Authors want their books to sell, to be critically praised, to influence lives, and to have their writings live beyond the author’s existence. So how do authors do it, where they break through, sustain success, and lay the foundation for establishing their legacy?
There are so many reasons why one author becomes a best-seller while one languishes in the swimming pool of mediocrity. There’s no exact formula for becoming a very successful writer, but there are at least the following 15 factors that I believe help determine a writer’s potential to break through:
1. Talent and writing ability. At a minimum, you need to be a very good writer. That alone won’t get you too far, but without that, you won’t last.
2. Who publishes you can make a difference. Some authors have great success with self-publishing, but the majority of authors first establish themselves with a traditional publisher. Such a publisher sells foreign rights, earns you cache and respect, delivers better distribution, and helps shape and package your work.
3. Timing plays a key role. If your book is published at a time where people begin to appreciate your topic or style, you have a better chance of catching on. Further, you need good timing with the execution of your marketing and PR – do things way in advance of publication.
4. Subject is important. Are you writing about something that people understand, embrace, or care about?
5.The cover and title, if provocative, can help sell books and get people to pick you up. It’s what’s in between the covers that counts the most, but don’t dismiss the notion that people “judge a book by its cover.”
6.Money plays a vital role. Do you have the funds to promote, market, and advertise your book? Does money afford you the luxury of time to really write a great book? Does money help in terms of the book’s packaging?
7. Luck. You can’t plan on it and can’t just make it happen, but the more active, creative, and risk-taking you are, the more likely you’ll be able to get lucky.
8.Opportunity. When something presents itself, you need to know how to capitalize on it. Someone won’t just offer you something – you have to seize a resource or a moment when you see it.
9. Your personality. Some shy writers and recluses can still make a mark on the literary world, but often a strong, outgoing, even enigmatic, humorous, quirky, or controversial personality will get people’s attention. At least be likeable, if not downright eccentric and weird. People remember oddballs and things that stick out.
10. You need to be part of a group or movement, or in a position of authority. For example, lesbians, Jews, union workers and others come from small but powerful groups. Find something to align with.
11. Lean on your sphere of influence. Maybe the people you know, work with, or network with can help you expand your circle of reach.
12. You need to influence other influencers, people who have big mouths.
13. You need a champion, someone who will tirelessly, selflessly, and consistently push you on to others. Maybe you connect with someone famous or someone from the media, or maybe it’s someone who is not so well known but aggressively takes every opportunity to act as your business card.
14. You need a mentor, someone who can push you and show you how to excel.
15. You need someone to make your book mandatory reading at a school.
16. You need to apply for and win awards and gain peer recognition. You may even want to sponsor an award of your own.
17. Get your book turned into a play, movie, or TV show. Books can live longer when the story is told through another medium.
18. Heavily advertise the book, not just to generate sales, but to brand your name into the subconsciousness of people.
19. Write for a big enough target demographic, otherwise the best you can hope for is to capture a significant portion of a small-sized fan base.
20. Write more than one book. Great writers don’t just publish one book, and often the first book is not their masterpiece. You need a varied, sustained body of work to capture readers and build up a core of frenzied fans.
21. Connect yourself to something or someone memorable, even something negative. Some writers are remembered for being involved in tragedy, revolutions, politics, murder, addiction, etc. I’m not saying you should kill someone, but seek to be associated with powerful moments (times and places that aren’t forgotten).
22. Write about something, some place, sor ome person that is already popular and known, but do so in a way that has a twist.
23. Marketing is vital. From securing speaking gigs, appearing at events, to direct mailings, whom you try to reach out to with calls and e-mails will make a difference.
24. PR and social media are crucial. Your PR campaign needs as many journalists, TV shows, radio programs, and Web sites to cover you in as big a way as possible. Further, the social media that you create (YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blog) and participate in as a guest, will impact how far you can have your message taken to the masses.
25. The theme of your message needs to be significant and touch a nerve. Are you commenting on society, politics, sex, or some other powerful industry, lifestyle or historically significant policy, event, place, or person?
The bigger question: How does one establish a legacy? That depends first on one’s ability to make a name for themselves in their lifetime. A legacy is usually built on some of the following criteria:
How many people read your writings
How people reacted to them – critical praise, copying your style, commenting on you in social discourse, people pointing to your work as having influenced their ideas, actions or works
Having a large enough body of work
Remaining in print after your death
Getting new generations interested in your works
Having your name appear in other books, on awards, on streets or buildings
Establishing a foundation or charity or a school
Maybe you’ll rewrite the way one gets their work read on a large and significant scale. Perhaps you’ll produce bestseller after bestseller. You could end up being mentioned with the all-time greats. But if you’re not, it’s ok. Just write the best possible book, over and over and over. Help get your work discovered – and then let the people determine your legacy.
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2013
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