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Jennifer Basye Sander on Finding Your Publishing Niche

Making Good Books Requires Making Good Business Decisions
Jennifer Basye Sander is a creator of books, and, she is very good at it, having created successful book products since 1983, when she published her first, The Sacramento Women’s Yellow Pages. Since that day she has worked in all aspects of the book publishing business, everything from book retailing to book publicity, from authoring books herself to acquiring them for a general trade publisher.

Jennifer prides herself in creating books that sell -- the books she’s developed have achieved in excess of thirty million dollars in retail sales. As the senior editor and chief book developer for Prima Publishing (a recently dissolved division of Random House) she developed well over forty new titles. She is also the author, co-author, or ghostwriter of more than twenty books herself.

Two of her most successful book ideas at Prima were the “Cozy Series” of gift-sized cookbooks (over 500,000 copies in print) and the “101 Home Based Businesses for Women” series (over 300,000 copies in print). Since starting her own book development company, Big City Books Group, her bestselling most successful creation is the “Miracle Books” series for William Morrow, a New York Times bestselling series which has five titles, combined sales of over 250,000, and a television movie sale.

“As a book developer at Prima, I spotted a need in the marketplace for a book on a topic, hired a writer, and then supervised the completion of the manuscript. That’s similar to the model of a smaller, more entrepreneurial publisher who understands their niche market. But with all the corporate personnel changes at Random House, you never knew what to expect and we were looking over our shoulders all the time. It was an interesting chapter in my career, if only to get a glimpse of that world, but I’m more comfortable back in the entrepreneurial mode. Starting my own company doesn’t seem like a very big risk.

“I would submit that the very successful independent publishers -- Ten Speed Press and Chronicle Books, to mention a couple of my California neighbors – have been much more stable than the corporate giants, because they understand their markets and are much closer to their audiences. They pay modest advances and don’t need to place big bets.”

Jennifer and her books have been featured on “The View” with Barbara Walters, “American Journal,” “C-Span’s Book TV,” “Fox and Friends,” and “It’s a Miracle.” Articles about Jennifer have appeared in USA Today, New York Newsday, Cosmopolitan magazine, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee, and many other magazines, newspapers, and television shows. She speaks regularly on the topics of writing and publishing, small business, and personal finance, and has appeared twice with Mark Victor Hansen of Chicken Soup fame in to give her talk “How to Sell a Book a Year for the Rest of Your Career.”

A graduate of Mills College in Oakland, California, Jennifer has also attended professional publishing programs at Stanford University and the University of Chicago. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), PEN USA, Toastmasters International (ATM-Silver level), and serves on the board of governors of the Sacramento Philharmonic.

Jennifer and her husband Peter Sander now own and operate Big City Books Group, a book packaging company specializing in niche books. A recent project with Entrepreneur Press, Niche and Grow Rich: How to Turn a Unique Idea into a Fortune, explores strategies for identifying viable niche markets and developing businesses to serve those markets. With today’s changing economy, many Americans are being “restructured” out of their corporate jobs, and some feel that their only hope is to launch a business of their own. And not a few of them are choosing freelance writing and independent publishing! Nancy Hendrickson, author of Secrets of a Successful Freelancer agrees. “Right now, publishing companies are producing more and more specialized publications to satisfy different interest groups. I learned long ago that editors are more comfortable working with you if they feel you are highly skilled and informed in their particular niche.”

 Hendrickson gives these examples of current trends that could lead to successful writing and publishing ventures:

* Baby Boomers want to learn how to live longer
* Young guys want to know how to be date-savvy
* Collectors want to know the value of their 1964 Duncan yo-yo
* New moms want to know how to raise bright, happy kids
* Gen X'ers want tips on investing their 401-Ks

“Why wouldn’t you try to serve a smaller group of people that isn’t already served by a conglomerate?” asks Basye Sander. “In the big battlefield of business, you don’t have to win whole war at once -- you just have to take a few hills.”

“One of the keys to finding a good niche is being an eavesdropper. You really have to be a good listener to be a successful entrepreneur. Listen in to what people are talking about and thinking about. You never know when you’re going to stumble onto an underserved market.”

Her thoughts on some currently underserved, potential niches? “Working moms will continue to be as profitable niche, along will any working parents who need help keeping their lives running smoothly!  The aging/active population will also develop more and more as a profitable niche.”

Once you’ve determined the niche market you’d like to write and publish for, the next step is “finding a subject that everyone in the target market wants to know more about,” according to Gordon Burgett, author of Publishing to Niche Markets. Burgett suggests:

* Ask those in the market precisely what they desperately want or need to know more about.
* See what market-related needs or problems are mentioned in recent, appropriate professional/trade journals, general magazines or webzines.
* Check newspaper indexes to see what is new, changing, or projected for the future of the target market and about which information will be critically needed.
* See what already exists (or soon will) among the books directed to your market, to see what is needed, what should be updated, and what must be redone. Be sure to check updated copies of R.R.Bowker’s Subject Guide to Books in Print and Forthcoming Books for the latest releases.

“Remember, you are not alone in your dreams,” says Bayse Sander. “Every business giant, from Ray Kroc of McDonald’s to Howard Schulz of Starbucks, was once in your same position. They too had a dream, and they researched, planned, and began to take small step after small step to turn that dream into a solid business reality.”

“People say there are no new opportunities out there, but I believe there are enormous niche markets still to be discovered.”