Monday, February 21, 2011

The Lazy Writer's Guide to Commercial Success

I was lucky to talk Laura Baumbach into guest hosting this coming Saturday. I'm constantly amazed and inspired by Laura's energy, imagination, intelligence, and instinct for public relations. It's hard work. Many writers would rather skip that part. So even though I chose this topic, I'm going to talk about how you can effortlessly find a huge audience in three easy steps.

#3 It should go without saying, but first, you must write a book. Not just any book. A damn fine book. By that, I don't mean a literary masterpiece, because, frankly, if it weren't for assigned reading, most people won't touch a literary masterpiece. No, what you're aiming for here is a real page-turner, a ripping yarn. You know - something people enjoy reading rather than bracing themselves for like it's a bitter tonic. Think 'Harry Potter.' Of course, the critics are going to crucify you. We all know that the cardinal sin of writers is earning a living from your craft, but the close second is writing a story that people who don't usually read will buy and devour from cover to cover. So you can think of these three steps as the road to eternal artistic damnation. But at least your path there will be paved, maybe even in gold.

#2 Be extraordinarily lucky. I can't emphasize this step enough. If you're not willing to work for your success, you better have lotto winning level luck. Mega-millions lotto winning luck.

#1 Get your book into the hands of one of those readers who turns to strangers and says, "I just read this wonderful book. You should too. Let me write down the title and author's name for you so that you don't forget it." Hand selling, AKA reader recommendations, are the true driver behind sales. Out of the goodness of their hearts, and the desire to share a good experience with others, these people have the ability to push one book among millions into that one in a million category. However, you may need several thousand of those kinds of fans to put you on a best seller list. This is where step #2 comes in handy. You did remember to have extraordinary luck didn't you? *sigh* In that case, maybe you should try your hand at a little PR. Laura, and the rest of the Oh Get a Grip crew, will be along with tips shortly.

8 comments:

  1. hi Kathleen!

    I think these three points are well taken. I was reading an interview with Deepak Chopra and he was talking about how he made his first best seller. No publisher wanted it so he self published. One person read it but she liked it and got the book store owner to put it in the window, where an agent saw it and read it and took him on as a client and his career began to take off. The HBO "True Blood" series began Alan ball was waiting for a plane and wanted something to read an picked up a copy of "Dead Before Dark" by Charlaine Harris and thought it could be a series. So that's luck and hard work together. But the third one, getting your book into the hands of readers, I think that will be made harder actually by ebooks. One of the disadvantages of eBooks is the DRM copyright built into them that prevents you from passing them from computer to computer. So if you buy a book for your Kindle and you love it - you can;t give it to anybody! And also there is still no way to have a "used" ebook store.

    Garce

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  2. Garce - trust me, no one has trouble passing ebooks back and forth. Just look at the huge piracy problem we have.

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  3. Gawd I HOPE people pirate my books. God knows they don;t buy many of them . . . I'll take what I can get.

    GArce

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  4. Hi Kathleen,

    You're so right about the luck part of your equation. It helps tremendously.

    Garce, if you were close enough, I'd slap you. Trust me, you don't want the pirates to find you. I've had many of my books listed on the big pirate sites and I would guess I've lost thousands of dollars. I've actually heard of one very well known author who was asked by her publisher not to write the sequel to her book because the pirates were taking too large a chunk of the profits.

    Hugs

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  5. Jude, I wrote that in a moment of peevishness and as soon as I hit the send button I thought "Aw shit - I did it again . . ." Anyway. If you think you;ve lost thousands of dollars, god bless you Jude, you're a better writer than me.

    Garce

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  6. Jude - even when we work hard to promote, luck helps. The CEO of Macy's department store once said, "Half of all advertising is wasted, I just wish I knew which half." I think 70% of self promotion is wasted, but like Macy, I have no idea which part works.

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  7. Yes, luck and probability play a huge part in success. And unfortunately, as the number of books and authors explodes, due to the ease and cheapness of epublishing, the odds of being noticed get smaller and smaller.

    But you can't let that discourage you. I do think that patience is important. It takes time to build a readership. Or as Carol Lynne told me once, she built her success one reader at a time.

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  8. LIsabet - I don't get discouraged, because my definition of success isn't commercial. And yes, I dabble in PR for my work, but not a real effort. However, if commercial success were my goal, I know that I could probably achieve it. I rarely fail at things I desperately want.

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