Diet Books and Fitness Guides for Healthy Profits?

Even the most casual observer of nonfiction bestseller lists can't help but notice that diet books often dominate the list and remain there for years at a time. I believe this has been going on at least since the 1960's, may have something to do with the widespread acquisition of color televisions, but that's another story. Diet books are often branded with the name of a celebrity doctor or the latest health fad resulting from some governmental pronouncement, and are pushed strongly by their trade publishers with big budget campaigns. Fitness guides are more likely to be written by celebrity trainers, who get into the public eye by talking about the foibles of the Hollywood stars they've trained. Anybody with the ability to market a book on TV by gossiping about famous people is probably better off with a big trade publisher than self publishing, which is the subject of this blog.

As usual, I turned to Amazon for a quick look at how health oriented titles by unknown authors are selling, and I used the subsidy presses as a proxy. The reason is that none of the subsidy presses do any meaningful marketing for titles, even if they are paid to, so an Amazon Power Search turns up titles that are doing well due to the efforts of the author. The string I used was:

subject: diet or health and publisher: authorhouse or iuniverse or xlibris or booklocker or lulu

This turned up 1214 subsidy published titles in the diet, health and fitness area, of which the top 10 had sales ranks under 100,000. None of the books were in the top 10,000 during this particular check, which should set off a warning bell for the aspiring self publisher. If you were self publishing your book with print on demand and getting the majority of your non-direct sales through Amazon, which is probably true for all the titles in the list generated, you'd estimate that the current top dog is selling less than 1,000 copies a year. Even if you earned a very healthy profit margin by going through Lightning Source, Replica or Booksurge, that's hardly a living.

So, should the aspiring fitness guide self publisher give up and look into writing adult titles instead? Not at all, because the method I used above for generating the bestseller list has a serious flaw. It only includes books from authors who used a subsidy publisher, and even though some of them may be fairly savvy marketers, none of them are doing it for a living because there's no living to be had! If I was interested in self publishing diet books and health related titles myself, I would have gone through a very different exercise on Amazon, a time consuming process of elimination to search out true self publishers of related titles and look at the reasons for their success. Without doing the many hours of work, the process goes like this. Search for:

subject: diet or health

which yields 283,637 titles, a few too many for me to start looking at. Even more impressive, the first 700 or so titles on a bestseller sort were in the top 10,000, the range where a self publisher can start thinking about making a living. In fact, it's one of the most dominant categories of books I've ever seen on Amazon. On the other hand, don't forget that for the 700 or so titles in the top 10,000 there are almost 283,000 also rans.

The bottom line is that if there's a market with a seemingly infinite ability to absorb new titles, it's diet and health books. The trick, of course, is marketing. Since almost all of these titles are sold as nonfiction, whatever the truth of the matter, they make ideal candidates for Internet marketing. As our check of subsidy publishers showed us, this isn't a niche category where a book is likely to get sales just based on the title, there's just too much competition. But if you start with the website, put the draft of your book online and work to build the traffic, you'll soon get an indication of whether it's going to work for you. If you start getting regular e-mails asking when you're going to publish the book, it's time to hire an editor, some proofreaders, pick a print on demand printer and publish.

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