How Do We Create a Bestseller?
Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Who hasn’t picked up a New York Times bestselling book and thought, “Why is this book—or this author—a bestseller? If you are a writer your next thought might come out sounding a little whiney, “My book is so much better than that one.” Maybe, but your book only netted 7,000 lifetime sales to the 240,000 copies sold the first week by the bestselling author.
So why does one book take off and another languish?
I could make this the shortest post in the history of our blog by answering with a two-word answer: Nobody knows.
Those of us in the publishing industry are constantly giving writers advice:
- Write a high concept book.
- Work hard on promoting your book.
- Get great endorsements.
- Choose a compelling subject.
- Craft an excellent book.
- Spend time networking through social media.
- Enlist your friends and readers to talk about the book.
- Be available to book clubs.
- Visit bookstores.
- Sponsor contests.
And it’s not just the author leveraging all his influence to make the book a success, the publishers are busy working like crazy to do the things that make a book sell:
- Edit and copyedit the book until it is a thing of beauty.
- Create a breathtaking cover.
- Write the kind of cover copy that will make readers take the book to the counter or click it into the shopping cart.
- Get the book into reviewers’ hands.
- Arrange for media.
- Do as much with advertising as the budget will allow.
- Get catalogs featuring the book into the hands of every buyer or decision maker.
- Contact groups or ministries that may want to buy multiple copies of the book.
- Work with libraries and special markets.
- Get the sales team on the road, having them stop into small towns and big cities, hand selling your book to buyers.
- Take the book to all the trade shows.
We could go on and on. That’s just a small fraction of what is done in support of a book. And guess what? Some good books do well, some good books do moderately well, some good books flounder and some good books utterly fail to find an audience. And once in a while a good book (and sometimes a not-so-good book) will shatter all expectations and become a bestseller.
In an archived New York Times article, “The Greatest Mystery: Making a Best Seller,” (May 15, 2007) William Strachan editor in chief at Carroll & Graf Publishers summed it up like this, “It’s an accidental profession, most of the time,” he said, “If you had the key, you’d be very wealthy. Nobody has the key.”
Think of the last bestselling book you read. How did you hear about it? Why did you buy it? What do you think it was it that made the book a success?