It is a question I am asked frequently by someone who has no concept of the true nature of publishing. Selling a million copies of a novel is extremely difficult. Can it be done? Yes. I’m not here to discourage you and tell you to give up on the idea. It is indeed possible to sell a million copies of your novel, just as it’s possible to make a hole-in-one in golf. But unlike a hole-in-one, it takes more than persistence, practice and luck to sell a million books. It takes a cultural shift.
What you have to understand is that novels are a form of art. Some are more worthy of that label than others, but even bad art is art. Successful art, art that becomes part of the water cooler conversation, has to be either loved or hated. You cannot sell a million copies of a book that does not ignite some sort of passion in the reader. Passion creates cultural shifts. Cultural shifts are waves of behavioral changes that make art not just popular, but so popular it becomes common.
If you want to sell a million copies of your novel, all you have to do is rewire culture. Easy, right? Here’s the rub. In large part, readers don’t buy books, they buy authors. In order to give yourself the greatest opportunity to make your book a cultural phenomenon, the author has to become a cultural phenomenon first.
Your personal brand has to ignite the same kind of passion you expect your art to ignite. That’s where web 2.0 and your online persona come in. This medium – blogging, social media, web videos, etc. – this is where the reader in 2010 and beyond is going to get to know you. This is where the cultural shift begins.
Your personal brand has to be bold, be consistent, and be authentic. And as the builder of your personal brand, you have to carry on in the face of self-doubt and outside ridicule. Not everyone is going to connect with you. Accept it. Embrace it. Move on. Not everyone who connects with you is going to buy your book, but they will do something more important. They will spread the word about your personal brand. Over time more and more people will be exposed to you and your book, and – we’re back to the golf analogy – with persistence, practice and luck – the cultural shift will take place, and you will sell a million copies of your book. By the way, for those of you who are disappointed to still see luck as part of the equation, I happen to believe that luck is when preparation meets opportunity, so you can make your own luck.
Remember, your book won’t sell a million copies. You will sell a million copies of your book.