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4 Lessons from Successful Authors

Over the last couple of years, I have had the opportunity to observe what works and what doesn’t work in microcosm, in terms of publishing and selling books.

The most successful authors whom I have published in the last two years have certain characteristics in common, which could be summarised here:

1. They have followings on social media.

These followings are not necessarily huge. In fact, they are quite modest in terms of size. But they are created. In other words, these authors have not left their followings to chance: they have consistently and creatively posted on social media to a particular group of people.

2. They have a precise ‘demographic.’

‘Demographic’ is one of those modern buzzwords. In this sense, it means ‘a particular sector of a population’ and in the case of these authors, each one has a very definite sector to which their book appeals.

In the case of Justin Wiggins, his demographic consists of Christians, mainly, who are also admirers of C. S. Lewis and/or George MacDonald.

In the case of Carmen Baca, as another example, her demographic is a group of people living in northern New Mexico who share a common cultural heritage.

3. They communicate regularly and creatively with that demographic.

Once you have a demographic, these authors have learned, you need to keep in constant communication with it. Posting an ad once a week saying ‘Buy my book’ is not constant communication.

4. They love what they do or have done and that passion is permitted to communicate through a back story.

Anyone who has read Justin’s posts or Carmen’s comments on social media, for example, can tell that they are excited and delighted by what they are involved in. Having said that, in neither case, nor in any other successful writers’ case, have they ‘overdone’ it or gone chasing sales. They have simply allowed their own enthusiasm to flow out to a select group of people.

Not only that — and this is important — they have developed a ‘story’ about their story. The behind-the-scenes narrative of how their books came to be, or what the wider significance of them is, is part of what they talk about. Carmen can draw on a whole heritage of northern New Mexico to discuss her tales; Justin can tell over and over again the story of how his book came into being. Others do similar things.

So what can we all learn from these successful authors?

Let’s have a look at it in terms of what NOT to expect or do:

A. DON’T expect the whole world to be your ‘demographic’.

Many, many writers imagine that all they have to do is release their books and ‘the readers of the world’ will flock to buy and read them. Hence the bulk marketing efforts which we see all the time, as though the number of people who hear about a book has a direct relationship with the number of people who will buy it.

The bad news is that it doesn’t work that way; the good news is that your book DOES have a demographic of its own. Your task is to find it or define it.

B. DON’T try to please everybody.

It’s exhausting; it’s impossible.

It’s actually much easier to please that set of people who are predisposed to being pleased by what you write.

So who is YOUR demographic? Christians (like Justin’s group)? People who live in a particular geographic zone (like Carmen’s group?)? Fans of H.P. Lovecraft? Readers of Westerns? Older people who remember life in the ‘60s?

What particular sector of a population would your book appeal to?

The smaller and more defined you can get this, the easier it will be to do the next step.

C. DON’T imagine, even for a second, that announcing the release of your book is all you have to do.

Having defined your group above, keep in constant communication with it. What do I mean by ‘constant communication’? I mean constant, daily communication, sometimes several times a day.

What on earth do you talk about?

That’s the next point.

D. Develop a back story and communicate it.

Allow your own enthusiasm to flow out to the select group of people you have defined above. And develop a narrative around your book: how did it come to be? Why was it important that you write it? What drove you to get it published?

I can hear some complaints: how can I communicate about my book all day long when I want to spend my time writing? I understand — but I am simply relating what works. And if your book is important to you, you will want to talk about it to others — not just any ‘others’, but those people who are already interested, of course: your demographic.

Spend some time on this. You might be surprised. And if you need any help, contact me.

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