What Do Best-Selling Authors Have in Common?
Nine Characteristics That May Surprise You
By Dee Power
In writing The Making of a Best-Seller: Success Stories From Authors and the Editors, Agents, and Booksellers Behind Them, (Dearborn Trade, 2005), Brian Hill and Dee Power wanted to find out what separates the publishing industry elite, the best-selling authors, from all the thousands and thousands of writers who aspire to someday make the best-seller lists. They interviewed 24 of today's most popular authors, some of whom have endured on the best-seller lists for decades. As a group, these authors have sold more than half a billion books. It turns out that writing talent is not the only separating factor; in fact it may not even be the most important factor.
1. Perseverance Is Key
Nearly all best-selling authors faced the same struggles early in their careers that less successful, even unpublished authors face. Immediate success is rare. One distinction of best-selling authors is that they do not get as discouraged by lack of early success. They persevere. Their desire to succeed is enormous. Best-selling authors often have to demonstrate the patience and stamina to write a number of books before achieving notable success.
2. They Write, and Write and Write….
The productivity, the writing output, of best-selling authors is much greater than the average writer's. They have the discipline to get up each day and produce high quality work. They don't wait for the muse to tap them on the shoulder. Some authors' literary production is phenomenal, such as Catherine Coulter who wrote Point Blank; she has produced more than fifty best-sellers so far in her career.
3. They Like To Write and Write and Write …
They would rather write than do anything else. It's not just that successful authors are more disciplined, though that is part of it; they simply enjoy writing more than other writers do. Many aspiring authors enjoy the idea of writing, not the hard work itself. Best-selling authors seem to thrive on the hard work, and they work much harder than we might suppose. Iris Johansen, author of Countdown, writes two books a year, not because she has to but because she couldn't not do it. Writing is her passion.
4. Promotion Is Constant
Best-selling authors never stop promoting their books, no matter how successful they get. Many still market at the grassroots level, not just through national TV or radio interviews. They take the time to visit and meet individual bookstore managers at both chain stores and independents. They never relax and believe they have "made it." After nine best-sellers, including The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks still tours with every new book.
5. Marketing Is Critical
Even if they have never taken a business course in college, they have an innate sense of marketing concepts such as brand building and product differentiation. They closely watch trends in the literary marketplace. They understand what it is about their books that readers respond favorably to. They take a strategic approach to their careers and they realize that much more goes into being a successful author than the writing itself. Carly Phillips' big break came when Kelly Ripa recommended The Bachelor on "LIVE! With Regis and Kelly." It wasn't just luck that landed her the recommendation, but a concerted effort on her part and her publicist's part.
6. Fans Are an Important Asset
Best-selling authors listen closely to what their readers say, and try very hard to meet or exceed their fans' expectations, but they do not necessarily pay close attention to what reviewers or book critics say. They don't even necessarily expect good reviews. Word of mouth support from readers and booksellers is more important to them than reviews. Linda Fairstein, the author of Entombed and the Alexandra Cooper series, loves book signings. At her level of success she doesn't have to do them but she loves talking to her readers.
7. The More Success the More Pressure
Best-selling authors face more pressure as they get more successful. As they rise to the top, there are increasing demands on their time. Top authors lead three very different lives. First, the quiet, solitary, scholarly life of being a writer. Then participating in the team effort within the publishing house to make the book the best book it can be. This involves learning how to take advice from and collaborate with the professionals within the publishing house. Finally, authors must participate in the very public life of trying to sell books to the mass audience. They have to master all three lives if they intend to continue to achieve best-seller status. Susan Elizabeth Phillips worked for a month without a day off when Ain't She Sweet was released.
8. They're Grateful
Best-selling authors are keenly aware how fortunate they are to have arrived at the top of their profession. They sincerely appreciate their loyal readers. They recognize that they have been chosen to receive a strikingly rare, special distinction by a bustling, competitive marketplace. The success, fame, and financial rewards that have come to them are often beyond the most extravagant dreams they had when they first sat down to write a book. Christopher Paolini credits the support of the teachers, librarians, booksellers, and fans for the success of his first book, Eragon.
9. There Is No Single Profile for A Best-selling Author
Best-selling authors are seldom the top graduates from prestigious university writing programs. Writing may have been a second or third career for them, and the publishing industry values authors who bring life experience to their work, in fiction or nonfiction. Best-selling authors span all age groups, many different professions, and varied educational backgrounds. There is no single profile for what a best-selling author looks like.
Dee Power and
Brian Hill are the authors of The Making of a Bestseller: Success
Stories from Authors and the Editors, Agents, and Booksellers Behind Them
(2005), several other nonfiction books and the novel Over Time: Money
Love and Football, October 2005. You can reach them through their
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