I thought that today’s blog post should tackle Ray’s question, one which does not (of course) lend itself to a simple, paint-by-numbers-type response. First of all, I don’t have all the answers nor does any other writer, even if they’ve written a number of successful books. I haven't written a successful book, but I've worked in publishing, been a book critic for almost two decades, and have interviewed dozens of successful. bestselling writers. There’s no single, “magic” formula for success.
"Success” is multidimensional.
Some writers feel successful when they’ve actually completed their book, even if it sits in a drawer (or laptop) collecting dust; others feel successful when they’ve self-published an eBook; others define success as finding a traditional publisher, or maybe selling a certain number of books, making the “best-seller list,” etc. These are commercial indicators of success, but there are artistic indicators too. Some books don’t sell many copies but receive wide critical acclaim and even awards. This is success too.
Defining what “success” means for you might then be a good first step for any book writer. I know a few writers who’ve written excellent business books that become a platform for a consulting or speaking career. Writing the book is a sign of expertise that can be leveraged into opening other doors.
The Secret to Getting Published
Let’s look at getting a book published. I’ve worked in publishing, as a book publicist for Pearson. Although I was there for less than two years, I learned the most important thing publishers look for in a book. Alas, it’s not literary quality. It’s also not the book’s idea (in the case of non-fiction) or story (in the case of fiction). What publishers want most is an author with a large marketing platform. In other words, the author must have the ability to reach people through his or her marketing efforts. Publishers are less and less involved in marketing their authors, so they’re increasingly placing the marketing onus on authors themselves.
If an author has a large presence and following on social media, that’s a good platform for publishing a book. If an author is a celebrity with a television show, that’s a great platform (virtually guaranteeing publication, no matter the “quality” of the writing). So if you want to write a successful book, start by building a platform both online and offline. Find an area where you know the most, such as food, business, sports, or whatever, and start building your platform.
Blogging on a topic you know about is a good idea. In fact, many blogs have been transformed directly into successful books. Share opinions in your area of expertise on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc. If you’re part of the online discussion, you already have a built-in marketing platform. Give talks and speeches at your local library and community centers. A good way to write your book is to publish chapters in magazines or online, which will generate buzz, before packaging all the chapters into a book.
Okay, you get the general idea. I’ll revisit this “how to write a successful book” question later, but wanted to share the first tip: have a marketing platform that will get publishers interested in acquiring/publishing your book. I hope that Ray, and all my other blog readers, will have a great Holidays. Keep reading, and do keep those writing-related questions coming!