Is Your Self Published Book Too Original?
I’ve received comments from authors who are concerned about people stealing their book “ideas.” Others have expressed concern about getting their self published books out into the marketplace before someone else with the same "original" idea gets there first. But having a book idea that's too original isn't a good thing either.
Your Book “Idea” Cannot Be Protected
Let's get a few things straight about book ideas and your ownership of them.
That book idea you have is not protectable while it’s in your head. Under United States’ copyright law, “ideas” cannot be protected; only the fixed form of the idea can. “Fixed form” means that it is in a physical form, either literally physical (e.g., written or typed on paper, printed in a book, sculpture, painting) or electronic (e.g., a Microsoft Word document, online video, eBook, audio file). This philosophy makes sense logically since lots of people have ideas, but very few actually implement them. And imagine what it would mean to enforce protection of ideas that may just be in people’s heads!
Therefore, under United States’ copyright law, your work is technically copyrighted from the moment it is expressed in physical fixed form. For those who wish additional protection, the work can be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office for a fee. This would be helpful in the event of claims for copyright infringement. If you’re not in the United States, check for applicable copyright laws in your country or region.
Since “ideas” cannot be protected, there is some justification to getting the idea into a fixed form and into the market as soon as possible. But let’s revisit that concern about getting your book idea to the market before someone else does. That’s very telling. If you think you need to get to the market first with your “original” idea, that means you believe others have the same idea. So then is it really original?
Your Book Idea May Not Be That Original
Chances are your book idea isn’t that original. It’s just a variation, interpretation, or explanation of an existing story or topic.
In his 2004 book, The Seven Basic Plots, author Christopher Booker posits that there are only seven basic plots when it comes to stories. Where the originality comes in is in the setting, characters, and details you bring to that story arc.
When it comes to nonfiction, the number of topics is vast. However, there are really only a few “plots” in this arena, too: historical account, opinion, critique, how-to, research, analysis, and showcasing (e.g., photo or art books). Let’s take cookbooks as a perfect how-to example. There are probably thousands of ways to make chocolate chip cookies. But they all create a cookie that has chocolate chips in it.
So readers are not going to automatically be clamoring for your “original” work because there are probably already thousands of others out there to choose from. But that’s not really a bad thing.
Is Your Book Idea Too Original? The Unicorns and “No Shoes” Problems
As I discussed in my book, Small Business Failures Solopreneurs and Self-Employed Consultants Need to Avoid, products and services that are too original have the American Pickers or Pawn Stars reality show problem. Sellers on these shows who want to sell a one-of-a-kind “unicorn” item to the shows’ hosts believe that the scarcity of it means it’s worth lots of money. Nothing could be farther from the truth!
As the hosts often have to explain to these sellers, there may be no demand for the item and it will be difficult to resell it. No one knows exactly how to value it because there’s nothing to compare it to. Buyers may be hesitant to buy it because they don’t know if they’re paying too much for something that may have little or no value.
Relating this situation to self publishing, if there are no books even remotely like yours on the market, it might be because there’s no real demand for it. So when evaluating book ideas, do your research on Amazon to see what else is for sale in your niche genre or topic. Your goal is to create a book that can be easily positioned within an established genre or niche, but whose unique value is obvious when compared to other works on the market.
Ideally the book’s genre or niche should have many other books in it, making it more likely that a market demand exists for it. In assessing market demand for your type of book, check reviews for similar books in your niche. If no or very few current books like yours exist, you might be marketing a unicorn. Buyers for your book will be as rare as unicorns, too.
One of my books fell into the unicorn situation. Fortunately, it is still selling many years later. The niche I address is extremely small and there were very few books dedicated exclusively to this topic. I think there are less than 10 or so books of a similar nature even now. So while I’m providing a go-to book for the topic, the market demand for it is minuscule.
“But I’ll create a new market niche!”
No, you won’t.
What unicorn books suffer from is the “no shoes” problem. Some sales training I listened to many years ago (I think it was from sales guru Brian Tracy) told the story about two salespeople who were tasked with selling shoes to a new territory. The first salesperson reported that there was no market demand because no one wore shoes in that territory. The optimistic second salesperson reported that vast opportunity existed because no one wore shoes. The point that was trying to be made is that you should be like the second salesperson and always be optimistic about opportunity. But that’s not really true because the investment it takes to convert a disinterested non-user market is immense. It can take years to educate the market, and it ultimately may be unsuccessful.
Assess the demand before you assess the opportunity.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2020 Heidi Thorne