Publishing Your Book #2: What’s Your Unique Selling Point?

You may think that the „unique selling point“ is just so much marketing rhetoric and doesn’t do justice to your academic goals? Maybe that’s true, but certainly not for most publishers: marketing is their main goal; hence they need you to tell them why they should publish your manuscript. Because if it’s important to them, it needs to be important to you too. The question is, how do you show them that your manuscript is worthy of publication. Or put differently, why should they take the financial risk to produce and market your book?

Before you contact any publishers or invest hours searching the best one, you should think about at least two questions. Who is your audience? And how does your book differ from others on the market? These are the two main questions a publisher or editor will ask you. If you can’t answer these questions yet, you need to find out. Sure, your answers might change during the course of writing the manuscript. But in order to have a conversation, before even negotiating a book contract, you need to figure these out.

Who is your audience?
It sounds like a simple question, but it’s one of the toughest ones you will get. The more you know about your audience the better. A publisher doesn’t want to hear that there’s this small group of experts who works on the same problem as you do. A publisher wants to hear that there is a bigger group of people interested in your topic – that right there would be the market for your book.

If you have a finished manuscript already, you need to define your audience and adapt your text accordingly (that’s why, at least in the Anglo-American market, a PhD thesis is not a book yet). If you only have a book idea, the audience will be crucial in defining the content, its structure, the length of the book, etc.

How does your book differ from other books on the market?
For publishers, it seems, several books on the same topic is not a problem. I’ve seen that with guidebooks on academic writing. However, whenever I propose a new book idea to my publisher, they want to know how saturated the market already is in this particular area, in order to estimate how your book will do. If there are already two-dozen books on the topic that you’re writing about, it looks different than when your book is only the second one appearing. So, usually a publisher will ask you, among other things, which books already exist on the topic and how yours will distinguish itself from those. Is it the methodological approach? Is it the theory? Is it the empirical material? Is it your new results or insights?

Having an audience that your book will target and the information about how your book differs from others, you’ll have the important parts needed for your unique selling point.

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