Maxing Out Your Readership

From Dave Farland, Story Doctor:

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.

. . . .

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.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland