Certain books don’t just sell well, they sell far more copies than there it would seem that they have audience members. They aren’t just hits, they become a “phenomenon.” You know their names: Harry Potter, Twilight, 50 Shades, etc.
Before Harry Potter was released, I’d read an article talking about the Goosebumps novels. Analysts believed that there were 2.5 to 3 million fans of middle-grade novels. But Harry Potter “broke out” of the middle-grade bestseller list and was read by adults and teens and even kids who were younger than the intended audience. As a result it sold 130 million copies worldwide—and garnered an audience 50 times larger than logic dictates it should have.
It happens over and over. We eve know how that happens. Sometimes an influencer, someone like Oprah, will champion a book. Bill Clinton will walk into a press conference with the book in hand, or a superstar actress will be spotted reading it on a beach, and suddenly a novel like The Alchemist gets extraordinarily wide press coverage and surges into the “phenomenon” range on the bestseller lists.
Most of the time, it happens when publishers pay large bookstore chains to make nice displays of a book in their store windows, and the displays attracts wide attention from avid readers.
On other occasions, critics and reviewers on television take notice and create a hullabaloo, promoting the books with news articles.
Once a book gets enough sales, it will often glean Hollywood interest and get a movie tie-in, and the publicity for the film—which may be worth tens of millions of dollars--drives millions of more fans to the books. Thus you get a hit like Lord of the Rings that has great sales, but sold a hundred million more copies after the movies based on it came out. The same thing happened with Game of Thrones.
That’s the way that it has been done in the past, but I’ve been thinking about how we might create a phenomenon novel for Indie writers now, or in the near future. It wouldn’t be as expensive as some of the traditional ways, but it would be completely possible.
Think about your potential audience and how they might learn about your book. Here are some imagined scenarios.
Helen is an avid reader and checks her account on Goodreads at least once a week. You’re going to have your fans write reviews and get her attention on Goodreads.
Kim surfs Facebook for three hours a day. Facebook ads might be cheap enough to get her.
Ray reads the morning paper and loves the Sunday entertainment section. You might need to send out press releases to catch his attention.
Naomi only pays attention to books that win awards. You’re going to have to enter your books for awards’ consideration.
Seth is a huge fan of George R.R. Martin. Getting a recommend from him would certainly garner Seth’s attention.
Rosa listens to the morning news on her drive to work. Radio ads or an interview might help.
And so on. Of course, blanketing the world with news of your book isn’t a new idea. Advertising agencies specialize in this.
The big problem with authors is that our books are so inexpensive, we don’t have enough profit margin for big advertising campaigns. It’s not quite like we’re selling yachts or cars.
But there are a number of ways to get inexpensive advertising—enough to create a big enough hit to justify expanding the campaign in stages. So you focus on going onto Goodreads, then creating a fanbase on Twitter or Facebook. Maybe you start a channel on Twitch, or put up some videos YouTube.
Many authors develop what we call “Street Teams” to help in such efforts. These are fans who help advertise on platforms where they have a presence, and I don’t know a really successful author who doesn’t have a couple of heroic fans who help out in that way. Of course, as an author you don’t want to take advantage of other people’s goodwill, but there are ways to thank your Street Team without paying huge sums of money.
Authors who don’t grow their audience may soon find that they have a shrinking audience, and most of us usually come to realize that the best way to grow our audience is to write another book.
The idea of doing a “blog tour” or a live book tour intimates many authors.
The fear that a new tool like Twitch might be a time sink or a money sink is real.
Most authors don’t know any movie producers and really can’t figure out how to even break through the gatekeepers to make introductions.
Authors don’t know how to write press releases, and so deny themselves the opportunity to publish articles that promote their works—and so on.
In many cases, the authors have just never heard of good services like BookBub or Kindle Unlimited or Google Ads, so we worry about how hard it might be to master these tools and use them.
We often feel that we “don’t have enough bandwidth” for both marketing and writing our books. That’s the rub. Advertising takes either money or time, and authors feel they don’t have enough of either.
Thus, too many authors do nothing at all but write. So we fail primarily due to fear, uncertainty, and ignorance.
Don’t give in to those negative emotions. Start learning to use the tools you’re going to need to master today.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working to discuss some of these tools, how they work, and introduce you to the possibilities. I’ll divide these lessons up into Pre-release strategies, Release strategies, and Long-Term strategies.
I’ll be making some in-depth videos on advertising for my writers on Apex. These are released on a weekly basis. For those interested in joining Apex, email the word Apex to email@example.com
Also, I have my Super Writers Bundle up for $139. Get all of the audited versions of my online workshops, plus my books on writing and my writing seminars all in one package!
I have a free writing workshop that I teach with award-winning authors Orson Scott Card and Tim Power, based upon our popular Writers of the Future Workshops. Find it online at https://www.writersofthefuture.com/register/online-workshop/