How Can a First time Novelist Sell 1 Million Books? (Text Version)

Even bad fiction is art!

(Text version of video)

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.

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What is a writer worth? (Repost… because I’m lazy like that.)

The typical scene after a writer cashes his first royalty check.

So what does a blogger do when he runs out of things to say?  He reposts old blog entries.  This is from February 12, 2008, the day John Scalzi shook my world and actually announced how much money he made as writer.  Totally insane and undeniably educational!

Ever wonder what a working writer makes? Wonder no more. John Scalzi, winner of the John W. Campbell Award and a Hugo Award nominee, gives a very revealing look into the finances of a working writer. Along with letting you peer into his wallet, he also gives you some salient advice on how to manage your money and stay out of credit hell. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s possible to make a good amount of money as a writer. Most writers don’t. You should assume, strictly for business purposes, that you won’t, or at the very least, won’t for a very long time. It’s not all about you, it’s also about the market. Don’t get defensive. The median personal income in the US in 2005 was $28,500. You have a lot of company in the bottom half.

It’s a long article (or posting or whatever you call a blog entry), but it is well worth the read. John is a very successful writer. The key to his success is beyond being an exceptional novelist he is also a gun for hire. By his own admission, he will write most anything as long as the money is good. Click here to read the entire post, and I would also make it a habit to visit John’s blog on a regular basis. He’s got a lot to say and most of it is worth listening to.

If you’ve never read any of Scalzi’s books, I recommend Old Man’s War. It’s a military sci-fi novel, but the writing is good enough to make it enjoyable even if you’re not into that particular genre.

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Booktacts – The future of books

Booktacts - The book you can wear!

Booktacts - The book you can wear!

As an author and son of an ophthalmologist, I have been tinkering with a new invention in my basement that will revolutionize books, the booktacts. Basically, they are contacts fitted with wireless hyper radio wideband receivers that display text in ocular space. Yes, you read right, books you can wear. The booktacts can download any pdf or pcr file from any website. What’s more, you can control download functions and simple commands like highlighting and “send to printer” with a series of simple blink commands. I am coding them so they won’t download any Stephenie Meyer’s books because honestly, I am super jealous of her and really don’t want to give her access to another bestseller list.

In addition to being high tech, environmentally friendly, fabulously avant-garde readers, they are totally fashionable. They come in a variety of colors and can even be designed with team logos, obnoxious inspirational quotes, and slogans like “If you’re reading this, you’re way too close to my face.” I’m even working on mood booktacts. They change color depending on your mood while reading. Reading horror? They turn blood red. Reading a finance book? They turn money green. Reading erotica? They grow six inches.

I am not a scientist or a computer guy or an engineering-type person, and I don’t even have a basement, so the development stage has been really slow going, but I have tested a few prototypes on rats, and let’s just say, except for the blindness and brain damage, they work perfectly. I expect to start testing on humans as soon as I buy some duct tape and ether…. I mean as soon as my grant money comes in so I can pay a few test suckers…. subjects.

BTW – Tim O’Reilly claims to have come up with a revolutionary idea that will change books. You can read his article, Reinventing the Book in the Age of the Web, but it isn’t even close to being as cool as the Booktacts.

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