We recently came across a post by business author and self-pub coach, Heidi Thorne, about low content books, which is a topic we hadn't previously explored on the blog. So we asked Heidi if she would be our guest and explain what they were and how authors can benefit from these adjunct products to your regular output.
What if I told you that you could publish a book of 10,000 words or less that your readers might actually want to buy? No, I’m not talking about chapbooks, poetry, novellas, or other short works. Low content books can offer your readers high value, in spite of their low word count. I’ll bet you’re already intrigued.
What Is a Low Content Book?
Low content books encourage readers to do something, whether that be playing a game, doing some activity right in the book, or just thinking about something in a new way. You’ve probably experienced or enjoyed low content books without even realizing what they were. Here are some examples:
—Crossword puzzles and word search
—Collections of quotes or snippets from a larger work, e.g., “The Wisdom of [your book’s title or the name of a character from your book]”
The Two Basic Types of Low Content Books
When you consider adding low content books to your repertoire, you need to decide on how they will align with the rest of your titles and goals. There are two basic paths: companion and standalone.
Companion works relate to the rest of your catalog of book titles. To illustrate a scenario for fiction, J.K. Rowling could create a guided journal or puzzle book based on her Harry Potter series and characters. For a nonfiction scenario, a book on small business marketing and sales could create a workbook to help readers apply the principles presented in the main title.
These books expand on and support the main titles. Book series are especially suited for companion low content books. They can serve as bridge works to help maintain an income stream and an engaged audience until the next book in the series is published. Therefore, the marketing of companion works is done to the same audience as for the main title. They are already fans of the main work.
The downside of companion books is that they are dependent on the success of the main title. If there’s no interest in the main title, there won’t be interest in the companion book either. Additionally, the companion book usually cannot stand on its own as a product. Readers picking up the companion book may be totally confused as to what it is all about.
Standalone low content books can be picked up and consumed by any appropriate reader. They are not dependent on the other books you’ve done. However, it's best if the low content books you create align with your other works in terms of genre, topic, or audience. This avoids having to build a completely new audience for every low content book you publish.
It’s entirely possible, too, to become known for a certain type of low content book. For example, you may become known for creating crossword puzzles geared for a specialty topic. You wouldn’t even need to have done any other books of any type.
I’ve created two standalone low content books. One was 101 Business Writing Prompts, and the title tells you exactly what’s inside. The other book was Looking Questions: 31 Questions that Can Change Your Business and Your Life, which was more of a thought journal. Of the two, the 101 Business Writing Prompts was more successful. It’s not that the Looking Questions book was bad since a number of people told me they found it very helpful. It’s just that I’m not known for writing “life coach” type works. I’m known for my blog, podcast, and books on publishing and business issues. Example of why to stay in your genre lane when it comes to creating low content books.
Set Realistic Sales & Marketing Expectations
The nature of the low content book, and the prices of competing similar books, will be the deciding factors. For example, a workbook based on a nonfiction book may be more expensive than the main title it’s based on because of a higher cost to produce.
Sales and Marketing Issues
As noted earlier, a companion low content book’s appeal depends on the main title. It’s unlikely that a reader will pick up the companion book and then want to purchase the main title. It could happen, of course. But without the context of the main title, the companion book is at a sales disadvantage. So don’t expect sales of a companion low content book to be any greater than its main title.
Because standalone low content books don’t have the challenge of being tied to a main title, sales opportunities are greater.
Regardless of whether you do a companion or standalone low content book, it will require marketing, including advertising and social media. As with all self-published books, the larger your author fan base, the greater the potential for sales with less effort and expense.
Build Your Author Brand & Avoid Over-Extension
Regularly publishing new material for fans can help build your brand and sales. It offers you something new to promote other than hammering away at the same book over and over again.
Because self-published authors are also entrepreneurs, they can easily get bit by wanting to pursue too many opportunities—like too many low content books—that may not be in their best interest. Low content does not mean low production or development! In some cases, it could require an equal or greater investment of time, effort, and talent to create one.
Plus, the better you know your fan base, the better you’ll be able to evaluate whether a particular type of low content book would be right for them. Realize, too, that only your most diehard fans will want every single book you publish. Offering more than one or two low content books within a short period of time, say a year, may brand you as too sales-y for some readers.
Treat your low content book as you would any other self-published project. Evaluate the profit, royalty, and sales potential before investing in them. Don’t get carried away with custom production (custom printing that’s not print on demand, designers, etc.) that can cost thousands which you’ll not be able to recoup from sales. That defeats the purpose of providing a new product in the gaps between your main title books.
What Do You Need to Create Low Content Books?
Special skills and experience may be required to properly develop the activities in your low content book so that they are user-friendly and relevant.
This is particularly the case for workbooks. Though not a requirement, if you have teaching or training experience, you have a distinct advantage here. Similarly, if you have no experience with doing crossword puzzles, word search, or journaling, you’re going to have a difficult time creating a user-friendly book.
Software and Tools
Standard word processing software (Microsoft Word) is usually all that’s required to create guided journals, workbooks, and quote books. I created both of my books in Word. Be careful with write-in lines. Always get a physical proof of the printed book to make sure these lines don’t get cut off or cause other formatting errors.
For crossword puzzles and word search, there are online generators for these activities. A Google search will bring up a number of them. Caution! Make sure that the puzzle generator you use allows you to commercially publish the puzzles you create. Carefully read the Terms of Service to make sure you can.
Coloring books were hot for a hot minute. Then they cooled off a bit, but can still sell. If appropriate for your audience, you’ll need to create or license clean, usually vector-based (such as Adobe Illustrator .eps files) artwork. Do not swipe graphics off the internet or use “free” stock art sites due to copyright violation risks! Officially license art files from reputable stock art sites that provide clear terms on using art for commercially published coloring books. Not sure? Consult an attorney.
Note also that on the popular Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) self-publishing platform, you’re only allowed to offer puzzle or coloring books in print. No Kindle eBooks puzzle or coloring books! Check the Terms of Service to clarify any electronic edition restrictions for your self-publishing platform.
Speaking of print versus eBook low content books, I’ve been surprised that I’ve sold about as many Kindle eBook editions of my writing prompt book as for print. So it’s possible, just not for puzzles or coloring books, as mentioned earlier. And for obvious reasons for the Kindle edition, remove any write-in lines.
Are Low Content Books Right for You?
I hope this post has got you thinking about some new possibilities for your self-publishing adventures. Just make sure it makes sense for both your budget and your audience.
Dr. Heidi Thorne, MBA/DBA, is an author and editor of business nonfiction. Her podcast, The Heidi Thorne Show, discusses self-publishing issues and is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Podbean, and YouTube. For more information on Heidi, her books and services, visit Heidi Thorne.com.
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