Over 20 years ago, I was writing some little Star Wars adventures for Scholastic Books, and the president of the company became a fan of my work. She knew that I was the lead judge for a huge writing contest, so she asked if I would look at some of her inventory and see if I could find a book to push big.
She sent me some boxes with perhaps 35 books in them, and I had to ask myself, “What makes a book marketable?” I already had some ideas. I’d done some analysis earlier and decided that nearly all of the bestsellers of all time were strong in “transport.” They took the reader to another time and another place, whether it be a fantastic setting as in Lord of the Rings, or a historical setting as in The Godfather.
There were other indicators—an appeal to “the four corners”—fans both male and female, old and young. I wanted also to make sure that the books aroused strong emotions that were appropriate and enjoyable for the target audience.
But before I could even get down to that level, I had to ask myself, “How portable is this book? What other mediums could we transport it into?”
Could it be a game, for example? At the time, I had just helped create a videogame, Starcraft Brood War, that was a huge bestseller, and I knew that it was more valuable than a most hit movies. Or, could the book be turned into a movie? Or might it be an educational television series?
Any medium that you port your story to gives it greater visibility. Porting it into multiple mediums just increases the chance of turning it into a hit.
So I pulled out each book from the box and sorted them according to portability. Those that could only be books went into one pile. Those that could be books and films went into another. Those that could be books, games, and films went into a third.
As I was doing this, I came across five highly portable books, and a couple of others that I wasn’t sure of.
My wife entered my office and saw me sitting on the floor, sorting books, and asked what in the world I was doing. I told her I was choosing a book to promote, and she asked, “Don’t you have a novel due in three days?” I said yes, and so I relegated to her the task of reading the eight books to see which one captured her—as an adult female.
She sorted through the books and started with Harry Potter. By dinnertime she was a huge fan. The next morning at breakfast, my 10-year-old daughter Danielle stole the book from mom’s room and she became a fan at school that day. So, I read it and realized that, “Yes, this has all of the makings of a hit.” It could be a television series, a videogame, or play on educational” television. It was portable to many mediums.
I helped create a very aggressive plan to promote the book in bookstores. In fact, I heard a couple of publishers talking about it at Book Expo a few months later and they described the plan as “insane.” But I watched the book carefully over the next couple of years as sales went ballistic. Yes, I may be crazy, but I’m crazy like a fox.
A videogame company sent me to a licensing fair in New York to see about purchasing the rights for a Harry Potter game, and while there a news release caused a stir when the film rights sold to Warner Brothers. Rowling, like many U.K. authors, didn’t want her novel turned into a movie and actually fought against the idea by taking out an ad in the New York Times to try to put an end to the sale.
But the movie rights were exercised, and all the brouhaha did was amplify Rowling’s book sales. A videogame was released with the first movie, and the intellectual property went crazy.
A year later, I began to see what kind of a monster we had created when the morning news showed kids dressed up as witches and warlocks, going to a midnight sale at a Barnes and Noble in order to buy the next installment in the series. I switched channels and noted that on a religious channel, people were having a prayer circle to pray for the failure of the book. I really hadn’t anticipated this kind of reaction, but it was fun to watch.
Heck, my wife and daughter started dressing up and going to those midnight book releases!
In the past 20 years, Harry Potter has become the bestselling book of all time. The film adaptations were huge hits, and Rowling’s net worth was estimated at over a billion dollars within just a few years of publication.
I think that Rowling’s success, though, came in huge part because her books were so nicely portable into multiple mediums. Now I’m just waiting for Harry Potter, the rock opera to come out.
So how portable is your next book going to be?
For Apex this week, we will have, #1 bestselling
science fiction author Martin Shoemaker will talk about how to imbue
your work with emotional power. On tuesday we will hear from Dean Wesley Smith, an author of over 250 books!
In the Apex Writers Group, you can get in on free workshops, join
writing groups and writers rings, listen to guest lecturers, and more! Learn more @ theCompleatWriter.com or email the word “Apex” to firstname.lastname@example.org
My Epic Novel Writing Workshop begins
September 5 as we study various books. In online classes we’ll be
studying epics in science fiction and fantasy, then work together to
brainstorm and plot our own epic novels.
Here is the link: http://mystorydoctor.com/live-workshops-2/