It used to be that great marketing was the difference that made a good book a bestseller. As a publisher, all you had to do was demand sufficient shelf space in the bookstore, get your author on some big-time media shows, and then spam the target audience with advertising messages until they succumbed and bought the book.
In the old world, if the book succeeded, it was because it was an obviously brilliant book. If it failed, it was because the publisher didn’t spend enough on marketing.
But those days or over. Good is no longer good enough.
Because readers have millions of options—literally. Over one million new books are published every year. That doesn’t include all the books that have already in print and sitting on bookstore shelves.
Suddenly, the publishing world has become very crowded and terribly noisy.
Yes, it helps when the author is highly visible. It helps when you have an arresting book cover. It also helps when you score a major media hit. But great marketing only makes a mediocre book fail faster.
Because of word-of-mouth. In the age of Twitter and Facebook, everyone has a megaphone. The voice of ordinary citizens is amplified. If they don’t like your book, your movie, or your art, they are not afraid to say so. Bad news travels faster than ever before.
But good news also travels fast. Apple spends less on marketing as a percentage-of-revenue than any other consumer electronics company. They don’t have to spend more, because the remarkable products they produce are the marketing. People are willing to spend hours in line on launch day just to get their hands on them. Their customers are their sales force.
This is also why authors like Ron Hall and Denver Moore, Eric Metaxas, and Sarah Young—authors you probably have never heard of—are selling more books than many of the tried and true authors of yesteryear. Just sample their books, and you’ll see why. They are truly remarkable.
So what can you do as an author to have a shot at the bestsellers list? I suggest three things:
- Start with a compelling topic or story. This will win over great writing every time. I am not saying it’s either/or. It should be both/and. But if you don’t have the right idea, no amount of polish will save it.
- Write the best book you can. Don’t “phone it in.” Don’t settle for mediocrity. Push yourself. Above all, listen to your editor. It’s better to stumble before an audience-of-one than fall flat on your face in front of a crowd.
- Build your social media network now. I have seen some authors try to do this when the book launches. Forget it. You build a loyal audience over time: one post, one tweet, one status update at a time. You have to build it before you need it.
Once you’ve done these things, you’re in a great position to demand that your publisher step up to the plate and partner with you. Until you’ve done these things, you’ll never get the marketing push you think you deserve.