What Makes a Book Successful? A Case Study of 4 Bestselling Books

4_book_covers

At first glance these four books, The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep, The SheepOverThe Girl on the Train, and Henna House, may not seem to have much in common. What’s interesting about them though is how they became best seller books.

The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep

From August to October of 2015, The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin was a huge story in the media. Ehrlin is a behavioural psychologist and linguist and the book actually puts children to sleep. Originally the book was self-published, and according to The Telegraph, it was “the first self-published work to ever top the Amazon charts.”

On the surface the book seems like an almost overnight hit. According to Publisher’s Weekly, “At the close of last week, on August 16, the book had only sold 24 copies through BookScan outlets, and had sold just over 300 copies since its release in April 2014.”

The reason for the success wasn’t immediately talked about. Then Publisher’s Weekly revealed that the Daily Mail wrote an article about how the book helps kids fall asleep, which led to more articles in other media outlets, including Forbes, The Guardian, NPR, and others. Shortly after getting all that press, Ehrlin signed with a literary agent and then Penguin Random House Children’s bought the rights to the book for 7-figures, according to The Bookseller.

And then in October of 2015, Publisher’s Weekly wrote another article about The Rabbit, revealing the steps leading up to the article in the Daily Mail that ended up making the book so popular. It turns out that the book was 5 years in the making, and was Ehrlin’s third book. He sold the book at seminars and classes and he had his book translated into six languages, which was key. All of his hard work led to word of mouth and sales; Ehrlin also “did some ads there saying the book existed and [people] could try it for free and see if they liked it or not.” His book started selling a lot of copies on Amazon in the U.K. (the English translation). Amazon’s executives then put Ehrlin in touch with writers from the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, and the Guardian.

And interestingly, according to the article, “Ehrlin estimates that, actually, it was the day after the Daily Mail ran its story on Rabbit that the title became Amazon U.K.’s #1 bestseller. A few days later, it was topping Amazon bestseller lists in the U.S. and other countries.”

The SheepOver

John Churchman and his wife Jennifer self-published The SheepOver, a book about an orphaned lamb named Sweet Pea who the couple took care of, which also became a best seller. According to Publisher’s Weekly, John Churchman went to his local bookstore and asked if they would stock the book:

But as he showed the book to store co-owner Elizabeth Bluemle, an eavesdropping customer said she’d buy a copy. Bluemle pulled over another store browser to take a look. That customer bought a copy, too. Bluemle was sold: she told Churchman she’d take another eight for her shelves.

Bluemle wrote a blog post about the book for Publisher’s Weekly ShelfTalker, which led to a lot of interest by literary agents. They signed with Brenda Bowen of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, who sold the book to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in a three-book deal with a 6-figure advance.

John already had a Facebook page where he posted photos of the animals on their farm, including sheep, a mini-horse, dogs, geese, ducks, turkeys, cats, and chickens. Their fans already cared about the well-being of Sweet Pea, and John and Jennifer launched a successful campaign on Kickstarter so they could produce a hardcover version of the story.

The book is known for its beautiful images, and so it helps that John is a fine-art photographer who has worked with design, and that Jennifer is a copywriter and an editor who has worked to develop many brands.

According to One Writer’s Way, the campaign met their goal within the first 24 hours. And then of course they took a few copies to their local bookstore, became a hit, and last month the New York Times wrote a review.

The Girl on the Train

Otis Chandler, founder of Goodreads, wrote a blog post calling The Girl on the Train the “it” book of 2015. Apparently Goodreads was a major factor in the book’s success, and the momentum for the book built up quickly on Goodreads.

According to the blog post, influential readers helped the book become popular early on. Karen, one of the top reviewers on Goodreads, wrote a rave for an ARC copy of the book four months before The Girl on the Train was published. This led to many people adding the book to their bookshelves, as a reminder to read the book when it came out. And that led to the book trending on Goodreads.

Riverhead Books, which published The Girl on the Train, gave away 4,000 advanced copies to booksellers, critics, and readers, and did two giveaways on Goodreads. There were 50 winners, though 2,400 people entered the giveaway.

More people posted reviews on Goodreads and buzz was building around the book, so they got more author interviews and paid for more advertising in the month leading up to the publication date. More people kept adding and talking about the book on Goodreads, which led it to be featured on the site. Then Riverhead Books did two more Goodreads giveaways, and this time 5,000 people entered.

Within two weeks, the book was a New York Times best seller, and authors such as Stephen King started talking up The Girl on the Train. According to the blog post,

What’s also very different about The Girl on the Train from other books is the speed at which people have been reading it. This wasn’t a book people bought and then added to the pile on the nightstand. The Girl on the Train had become part of the zeitgeist — it was a conversation topic. And to be part of the conversation, you had to read it first, which people did in droves.

Henna House

Henna House by Nomi Eve is a coming of age story about a young woman named Adela, who lives in Yemen in 1920. Nomi shares in an article on Publisher’s Weekly that a big secret to her success is her 100 Book Club Challenge. The idea is to meet with 100 book clubs, either in person or via Skype.

She shared the challenge on Facebook and the invitations came quickly. In the end she met her goal within only 6 months.

As you can imagine, it was a pretty crazy six months! What happened was that for every book club I visited, I got invited to another. A book club member’s sister, or cousin, or neighbor, or sister-in-law heard about my book club visits and invited me to their book club. So when I had 20, I really had 40; when I had 40, I really had 80, and so on and so on.

Eve said that she thinks one reason she hit her goal so quickly was because she posted photos of her book club meetings on Facebook, her website, and Twitter. She even hosted two book clubs who traveled to see her in her house.

Key takeaways: What made these books so successful?

There’s no “one size fits all” marketing strategy, and I think all these books had a bit of luck. But as the saying goes, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” And that definitely fits for these four books.

A lot of work was done upfront, and I don’t believe there is ever such a thing as a true overnight success. That said, there are a few common threads the four books in this case study seem to have.

Here are a few tactics that may help you with your own books:

  • Make your book available in as many places as possible. Sometimes that means translating your book to reach the biggest potential market.
  • Take the time to produce the highest quality book. People notice.
  • Get people to talk about your book. Word of mouth is important and has an amplifying effect. One way to encourage word of mouth is via giveaways.
  • Reach out and make connections. Influencers who like your book are incredibly helpful, especially at the beginning of your marketing efforts.
  • Connect with people in a meaningful way. Don’t be afraid to share your experiences.
  • Share your story. Media outlets can really help a book achieve success, but in many cases you have to know someone who can introduce you or be willing to write about you.
  • Plan multiple marketing strategies. The more options you have, the more opportunities you give yourself.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared May 2016.

Advertisements

Guest Post: How to Build Your Brand Name Through Social Media (Infographic)

By Belle Balace

Looking to build your platform online? Belle Balace from Visme shares tips on growing your brand through social media.

Whether you’re just starting to build your online presence or you just launched your startup and want to share it to the whole world, there’s no better way to achieve this than through social media.

If you have no idea on how to do this or where to start, here’s a great primer Matei Gavril of PRMediaOnline provided – visualized in this handy infographic made with Visme. All the basic and essential things you need to know about growing your brand on social media are right here.

Belle Balace is a Growth Specialist at Visme, an online visual tool where anyone can create engaging presentations, infographics and other visual content in less time.

Indie Authors: An Overview of Book Reviews

By Ramchand Bruce Phagoo (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Ramchand Bruce Phagoo (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sure, we all know that getting authentic reviews, and ideally that are 4- and 5-stars, is a key component to a book’s success. In fact, you need a certain number of 4-star reviews just to be considered for a BookBub promotion.

Because of this, there are tons of resources online that give indie authors advice on how to find reviewers and contact them. Funds for Writers and eNovel Authors at Work gives some tips, such as keeping in mind that not everyone who initially agrees to review your book will do so (possibly due to time constraints or other factors in their life). It’s also important to keep in mind that it takes time to get your book reviewed.

As Jackie Weger at eNovel Authors at Work puts it:

Book reviews are NOT instant. One must wait for the reader to read the dang book. Patience is required.  All reviewers have a TBR stack ahead of you. There is a protocol for approaching reviewers. In your email: Greet the reviewer by name. State your name and the name of your book and offer a one line tag. DO NOT send your book cold turkey. ASK FIRST. Or follow the instruction on the blog to submit your book for review.

Another approach is to go the book club circuit route, as talked about on Book Works. This also takes time, since you will need to reach out to small, niche groups. The upside is you’ll probably find a small group of people who not only love reading, but probably like your book (if you find a group who likes your genre).

And then there are paid reviews. This means paying a fee for a professional book reviewer or organization to give an honest review. These services tend to give credibility to a book, but can be expensive (running in the hundreds of dollars). MediaShift has a great Q&A post with Blue Ink Review.

However, sometimes reviews are not always accurate. Christina Larmer on Huffington Post writes how sometimes reviews are incorrect, such as a review of one of her books that talks about missing pages, even though there are no missing pages. Yet, she couldn’t get the review removed, which may be misleading to potential readers. She ends her piece with a request for reviewers to “Keep it real”:

Just be sure to make it honest and believable, and it will not only pass muster with the Powers That Be, you will be doing your fellow readers a good service. Because each genuine review you write gives other potential readers a chance to understand a little about the book and whether it’s worth investing in. Then they can go in, eyes wide open, before they press ‘download’.

What are your experiences with getting book reviews? Please share in the comments!

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared July 2016.

Indie Authors: Book Promotion Tools and Tips

By Volkan berber (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Volkan berber (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Marketing is a crucial part of book publishing. If no one knows your book is out there, how can you expect people to read it?

With that in mind, here’s a compilation of tips and tools that can help you with your book promotion efforts. Continue reading

Indie Authors: Getting Your Book Discovered

By Santjo2011 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Santjo2011 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

With hundreds of thousands of new books being published each year, it’s hard for indie authors to stand out.

One strategy I’ve written about before is going permafree, meaning you set one book in a series to permanently free, as a way to entice readers to buy the rest of the books in the series.

To add fodder to that idea, M. Louisa Locke writes about how using the permafree strategy freed up more of her time for actually writing (instead of working to constantly promote all her books). And Bacon and Books shares their experience with giving away books for free, at least temporarily.

If you’re looking to promote your book (whether you’re having a sale, offering it for free, or making it permafree), here a few websites you can try:

Additionally, check out my post, “7 Strategies and 110 Tools to Help Indie Authors Find Readers and Reviewers.”

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared April 2016.

Growing Your Presence on Social Media

By Brian Solis and JESS3 [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Brian Solis and JESS3 [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Social media is great. You can connect with people easily, you can learn new things, and you can share awesome content. It’s also a lot of hard work, because you want to make sure you are posting high quality content that resonates with people, and it takes some effort to measure and tweak your strategy.

A lot of people advocate for figuring out who your audience is, finding the platform where they engage the most, and then focusing on that platform. Melyssa Griffin shares her thoughts on social media on her blog, which includes using video, humanizing your brand, and create quality content.

If you’re looking to create posts that will be widely shared, Moz breaks down what it takes for something to go viral. In a nutshell, you want content that is clickable, shareable, and playable, that taps into people’s sharing impulses, and that you can build a story around.

You should also make tweaks to your profiles on your social media accounts. Bluchic shares a few tips, including having keywords in your bio, using the right hashtags, and listing your business.

Here are some resources to help you grow your presence on social media. Continue reading

BuzzTrace: A New Platform To Help Writers Find Their Readers

Launching today is BuzzTrace, a new platform that helps authors find their audience and increase their book sales. BuzzTrace connects with social media platforms and provides authors with insightful analytics on how to help sell their books. The site also gives authors tips on how to grow their audience. Scott La Counte, a best selling author, said he co-founded BuzzTrace to help authors save time on marketing, so they can focus on their writing. Authors can sign up for a one-month free trial at BuzzTrace.

Read on for an interview with Scott La Counte to learn more about the platform. Continue reading

Setting Up and Building an Email List

By Frédéric Pereira (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Frédéric Pereira (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Direct marketing is powerful. There’s a reason so many people say “the money is in the list.” If you can build a mailing list of people who like your work and are willing to pay for it, then it becomes much easier to sell your books and have bigger book launches. With that in mind, here are some tips and resources on how to build a strong mailing list: Continue reading

Tips and Tricks for Setting Up Your Blog

By User Gflores on en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By User Gflores on en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Blogging is a lot of work, but it can be very rewarding. Are you thinking of starting a blog this year? Here are some helpful resources to get you going:

Getting Subscribers

Driving Traffic

Avoiding Mistakes

Guest Posts

Writing Posts

Monetization

Marketing Books with Blogging

Metrics

Trends

Tools

What Are the Ingredients of a Successful Marketing Plan?

By The Photographer [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By The Photographer [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s note: This post was originally published January 2016 on Digital Book World.

Today’s readers and book buyers are savvy. Ads are not enough to get a potential customer’s attention, and being bombarded daily with emails, texts, posts, tweets, shares, images and videos makes it incredibly easy, and more likely, for people to ignore ads.

In fact, people are going out of their way to avoid ads, installing plugins known as ad blockers to outright remove them. And despite what season 19 of “South Park” depicts—a world in which ads become sentient and quietly take over our lives—ad campaigns do not work as well as they used to when it comes to marketing products.

Enter content marketing, and the idea of gaining a community’s trust in order to sell products. In addition to sharing content that customers find worthwhile, and would potentially want to share with others, this method allows companies to forge connections with people by regularly communicating with them in a more pleasant manner.

Social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are important tools in establishing that trust, but they should be considered just that—tools—and not strategies themselves.

While there are many components to a successful marketing plan, here are six aspects to consider.

1. Figure out the audience. What is it about a book or a book series that makes it stand out? Can it help to solve a problem, and if so, how? Who would be interested in reading the book, and where can you find them? When are they active and when would they be open to listening to you? One tool that may be helpful in answering these questions is Find My Audience, a website, currently in beta, that finds potential readers on Twitter. Users provide information about a book, and then the tool gives information on the target audience for that book. The site is free to use for now, but eventually users will have the option to pay a monthly fee in exchange for information on Facebook and Goodreads.

2. Have specific goals. Are you trying to build an email list? Do you want to increase sales? Would you rather current fans or followers be more engaged with the content you post? Focus on what you are trying to accomplish, and then work from there to achieve it.

3. Create a system similar to Chris Syme’s SMART method so you can actually build a fanbase and sell books. One tip to keep in mind is to deliver different messages, in different ways, to different audience segments. What to post and the number of times to post per day varies among Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Also, younger readers tend to use Instagram and Tumblr more, and older readers tend to stick with Facebook. Keep your goals and audience in mind when coming up with a system.

4. Build trust. If you don’t have a customer’s trust, then how can you expect them to buy from you? Seth Godin goes into detail on his blog about permission marketing, which involves earning the privilege to send “anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.” You earn this privilege by delivering on promises, creating and sharing valuable content, and eventually having enough credibility that people believe in you and your products.

5. Engage with your community. Engagement can help build trust, and there are many ways to connect with your audience and make them feel special. A few ideas include:

• polling cover images or character names
• hosting weekly Twitter chats with a hashtag that promotes an author, book or fan group,
• shouting out to readers who email or share messages on social media
• giving away copies of books with personalized thank you notes
• posting videos that give behind-the-scenes information about a book
• sharing chapter reveals
• mailing swag, like stickers or illustrations
• sending email updates about upcoming novels
• setting up forums or groups on Facebook or Google+ to encourage discussion

6. Work agilely. Now that I work in tech, I get to see the agile method firsthand. Breaking down your marketing strategy and focusing on making it incrementally better, two weeks at a time, can make a big difference. You can take a loose interpretation of the agile methodology and apply it to marketing. The idea is to work on a two-week schedule, called “sprints,” and meet a goal or set of goals by the end of the sprint. To determine what to work on in each sprint, take some time to assess feedback and figure out what’s engaging people and what content they want to see. Then adjust your plan accordingly.

What components do you take into consideration for your marketing plan? What works best for you? Please let me know in the comments.