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On December 17th, 2019

What does it mean to write a successful book in today’s publishing environment?

(An excerpt from Think Like a Publisher by Randy Davila)

Writing a book will change you.

As a matter of personal accomplishment, it is unparalleled. My friend and fellow author Jacob Nordby says, “Holding up your completed book to the world is a watershed moment in your life.” I couldn’t agree more.

Creating a good book requires the intersection of four things: art, inspiration, craft, and marketing. Many of the writers I meet have a good start on the art and inspiration, but they need improvement in the departments of craft and marketing. If one of your goals is that your book reach as many people as possible, you will have to hone your talents on all four fronts. And if you want to make a living at publishing, you will really have to develop what I call the Author Business Model.

But before we delve into the nuts and bolts of the publishing world, I would like to thank you for picking up your pen, or more likely sitting behind your computer, and writing your book. You see, I have had the pleasure of working with authors from around the globe, both well-published and not-so-well-published, and the one thing they all have in common is that through this sacred craft of writing every one of them is attempting to make the world a better place (even if they may not realize it).

Whether you are writing a self-help book, a history book, a memoir, a novel, or a book in any other genre, the goal of a writer is to educate and entertain the reader, and in so doing contribute to the betterment of humanity. The world needs people like you, so I thank you for showing up.

Whether your book finds an audience here and abroad or you share it with just a few loyal readers, know that your writing will help at least one person—you. Writing is by definition a creative endeavor, one that energizes the mind and nourishes the soul. Although some authors don’t realize this at first, writing is one of those conscious creation activities that makes us feel alive, and that’s why we do it!

So by writing, whether you are conscious of it or not, you help others and yourself. This is why I often say that every book ever written, in some capacity and regardless of genre, is a self-help book.

A quick peek at history shows that what we are doing as authors does matter, that we are making the world a better place. We are privileged to live in the most literate time in the history of humanity, and literacy and education are inextricably linked. More people have the ability to read today than at any point in our past, and the collective education of this planet has never been higher. Undoubtedly we still have a long way to go, but much of our progress has been made through sharing ideas, and those ideas are recorded in books . . . books that would not exist without the authors who wrote them.

What a debt of gratitude we owe the authors who have come before us, who were brave enough to publish new ideas that expanded our thinking even when they were unpopular or posed a great risk to their reputation. While there are countless examples of this type of heroism in authorship, one example that comes to mind is Dr. Brian L. Weiss, author of the international best-selling book on reincarnation titled Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives.

With degrees from Columbia University and Yale Medical School, Dr. Weiss was the head of the psychiatry department at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach when he wrote Many Lives, Many Masters. Dr. Weiss had much to lose when he began writing about the subject of past-life therapy in the mid-1980s. Well respected by his peers in traditional psychiatry, by his own admission Dr. Weiss had no use for “alternative” methods of treatment like past-life regression therapy. But then something happened to change all of that. While using hypnosis to help recall traumatic childhood memories, one particular patient went back “beyond” her childhood, remembering a total of eighty-six previous lives over the course of her months-long treatment. Although Dr. Weiss was very skeptical at first, the healing benefits this patient experienced as a result of excising past-life traumas, combined with the knowledge she received about Weiss’s own life from “masters on the other side,” convinced him that reincarnation was real and that past-life regression therapy could be a useful healing tool.

Despite the objection of many peers in the mainstream medical community, Dr. Weiss made the bold decision to risk his credibility and his career when he decided to publish his findings in a book. No one could have predicted, least of all Dr. Weiss, that the book would go on to sell millions of copies, bring reincarnation and past-life regression therapy into the spotlight, and change so many people’s lives in the process.

In the genre of fiction, there are numerous examples of books that use storytelling to not only entertain readers but also challenge existing societal beliefs. Brown’s 2003 novel The Da Vince Code not only captivated millions of readers with its suspenseful twists and turns but also reintroduced the idea of the divine feminine and its influence on mainstream Christianity. The firestorm that ensued after its publication was notable, to say the least.

These are but two examples, and there are numerous others as well, that we authors are a courageous folk. We put our hearts onto paper, risking the ridicule of critics and sometimes even our financial stability all in an effort to share our ideas with the world. Now comes the challenging part, and the likely reason you are reading this book: What can you do as an author to help your book reach the widest possible audience and make the biggest impact on the world?

Well, the good news is that there are many, many things you can do to help accomplish this goal. And that is the purpose of this book, to educate you, the author, about the essential steps necessary to reach as many readers as you can. As you will see in the following pages, there is so much more to being an author than just writing a book and either submitting it to a traditional publisher or self-publishing. At the conclusion of this book, my hope is that you will understand why I often say “Being a good writer in one thing; being a well-published author is something else entirely.”

What Is Success?

If you notice, I have not yet used the term “successful.” I have not said, “do this and make your book a success.” Before I begin stating things such as “make your book successful,” the first thing I want you to do is evaluate your definition of success.

Many first-time authors define a successful book as one that sells thousands if not millions of copies and earns the title “best seller.” (We will discuss more about “best seller” claims and definitions in Tip #21.) And you can be sure that as a publisher my hope is that every book we produce will sell thousands if not millions of copies. But before we go any further, we must ask ourselves: Is the number of copies a book sells the only metric in determining if it is “successful”?

Not by my definition, and when you are done reading this, I hope not by yours either. I would like to offer you a different set of metrics for determining whether a book is successful or not. Defining success in terms other than number of copies sold means considering a few things. First, do you as the author feel good about the contents of your book? Will you be proud to see your name on the cover? I hope that is the case for you, and if it’s not, I would strongly encourage you to get your manuscript into the best possible shape before it goes to print, because once your book is “out there” it will take on a life of its own, one that you want to be proud of forever.

Second, does your book help or educate people? Does it add value to the lives of its readers? When someone is finished reading your book, will the information you have shared or the story you have told enhance that reader’s life in some way?

To me, these criteria are far more important when it comes to calling a book successful than the number of copies sold.

Now I will prove it to you.

Looking back over your life, there have undoubtedly been a handful of books that had a big impact on your worldview and your individual perspective. Dare I suggest that some of these books were even life-changing? On your list of favorite books I bet there is at least one, if not more than one, which you could hold up in the middle of a crowded shopping mall, scream out the title, and no one would have ever heard of it. In short, this book was important to you and your journey in life, but when compared to other books, it is relatively unknown.

At the same time, I am sure you can think of a time when you picked up a widely publicized best seller with great anticipation, only to find out that you couldn’t get through the first chapter. Yet this book has sold millions of copies, and by that measurement, it is clearly a success.

In hindsight, which of these two books was more “successful” to you?

I hope this little exercise illustrates that success should not be measured simply by the numbers of copies sold. Furthermore, my experience with authors, including the widely published variety, is that if your only metric of success is the number of copies sold then ultimately no amount of copies sold will be enough. So please remember when I use the term “successful” throughout the rest of this book, I mean far more than just the number of copies sold.

One of the best things you can do for yourself as an author is to become educated about the publishing industry. You will want to know as much as you can about the publishing business from the perspective of writer, promoter, and salesperson for your book. Because as you will see in the following chapters, in today’s publishing world, you need to be all three.

 

 

Are you ready to learn more about how to be a successful author? Think Like a Publisher is available now from all major retailers and on our website. To learn more about this book, and to continue reading the next few tips for free, click here.

PLUS, Randy Davila, author of Think Like a Publisher and President of Hierophant Publishing and Hampton Roads Publishing, will be offering his Publish YOU Masterclass online for authors who want to take their project to the next level. Registration is open now!

 

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