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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Yet Another Prodigy to Make Me Question that Whole “Paying Your Dues” Crap!

Young people, stop being more successful than me. Seriously, if you’re under 30, try to fail more. This is really getting annoying. Kaleb Nation is the latest wunderkind that I discovered in a Google search who has succeeded in making me feel like a slug among men. He’s barely in his 20s, and he already has a book deal, a popular blog, millions of views for his videos on YouTube… hell, he’s even a former syndicated radio host. When you’re in your 20s, the only thing I want to hear is that you were formerly a teenager.

At this time, my publicist would like me to point out that I’m kidding. I am, of course, happy for Kaleb Nation. Improbable name or not, he seems to be a level headed kid who deserves his early success. On the other hand, my upwardly tracking success graph seems to be matching my upwardly tracking maturity level graph so I am right on schedule when it comes to succeeding.

I actually found Kaleb when I was looking for information on publishing contracts. He videotaped himself signing his contract. The video has great production value, but I was surprised how unceremonious the signing actually was. This is the realization of a lifelong dream (granted his life is pretty short on the long end), but where are the fireworks and the non-alcoholic Champaign, and the publishing bigwigs with their disingenuous smiles (sorry, my vision of publishing executives comes from classic Hollywood films). I got more pats on the back, and enthusiastic handshakes when I bought my car. Granted, I did buy a Honda Element, but c’mon, this is a book deal. Do you know how rare those are? Here’s the video. (And seriously, Kaleb, congratulations. I’m super happy for you. (and no that wasn’t a sarcastic congratulations. I really meant it (and I really, really meant that))).