Thursday, September 8, 2011

What makes a best-seller? by Terry Burns

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.


Rick Barry said...

A similar phenomenon seems to happen in the music and movie industries. If it were simple to encapsulate the formula for producing a top hit song (gold & platinum albums), then all musicians would be doing it. Movies, too, sometimes strike just the right sentiments with the public that they become unexpected box office sensations (for instance, High School Musical). If there's a sure-fire formula for stellar success, then it remains elusive and impossible to reproduce from a template. However, it's a sure bet that those who don't get out there and produce something will never experience this kind of success.

Thanks for some interesting thoughts on the subject, Terry!

Phyllis Wheeler said...

I think that Stephenie Meyer posted comments on a zillion blogs to garner attention for Twilight, at the beginning.

For e-books, perhaps it helps to price it low to start with, so people are willing to experiment and read a book from an unknown author.

I'm sure endorsements from known authors help a lot too.

Martha Ramirez said...

Very interesting post. Thank you, Terry!

Loved this: If God wants it to happen, it will, as long as we do what He needs us to do in the process.

Author Jennifer Hudson Taylor said...

Great post, Terry! I'm of the opinion that there is definitely no magic formula for a best seller. However, I do believe that if a publisher decides to get behind an author and market it like crazy, it has a better chance of happening.

For instance, Nicholas Sparks got a $1 million dollar advance on his first big fiction novel. With that kind of advance, they promoted the heck out of it. If he had gotten a $3,000 - $10,000 advance with the same marketing that the rest of us get, half the people that know about him today wouldn't know about him today, nor do I believe he'd have the movie deals he has since gotten. His publisher got behind him, and I think it made him the household name he's become. I've read his books, they are modern day love story tragedies and I've read just as many books that are just as good, but don't sell near as many copies or get as much hype and attention.

Also, while it may not make a best seller, I think that whatever an author can do on his/her own to promote their book, the effort will increase sales and awareness.