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.