Tag Archives: Publishing

What makes a book successful?

Yesterday I was having lunch with one of my oldest clients who has also become a very good friend. We were talking about how publishing a book has always been very difficult and why every aspiring author needs to build his or her own brand as well as his or her own platform to build an audience. He casually asked, “Exactly what makes a book successful?”

Frankly it is a difficult question, because there is no magic formula. Why was 50 Shades of Grey a raging success despite the fact that 80 percent of the readers of the book have acknowledged that they never actually finished reading it? Even the erotica is not that great. So why?

You can pinpoint some reasons that are quite conventional in their logic. For instance the author of 50 Shades of Grey perhaps published his entire book in the form of blog posts before the book was actually published using the traditional publishing medium – hardcover and paperback (I might be wrong but I have read about this at many places). The author had already built up an audience that was quite eager to read the book. This is where she must have gotten the initial thrust that proved to be quite crucial for the success of the book. After that it was all perhaps word-of-mouth. Soon it became a social thing to claim that I’m reading “50 Shades of Grey”, especially among certain female groups. It is this initial thrust the writer who isn’t successful, is lacking.

Is it always the writing? In most of the cases, yes, but as we have seen in the case of 50 Shades of Grey, it doesn’t always have to be like that. The book should offer what the reader is looking for. Whether it is fantasy, intrigue, horror, romance or some non-fiction topic that teaches you something, the reader must feel that he or she is not simply wasting money and time by investing in the book. People read books for entertainment as well as learning. If your book provides that it is surely to succeed.

In many cases the name also matters. There are many celebrities who write books (well, most of these books are not written by them but by ghostwriters) because they know that the books will sell. Quality still matters. If the book is total crap, only the first few will buy it and then the sales as well as the readership will taper. So even if it is ghostwritten, it needs to be a good read, but it doesn’t have to be exceptional. People will read it for the sheer pleasure of reading their favorite celebrity.

So how does a writer who is neither a celebrity nor a renowned person make sure that his or her book becomes successful? Again, there is no secret formula. Assuming your writing is worth reading, try to become as known as possible. As Gay Kawasaki and Shawn Welch have written in their book APE — Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: publish on your own if you can and then build a platform for yourself so that you can maximize your expense and effort on traditional marketing. They say that although, for the contemporary writer, publishing is quite easy, the toughest part is selling it. That is why aside from being a writer, you always have to be a publisher and an entrepreneur who can sell his or her book as a business product.

Building a platform is not as easy as these two authors – who are already well established on the web – claim, but it is certainly achievable provided you give yourself enough time. Build it gradually. Publish a blog. Interact with people on social networking websites. Participate in writing contests. Write for local newspapers and magazines. The basic idea is, more and more people should be aware of your existence, preferably, as a writer.

Glorifying 47 rejections and why it is all right

Here is a New York Times article that encourages you to go on writing no matter how many times you face rejection from traditional publishers. Then it gives you an example of a writer whose novel was rejected 47 times and once it was published, it was included in the “Booker Long List”.

Donal Ryan, a civil servant from Limerick, Ireland, wrote two novels. He sent them to agents and publishers and got back 47 rejections over three years. Finally an intern at Lilliput Press in Dublin fished “The Thing About December” out of the slush pile. Around the same time, an editor at Doubleday Ireland took interest in “The Spinning Heart.” Suddenly Mr. Ryan had a two-book deal, and from there his fortunes only improved. The Booker Foundation announced last week that “The Spinning Heart” had made the cut for the Man Booker Prize long list.

I totally agree and disagree with the underlying premise of the article: Yes, you should go on writing no matter how many rejections you face and if you want to succeed as a writer, there is no alternative to relentless striving. Nobody doubts that.

But then it says that you totally have to depend upon the whims of the publishing houses. It doesn’t just say that, it actually romanticizes this state of affairs:

These stories hearten struggling writers and everyone else who struggles too. They allow us to believe that our luck could change at any moment; that if we persevere beyond the point of reason and perhaps good taste, we may finally succeed.

The article also shows its bias towards self-publishing:

These stories, finally, tell us that a healthy book industry is a diverse one, in which it’s possible for a talented author to knock on several doors before resorting to self-publishing. The more gatekeepers, the better the odds for the next Donal Ryan.

Self-publishing, whether you go for the conventional, hardcover or paperback, or digital publishing, empowers the writers. Publishing no longer lurks in the realms of vicissitudes. If you have a ready novel or a ready book, you can get published within a couple of weeks or months, and if you want to publish your book digitally, you can publish it within hours. What is wrong in that? Who cares if most of it is below par? Besides, who decides what is below par?

As publishing becomes more and more accessible and, more importantly, affordable, writers of all hues and flavors are going to publish themselves without much hindrance. The same thing happened when the printing press was invented and improvised. Suddenly printing and reading became affordable. Great classics were published, and so was lots of pornography.

What about rejections? Don’t they make you strive harder? They do, but they can also kill your spirit. And if they say that you probably don’t have a writing spirit if it can be killed by rejections, this is all rubbish. If there is some tool available that can help you save time so that you can fully focus on your craft, what’s wrong in that? Why do you have to make it a matter of blood and sweat in order to be a writing genius? Less than 1% of the books being written all over the world actually get to be published. Isn’t it a great waste of talent and hard work?

On the other hand, if you can self publish, even if your book doesn’t do well, at least you know that people didn’t like it because maybe, you didn’t put much effort. Without being published, how can you ever find that out?