Best-Sellers: Two Writers Weigh In
Blogger: Michelle Ule
Location: Home Office, Santa Rosa, CA
We’ve already talked about a nefarious way to break onto The New York Times best-seller list by buying copies of your own book, but what about writing a best-selling book. Is there a trick to that?
I asked two Books & Such writers to talk about their experience, starting with the first question—did you know you were writing a best-selling book?
Like everyone, Diane Stortz wanted to produce a successful book. From her experience as both a writer and editor, she knew Bible storybooks need a “fresh, strong, clearly recognized focus and need to offer parents a good value.” She thought long and hard about how to put together the manuscript that ultimately became The Sweetest Story Bible. Released by Zonderkidz in February 2010, it’s in its sixth printing and appeared on the Christian best-seller list for several months.
“The focus of this book is who God is and how sweet his words and our relationship with him are. Zonderkidz gets the credit for suggesting a book for little girls. My original idea for the ‘sweet’ look was a candy motif,” Diane said with a laugh.
Two-time Christy Award-winning author Dale Cramer gave careful thought to his recent best-seller, Paradise Valley (Bethany, 2010). “In one sense I was aiming for a larger market because for the first time I was planning to write an Amish series that featured romance and a woman’s point of view . . . I felt sure it would appeal to a larger segment of the market.”
He planned well. Paradise Valley has sold nearly twice as many copies as his last published book.
Both Dale and Diane felt their projects received big boosts from the marketing departments of their publishing houses. The Sweetest Story Bible “got noticed early on,” Diane said. “Zonderkidz price-promoted it too, and that definitely helped.”
Early and pre-sales can make a difference in a book’s chances of becoming a best-seller. “Bethany House worked very hard to promote Paradise Valley,” Dale said. “They also planned and vigorously supported a signing tour I did in Ohio around the time the book released.” As Paradise Valley was the first of three books, Dale thought Bethany put “extra muscle behind the marketing,” to give the whole series a strong start.
Diane said there are no secret formulas for making the best-seller list. “You have to know what’s selling, what people want, and provide a new spin, but that’s not infallible.For children’s books, after the content focus, the illustrations and overall look matter quite a lot,and Zonderkidz definitely got the cover and design right.”
The real key, of course, is the quality of the book itself. “Good writing is hard,” Dale said. “To me it’s just common sense that the writer has far more control over the quality of the writing and the strength of the story.
“When people ask me how to get published I always tell them, write a good book; editors are looking for good books. How do you make the best-seller list? The same way: Readers are looking for good books.”
What do you think a writer can do to increase the odds of selling a lot of books? What have you tried? What makes you want to purchase a book?