One of my favorite bestseller stories is from Tim Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Workweek. Just about everyone was curious how he managed to hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list with his first book.
Here’s what Tim says in his infamous post, How Does a Bestseller Happen?
Before I began writing […] I cold-contacted and interviewed close to a dozen best-writing authors about their writing processes, followed by close to a dozen best-selling authors about their marketing and PR campaigns. I asked several questions of the latter group, but one of the assumption-busting home runs was: “What were the 1-3 biggest wastes of time and money?”
This led me to create a “not-to-do” list. Number one was no book touring or bookstore signings whatsoever. Not a one. All of the best-selling authors warned against this author rite of passage. I instead focused on the most efficient word-of-mouth networks in the world at the time—blogs. The path to seeding the ideas of 4HWW was then straight-forward: Go where bloggers go. … Build and maintain those relationships through your own blog, too.
Pop-quiz: Do you have to blog or know bloggers to have a successful, bestselling book?
Do you need to build relationships and share knowledge with successful or authoritative people (or organizations/businesses) in your community?
Tim’s first step is critical: He interviewed people who had achieved the level of success he wanted. He found out what worked for them. And he not only emulated it, but built critical relationships with those who were influential in spreading the word about his book.
You’ll find this kind of story played out again and again.
Dan Blank, in his excellent workshops for writers, offers similar advice. (The following quote is from his talk on blogging at the 2011 Writer’s Digest Conference, and applies not just to blogging, but to many online activities.)
Before you start blog, think about who’ll send you traffic. Know community players, who you’ll build relationships with. … Comment on other people’s blogs. Create a post as a response to someone’s blog, tweet, comment, or e-mail.
Dan practices what he preaches. Before he launched one of his first classes for writers, he and I had a series of conversations about what writers need, and how he could best serve his students. He didn’t jump into it without input, and he had a variety of people in the community (people who respect him, and vice versa) helping him spread the word about his class.
Tying all of this closer to home—and to the offline world—I read a recent article at Publishing Perspectives about how authors can best work with booksellers. Here’s a great tip from Katherine Weber that illustrates the value of reaching out and establishing relationships:
Ask the [bookstore’s] events manager if there are any book groups connected to the store or local library who should be told about your event. Offer to have coffee or a drink with the group, before or after your event.
I wonder how many book signings might turn out to be worthwhile (and succeed despite the advice Ferriss received) if authors devoted time and energy to bringing their own communities to—or creating communities around—those in-person events. I wonder how many signings turn out to be worthwhile long after the fact, due to sparking or sustaining valuable relationships and stronger networks.
Many times, when an author’s marketing efforts fail, it’s because they tried to go it alone. (Actually, even your writing efforts are apt to fail if you don’t have a mentor or trusted critique partner who can give you honest and constructive feedback.)
Relationships are critical, and often when you see a successful author, what you see are only the VISIBLE aspects of their content, their online presence, and their credibility. What you can’t see is all of the relationship-building and conversations that go on behind the scenes that contribute to a more impactful and amplified reach. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
But I guarantee that no successful author has gone it alone.
If you’re curious about building the visible and invisible aspects of your platform, then don’t miss my online class next week with Writer’s Digest.