Five Elements That Make a Book a Success
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Location: Books & Such main office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
What makes a book a success? Today I’d like to examine with you a book that, I believe, took everyone by surprise at its success. A Top Ten bestseller on Amazon, a USA Today bestseller, and a New York Times bestseller, this nonfiction book released in January; it hit best-seller lists almost immediately.
Perhaps most surprising of all is that it is written for the core Christian market. As a matter of fact, that’s part of the secret of its success. Often we Christians believe we need to sneak the Gospel into a fetching story or make almost subliminal comments about God and faith to subtly woo readers to the Lord. But, if you’ll take note, the vast majority of Christian books that have popped up on general market best-seller lists are blatantly Christian: the Left Behind Series, The Purpose-Driven Life, Crazy Love and…
- It speaks to a significant–and recognized–need. A lot of people today are struggling through hard times. You know the list: lost their home, lost their job, lost their security, lost their American dream. Ann takes that sense of loss and turns it on its head: What if we learned to find beauty, grace and reasons to be thankful right where we are? How do we live fully where we are?
- It’s positive rather than a diatribe. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need anyone to beat me over the head about the decisions I’ve made in the past; I need someone to help me to learn to live with those decisions.
- It’s a highly personal exploration of how the author has dared herself to live fully despite a devastating accident in her childhood family; despite self-image problems; despite a suicide attempt; despite agoraphobia. And the book is a record of what happened when she took up that dare. We want to hear someone else’s story–story, I think, is key to a book being successful today–that is told in a way we can relate to it, glean hope from it, and gain instruction on how to think about our own lives. Today, we long to hear someone confess to their struggles, not to purge their consciences, but to benefit the reader. Ann doesn’t make the reader feel sullied for learning about the author’s troubled past but uplifted because of the transformation in Ann’s own life. This come-along-side approach causes the reader to feel connected to the writer. I know not only what Ann’s life consists of but also how she responds to it emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I feel that I’ve lived with Ann, that I know her past, her present, and her future hopes. She never directly addressed me, the reader. Yet she instructed me through her own discoveries.
- The writing is superb, although I think it appeals to women more than it would to men. I picked up the book while at a friend’s house. My friend was still getting ready for us to venture out for dinner; so I decided to pass the time by glancing at the one book in the living room: One Thousand Gifts, which I knew had been on best-seller lists for months. What made this book so great? I read the first page and found it breathtakingly, achingly wonderfully written. Soon I was several pages into the book and wanted to keep going. Who cared about dinner? Fortunately for my friendship with my dining companion, I had my Kindle with me and downloaded the book right then, knowing I could take a break from my reading to concentrate on my very present friend. Here’s the book’s first few lines:
“A glowing sun-orb fills an August sky the day this story begins, the day I am born, the day I begin to live. And I fill my mother’s tearing ring of fire with my body emerging, my virgin lungs searing with air of this earth and I enter the world like every person born enters this world: with clenched fists.”
From there Ann goes on to explain why those hands remained clenched for much of her young life and how, through counting God’s gifts, she opened her hands, gradually, to receive grace and to learn to life fully.
- The cover is inviting, simple, and a strong reflection of the book’s content and tone. We do judge books by their covers, all the time. And this one is a winner. Simple concept, simple lines, quick communication of the tone of the book.
Try this experiment and tell us how it goes: Examine a nonfiction book you’re currently reading (or have read recently) to see how it matches up to these five elements. It might help to rank from 1-5 which of these elements is strongest (#1) down to which is weakest (#5). And don’t worry, all you fiction fans, we’ll look at a novel tomorrow. (But it might be instructive to test that novel you’re reading with these five elements to see how it stands up.)