Here is my November 21, 2008 response to a post to the online discussion group Small-Pub Civil at Yahoo groups:
>>Hello, everyone! One of my authors has written a 250+ page book about his open-heart surgery. The bulk of it is autobiographical, including childhood memories, interviews with
everyone from the surgeon down to the cleaning staff and an entire chapter of get-well emails from his friends (he has their permission, BTW). Since he produces and hosts a long-
running regional TV show with a reasonably-sized fan base and is promoting the hell out of the book, I am confident he will sell a few thousand copies. But he’s expecting big-time
national success, including being stocked in the chains and selling on QVC. He is seriously counting on coverage in the NYT.
>> When I try to point out that this is unlikely he accuses me of negativism. Am I just being negative?
I encounter this with authors all the time. It goes with the territory. It could be a truly remarkable memoir. It might contain experiences that can make people smile, cry and laugh as they read. But then again, he may not yet have gotten any meaningful feedback from people, or the feedback he has received may be designed to make him feel good and congratulate him on his effort and accomplishment with having written a book.
I wrote an article to try to get people to grasp the significance of their dream and what it means to them if they really want to see other people appreciate their writing, especially if they really intend to now use that writing to achieve fame and financial success.
I work with hundreds of authors and publishing companies each year and really and truly, very few of them have really created a book that it good enough to achieve fame, glory and financial success for the author. Most are labors of love. There’s a sizable financial investment and personal emotional investment that’s required to go from “author” to “best selling author” and few really have what it takes to make it through the gauntlet of the marketplace.
What I recommend people do is go slow. Show and tell one on one. It’s possible to learn how to sell. That’s the miracle of the microcosm. If you learn what you need to say to people in your little neck of the woods, chances are you can then say the same thing anywhere and everywhere you go and you’ll be equally successful selling your products wherever you go.
But you need to learn those magic words first.
You have to write to sell, and the job of writing isn’t done until the book sells. This is where most self-publishers go astray. They publish their book without verifying it was really ready for market.
You have to test your ideas and test your product and test your mar-com (marketing communications) on real live people. You need to identify your end users and the people who will buy the book for your users. Then you need to learn what to say to get these people to take the action you want.
Write to sell and test, test, test. Do this in small doses till you get the right buy signals. Reliably. Not just once or twice, but repeatedly and reliably.
Do 25 to 50 POD versions and test it with these important people.
You’ll know by their behavior and response whether you are really ready to publish the book.
If you can’t get people to even look at it, then you’re not done.
If they look at it and put it down, then you still have work to do.
If people look at it and grab it, you might be done. It depends what happens when they then pick it up and peruse it. If they put it down, then you’re not done.
You may have to redesign and re-write it till you know you are done. You have to work with your prospective audience to get real feedback, and you must listen to what people say and address the issues you receive.
This may take a lot of reiterations.
But one thing is for certain, there is a point that you will reach when you know that you are done. It’s a wonderful thing when you get to this point and know it.
Here’s what I’ve observed and experienced.
You know when you are done…
When people look at it, grab it, look at it again, look up to see where the cashier is, and then head to the cashier.
You show your book someone and they hold it close and won’t give it back freely.
You show them the book and they reach for their wallet.
They pick up one book, look at it, and grab four or five of them and head to the cashier.
One person picks up the book, grabs it and heads to find and show his or her friend the book, and they both grab one for themselves and buy it.
You know that you have something when kids pull it off the shelf and haul it over to their mothers and fathers with a look of desire and wanting and excitement in their eyes that says please????!!!!
I call this the hoarding syndrome. What you are witnessing I call a clutching response. It occurs when people touch something and decide that they want it.
This behavior in people clearly indicates to you that the book or object they are holding has such inherent value and importance that they are willing to pay for it. They know it and you know it instantly. They clutch the object of their desire in their hot sweaty hands and pull it in close to their body as if to possess it and protect it.
I know you’ve seen this and even experienced it yourself. You see it in stores and shopping centers all the time. I see it when my wife and teenage daughters shop. I know from their behavior when I’m toast. There is no arguing with them once they’ve experienced certain hormonal reactions to objects that they’ve been in close physical contact with. That’s they way we humans respond to certain material experiences.
Other people here have no doubt experienced this in a variety of ways. It would be very cool to hear from people about when they knew that they were done.
I work with a lot of authors and publishers, and I see success a lot less frequently that I wish I would see. I attribute this to people rushing through to publishing their books without making sure they have created a product that people will actually buy.
So this is my bottom line advice:
Write to sell. Don’t stop writing and re-writing till you know it sells, and sells easily and continuously.
Prove it with small test POD numbers. Use the technology that is available to all of us wisely. Then move it up through the publishing and promotion chain level by level.
In most cases, the author thinks the book should excite and grab people. But it doesn’t always happen that way.
So to me, they still have work to do. But they can’t speculate about what’s wrong, they need real data.
This is what I tell people to do – get the data. Figure out what you need to say and do to produce action that will satisfy your stated goals and objectives:
Go ask your candidate customers. Ask until you are blue in the face and get the hard difficult data and feedback you need to redesign and redo your project.
I had a recent publisher come to me with a book which presented his ideas on how to have a successful marriage by using a marriage contract.
Myself, I’m a former attorney and I would not pick up a book that had a marriage contract in it.
Do people want to run their marriage off of a contract? Like it’s a job or a construction project? Do they want to reduce communications and relationships to policies, procedures and stipulated provisions?
When we looked at our marriage vows, my wife said “strike the obey” and I said “and add in this here dispute resolution clause”.
And that’s what the minister did, and we still live by those words.
And that was the oral vows.
Put it in writing? Something doesn’t fit in the picture. Like ‘what’s love got to do with it?’
This is the type of process most people go through when they contemplate buying a book.
Do I want to get married to this person and his or her ideas? Even if I can get divorced from them later?
You are not done until people fall in love with your creation. You’ll know it only when it happens.