If you want this to be the year you hit bestseller lists, consider some history. Many first-time novelists expect to be an over-night sensation with their first book, during the first year. We’ve all heard a story that went viral like a global disease. When this happens to a book the back story will often reveal an author who spent decades developing their craft in obscurity even if there were other books already published.
In ancient times, before ebooks and social media, those best-seller-overnight-sensations were publisher business decisions with strategic marketing campaigns. The novelists got “break-out publicity” from the publisher with book four if the prior three novels had earned out on costs and generated a profit. The “break out novel” was a standard practice for cultivating an authors’ career and to boost profits. If a big publicity push didn’t boost sales, careers died with that novel.
Large print runs for the break out novel, and the back list, were included because readers who find a novelist they like will immediately look for more stories by that author. One example is Dan Brown. I had never heard of him before “The DaVinci Code” and it was his fourth novel. Angels and Demons was the prequel; a stronger novel which introduced the main character, religious iconology, and the fictional field of symbology. The break-out marketing campaign was publicity for both books and a total win for the publisher, author, and readers. Hollywood and Tom Hanks also jumped into that story.
Novelists may have more options for getting published today, than a decade ago, but basic business principles for generating sales still apply. First, the novel needs to be well-written and worth reading. Second, readers need to hear about that novel and know where to buy it. When enough readers buy that novel it makes money for the author. But, remember the above example and consider your potential of making more money on your first novel after the fourth one is released.
The changes in the business of publishing from “before kindle” (in 2007) relate primarily to the cost of production and distribution. Finding readers and connecting with the audience is still in the magic and myth realm, of which social media is only one spoke on the wheel. Some books soar, others wallow. Readers are an integral part of the success of a story.
A break-out-novel only launches a career if that author has more stories of similar style/type either already written or quickly produced. That similar style/type of story matters as the author is first discovered by readers. Only consider venturing into other genres and story realms after three or four similar books to that first novel. Remember that no one likes drastic changes, especially readers. If your first book is a snarky rom-com set in New York City don’t plan your second book to be a sweeping saga of Amish farm life in central PA, even if both novels are set in the year of 1860 or 2460.
An author will always have to balance why they write, and what they write, with how it benefits their readers and their own life. Write good books. Maintain a sleek and dynamic website while writing good books. Plan strategic publicity online and in person, for the good books you wrote, and you will build a career as an author. Be aware of who and what your audience will find when they search on your name or book title.
Consider both your personal and professional history when making a career plan and marketing plan. Take the long view regarding your career as a novelist.