Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Critical Mass

One of the hardest things about making a living as a professional writer is selling enough books.  And to do that, people need to know about your book.  A lot of people.

Once enough people know who you are and trust that you will tell them a good story, reputation can carry you to new heights.  There was no massive marketing campaign that started the clamor for Fifty Shades Of Grey.  William Paul Young didn't take out ads for The Shack.  Even the initial sales of Twilight weren't at the stratospheric levels they finally reached.  What happened was that a few folks picked up the books and liked them, so they passed them on to friends.  Those friends then liked the books and passed them on to still more friends.  And so on and so forth.

Obviously the first piece is to have a story that appeals to a mass audience and is told in a way that audience will appreciate.  Those in that audience then need to be enthusiastic enough about the book to not only recommend it to others, but to follow up and try to get as many people as they can to read it.  That happens when your appeal translates into zealous obsession with fans.

With enough recommendations and pass-alongs, the novel will eventually reach a critical mass of readers.  That means that its sales and promotion will take on a life of its own.  Although the same amount of enthusiasm may not exist in everybody, momentum becomes strong enough that people begin to read it out of a sense of wanting to be in on the "hip" thing.  They'll see their friends reading it - and not just one, but several - and they'll want to read it if for no other reason than to not be left out.  Marketing becomes self-sustaining at that point.

Okay, explaining that was easy, but how do you do it?  Beats me.

Of course you need to produce a story that lots of people will like.  Notice that I didn't say you need to have written a good story - it's no secret that I take a perverse pleasure in ripping apart Twilight and Fifty Shades Of Grey.  I personally think that both novels are putrid works that are poorly written, but both Stephanie Meyer and EL James found an audience for their crap, and that audience loves the books.  I know how elitist it appears for me to rip on these best sellers, but I similarly can't deny that they found a niche.

Once you've found your niche, you need to find enthusiastic readers.  That's  the most challenging part.  Finding someone to like your book is hard enough, but finding someone willing to go out and shill for your book for free, merely out of a sense of liking what you wrote is like picking the winning Powerball numbers...twice.

That doesn't mean you don't promote.  In fact, it means quite the opposite.  You need to promote because you need to locate the core of that critical mass.  Find a few readers who will zealously promote your work to others, and see if those they promote to are just as enthusiastic.  If you reach that critical mass, then the readers will do most of the work for you.  Remember, it only has to happen once.

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