, optimize the funnel
  • Once the book is selling, create percentage sales boosts
  • Building a bigger business on top of your book

CHAPTER 7. Optimize your Amazon

  • The store blurb should sell, not just describe
  • Amazon’s algorithms reward a quality product
  • Audiobooks tap a separate audience and can boost word of mouth
  • Amazon’s PPC ads are incredible for problem-solvers
  • Hitting #1 is easier than you think
  • Amazon self-publishing tips and traps

The nonfiction author community

It's hard to write a useful book. The community is here to help.

We're currently a group of 70+ authors who are working on our own books and helping each other out. We'd be glad for you to join us.

You'll get quick answers to whatever's got you stuck, feedback from sharp peers, and weekly events for accountability and learning. Unsubscribe any time and keep the book.

$19 / mo: Book + Community

About the author

Hello, I'm Rob Fitzpatrick. Back in 2013, I wrote a short book called The Mom Test to teach entrepreneurs to ask for better customer feedback. In its first month, it earned a paltry $535. Six years later, thanks to steady word of mouth, it passed $10k in monthly royalties and has continued to grow from there.

It’s now taught at universities like MIT, UCL, and Harvard; recommended by startup accelerators like Y Combinator and Seedcamp; and used by teams at companies like SkyScanner and Shopify. It has hit #1 in most of its Amazon categories and has been translated by enthusiastic readers into nearly ten languages. All of this happened while I was largely ignoring the book and doing approximately zero active marketing. To date, it has put more than $350k in my pocket, all via reader recommendations. The growth in monthly profits is shown in the graph below. You'll notice that there was no big launch or magic bullet — just a steady, organic climb:

Just over a year ago, I released my second book, The Workshop Survival Guide, about designing and teaching educational workshops (coauthored with Devin Hunt). The book’s ultimate success is still too early to call, but it seems to be following a similar trajectory to The Mom Test — except better. Its sales at month five were the same as The Mom Test’s at year five, all via reader recommendations. It’s growing steadily, has organically hit #1 in its main Amazon categories, and is already generating enough royalties to comfortably cover my entire cost of living.

As before, The Workshop Survival Guide didn't benefit from any sort of flashy launch, a big mailing list, or clever marketing. It just does a good job of solving an important problem for readers, so they recommend it. This recommendability wasn’t an accident; it was our explicit goal, and we worked hard to achieve it. And with the right process and toolkit, you can do it too.

Pre-order for immediate access and more

$24: Just the book $19 / mo: Book + Community
  • 📑 Instant access to the current manuscript containing 30k words of actionable guidance and advice
  • 📘 A paperback copy once it's ready (shipped anywhere)
  • 🙌 [Subscription only] Invitation to our nonfiction author's community for accountability, Q&A, problem-solving, and events
  • 🙏 My undying gratitude for your support

*Full refund available any time within 30 days — just email rob@robfitz.com

Thanks :)

To learn more about myself or my other books, check out robfitz.com or youtube.com/c/robfitzpatrick.

Contact: rob@robfitz.com

All rights reserved © Robfitz Ltd 2020.

PS. If you aren't sure about the book, I'd suggest giving it a try — I'll happily issue a full refund if it's not for you.