Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Behind The Fiction, Past
A Fiction Column
By Brian Hill & Dee Power

Ten Things That May Surprise You
By Dee Power and Brian Hill

       In writing our book, The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories From Authors and the Editors, Agents and Behind Them,"(Dearborn Trade, 2005), we wanted to find out what separates the publishing industry elite, the bestselling authors, from all the thousands and thousands of writers who aspire to someday make the bestseller lists. We interviewed 24 of today’s most popular authors, some of whom have endured on the bestseller 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. There Is No Single Profile For A Bestselling Author

Bestselling 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. Bestselling authors span all age groups, many different professions and varied educational backgrounds. There is no single profile for what a bestselling author looks like.


2. Perseverance Is Key

Nearly all bestselling authors faced the same struggles early in their careers that less successful, even unpublished authors, face. Immediate success is rare. One distinction of bestselling authors is that they do not get as discouraged by lack of early success. They persevere. Their desire to succeed is enormous. Bestselling authors often have to demonstrate the patience and stamina to write a number of books before achieving notable success.


3. They Write, And Write And Write….

The productivity, the writing output, of bestselling 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’ annual literary production is phenomenal, such as Nora Roberts who often comes out with two extremely popular books each year—year after year. Or Catherine Coulter, who has produced more than fifty bestsellers so far in her career.


4. Promotion Is Constant

Bestselling authors never stop promoting their books, no matter how successful they get. Many still market at the grass roots 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.”


5. Marketing Is An Important Factor

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.


6. 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. Bestselling authors seem to thrive on the hard work, and they work much harder than we might suppose.


7. Fans Are An Important Asset

Bestselling 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.


8. The More Success The More Pressure

Bestselling 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, the author 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 bestseller status. Added pressure comes from the fact that the publishing house expects that an author’s sales will increase with each successive book.


9. They Faced A Key Turning Point

There’s no denying that luck and timing play a vastly important role in literary success. Most bestselling authors had a key turning point in their career, a time when someone influential in the publishing industry got behind their career and helped them get to the next level. In other words, they found someone who championed their work in the marketplace. This person might have been an agent, an editor, or could have been a member of the media who first introduced this author’s work to thousands of potential readers. The scary part is that the author has no control over when—or whether—this favorable turning point will occur.


10. They’re Grateful

Bestselling 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.


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