The Secret to Creating a Wildly Successful E-book

It's not great writing that drives book sales. It's not even great marketing that sells books. It's situating your book firmly within a larger context that the reader is genuinely passionate about.
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Having a publishing house market your book used to be one of the big advantages of signing with a major publisher, but not anymore. Established authors have understood for years that they need their own publicist and marketing plan for every new release. Meanwhile, the internet is abuzz with puzzled and frustrated writers trying to figure out how to achieve sales success in the exploding digital publishing market.

I have been scanning publishing forums, book blogs and news sources all over the world for months, looking for special insights into what makes an e-book -- particularly a self-published e-book -- successful. With the cost of publishing a book now within everyone's reach, were there also new tools that made marketing any easier? What I found were many variations on the following marketing suggestions:

  1. Produce lots of titles to increase name recognition and sales overall;
  2. Lower your price point and the readers will follow;
  3. Don't worry about pricing, just focus on great writing;
  4. Be a guest blogger, have your own blog, tweet, join forums, talk to readers, get reviews;
  5. Use your ebook as a promotional piece to sell classes, services, and other products;
  6. There is no magic bullet, just keep doing everything and eventually you'll break through.

It soon became apparent that the market was changing so rapidly that nobody had any certainty about what worked, or why. The online conversations soon became as depressing as they were repetitive -- until I found this video presentation by bestselling author Kathy Sierra.

Speaking at the O'Reilly Tools of Change Conference earlier this year, Sierra gives the clearest answer I have yet heard as to why all the above strategies aren't useless, but simply miss the point. She and her husband (they are co-authors) found that the one difference between getting great reviews and having wildly enthusiastic readers insisting that all their friends buy the book was how well the book aligned with the readers' goals.

I won't give away the whole talk because it really is worth watching in its entirety. But I will share with you one important point she makes about the power of authorship, a point that is missing in all of the discussions of e-book marketing and publishing I have seen to date: It's not great writing or ideas that drives book sales. It's not even great marketing and having a huge platform that sells books. The secret to success lies in situating your book firmly within a much bigger context that the reader is genuinely passionate about. Show them how your book makes them better at dealing with that big picture, make it explicit on every page of the book, and they will be the most enthusiastic promoters of your book.

Sierra's commentary on why authors choose to write books is also cogent and worth considering. Why does it seem so outrageous for authors to dream of making good money from their books? Suddenly the future of publishing, and the process of writing and selling e-books, seems less stark than it did just days ago. In this time of rapid change and growth, setting the bar higher for what we expect as authors will help insure that publishing is an industry we will want to be a part of for years to come.

A version of this article was published at Creative Content Coaching. Subscribe to the CCC Blog on Kindle.

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