I’ve heard this discussed a lot and it is hard to say... a major effort? Luck?
It’s just my opinion on the subject, but I think there are several major paths to a book becoming a best-seller:
First: The most common path is the book is by a previous best-selling author. There is a huge readership base built up and the author really has to drop the ball for the book to FAIL to achieve best-seller status. In addition, based on the track record of the previous books the publishing house throws major advertising, promotion, and the full distribution and placement support behind the title. Occasionally a book fails to live up to this promise and in spite of the publisher support does not get the job done.
Second: An author, maybe regardless of the strength of the writing, has so much name recognition and such a huge platform that the book has major potential. Presidents, politicians, major sports figures, and other celebrities would fill the bill on this. Once again, based on this potential, the publishing house throws major advertising, promotion, and the full distribution and placement support behind the title. Once again this does not always work and sometimes in spite of the huge name identification the public does not respond in the necessary numbers.
Third: A publisher can decide when they acquire a book that it is going to be a best-seller. The editor that acquires it goes into committee and convinces the PR people, the marketing people, and the company leadership that the book has the potential to do it. Even though it is a debut author that does not have a large platform, the publishing house decides the book justifies it and puts major advertising, promotion, and the full distribution and placement support behind the title. Yet again in spite of the faith and confidence of the publisher this does not always work.
Fourth: Even if the publisher has not pegged the title as a potential bestseller and the author does not have name identification, the author themselves may generate so much word-of-mouth publicity, or buzz, and may on their own pursue so many avenues of publicity and promotion that the book begins to produce much better than anybody thought. Even if a publisher has not planned major support for a title, they will respond when a book starts to attract notice and will begin to match or exceed author efforts. There generally isn’t a large number of authors that achieve this but it can work, and again ends up with the publisher putting advertising, promotion, distribution and placement behind the title. On occasion a book starts producing so strongly in a small house that a major house comes into the situation, taking the efforts to a whole new level. That’s what happened with ‘The Shack.’
So, is it luck? Yes, I’d have to say some luck might be involved.
For Christian authors is it something ordained by God and beyond our control? No. Ordained by God, yes, but the Lord works through people and it is possible that we fail to do what He wants us to do in order to achieve His purposes. How often we fall short of what the Lord wants us to do. If God wants it to happen, it will, as long as we do what He needs us to do in the process.
Do publishers decide what books will be bestsellers or not? That one is both yes and no. If I am correct in my assumptions above, it is very difficult to reach best-seller status without a publisher that believes in the book and throws their support behind it. But we also see whether they decided it was a possibility up front or came to give that support later that it did not always guarantee success.
But how about these books that go straight to ebook and go viral – achieve best-selling status with no publisher involved at all? I’d have to say these comments are about traditional print books reaching that elusive status. I’d have to address doing it in ebooks in a separate blog – as soon as I come to understand what really causes one of the titles to stand out that strongly there.