As you likely remember reading in the first three parts of this series, bestsellers—books that sell hundreds of thousands of copies, if not a million or more—happen when three invigorated storm fronts come together: 1) good content, 2) creative marketing (design and getting it properly noticed), and 3) that the topic touches something the public is very interested in. The term you will hear publishers and acquisition editors use for this last one is “felt need,” or what business owners often call their customers’ “pain point.” Felt need is a crucial consideration for any nonfiction writer, because it basically tells you how large your potential audience is and how likely they are to buy your book.
(Note, once again, I specialize in nonfiction, so that is the angle I am working from here. While fiction can also touch on the “felt need” of its audience, it is definitely in a different way. Plus I don’t really want to talk about why I think teen romances with vampires and werewolves are so popular right now.)
Relevance Matters, But You Might Have to Point It Out
“Felt need” can be kind of a nebulous MacGuffin. When publishers acquire books, they sometimes act as if felt need is the most important thing—or you would think so when you read the term in your rejection letter. However, felt need or the popularity of a topic can change for any number of reasons. Books about certain subjects can seem like no one is interested in them for years, and then suddenly one comes out addressing the issue in a fresh way and it sells like crazy. Again, it’s like when the movie Field of Dreams came out. At the time the convention was that movies about baseball, farming, or hearing voices never did well at the box office. Then they made Field of Dreams and it sold tickets like crazy. So much for conventional wisdom.
When I worked on The American Prophecies and The Final Move Beyond Iraq with Michael Evans, questions about the Middle East, Israel, and Iraq were in the news daily. Dr. Evans was able to get several television spots on news shows as a result, and both books debuted in the top five on New York Times lists. Of course, these were also books with shorter shelf lives as many of the players and factions in the Middle East have changed since it was published. (For example, no one had even heard of ISIS at that time.) The “felt need” on the information in those books isn’t the same today as what it was then.
Making Your Book a Slam Dunk for a Publisher to Pick Up
Of course, there are other factors that go into a book getting picked up by a publisher and having it sell to the top of the charts. You might have a large following and/or a well-established name like John Maxwell, Malcolm Gladwell, or Patrick Lencioni. You might have a weekly TV show, an e-mail subscription list of 50,000 or more, 100,000 likes on Facebook or 125K followers on Twitter, be the pastor of a mega-church, or something else that carries name recognition. All of these impress publishers because they show you have a substantial following already and have done a good deal of marketing work for them.
While most of us don’t have any of those things going for us yet, I think it is a good idea for aspiring authors to think about how to develop them even before they have written the introduction to their book. It is certainly possible that these storm fronts can come together on their own (as the saying goes, “lightning could strike”), but I am also a great believer in seeding the clouds.
As you think about writing a book, don’t count on it selling a million copies just because you are excited about it. Ask yourself, have you done everything within reason to make sure your manuscript is the best it can be? Are you building anticipation in a significant audience for its release? Are you expressing your ideas in a way that both get attention and strike a cord in your potential readers? Does your content address a pain point that lots of readers are going to want to know your solution for fixing?
The good news is that with all that authors have available to them today, they can start seeding these clouds before they even start writing—or even use the materials they are creating for the book as part of that seeding process. But, then, that, as they say, is for another blog. 🙂
So, as a writer, which of these three fronts are you working on at the moment? Which do you think is the most difficult or will demand the most of your time? Which do you think you will need to most help with?
I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments!