A Publisher's Conversation with Authors: Attributes of Successful Authors and Their Books


(photo by Frank Perez)

It is Tuesday. Time to tall turkey. Monday's madness is over, and Wednesday will take us over the hump, so Tuesday it is--for some serious discussion with authors. Tuesday talks mean to address authors in waiting and self-published authors who would like to go a more traditional route or who would at least like to take their steps with a publisher by their side.

Today's topic questions the assumptions about book success. What makes a successful author? What makes a successful book? What results in being able to earn an income as an author? That last question is usually why the first two questions are asked. So, let's wrap these three together as "attributes of successful authors and their books."

Attributes of a successful author:.

  • Good writing
    • Check out Elements of Style (Strunk & White); this is the minimum for good writing, and many authors do not pass this test.
    • Clarity. Making complicated topics understandable takes talent, skill, practice, and feedback.
    • Attention to detail; how else can you describe the intricacies of your topic or characters?
    • Strong vocabulary, strong verbs: throw out those linking verbs (we won't take on a book that is full of them -- find some active verbs that draw the reader in instead)
  • Good motivation
    • Persistence is essential; Michener said that he wrote something every day even when he had writer's block and even if it was only one sentence; he set aside four hours each day, after which he could walk away and enjoy life or take care of errands, but life and errands never interfered with those four hours.
    • Resilience is equally essential; books do not become bestsellers overnight; sometimes, they do not sell at all in the beginning; sometimes very good books get very bad reviews; sometimes money gets depleted and more is needed, etc., etc.,; resilience is a priceless commodity.
    • Vision is also essential. If you do not have a vision that motivates you to absolutely need to get the word out to one and all, chances are one and all will not be reading your book; after all, if you cannot inspire yourself, how can you expect to inspire others?
  • Good platform
    • Who you are is important; if you are a national leader, then you can be a platform by yourself; if you are not, then you need to use your contacts, associations, and networks to help you build credibility in the niche in which you are writing; who you are and who you know are inextricably intertwined and crucial to the success of your book.
    • What your resources are that can help make the book well known and respected can make a big difference in the success of your book. Do you have 50K followers on a social media platform? You should if you want to be successful. Do you have a stunning website? You should. Do you have a bang-up Author Central page on Amazon? You should have all of this and more if you truly want to be successful. Here are some previous posts that touch on the topic of platform that might be helpful.
  • Good promotion
    • Get some good advice on promotion; the costs can break you quite quickly without any results. 
    • Be aware of how much investment is required to generate enough purchases and interest to create a bestseller--thousands of copies of books distributed to the right places, thousands of dollars spent on advertisement. There are all kinds of ways to waste money on book promotions that do not earn money for you.
    • Exploit social media deeply, not broadly. Use 1-2 social media venues and build your followers on them to 50K at least.
  • Good number of books
    • When one book does not sell, write another. A new book generally causes an increase in sales for a previous one.
    • Remember that it often takes about a dozen (reasonably well-selling) books to make any money in the publishing business. All too often, authors write the chef d'oevre (or so they think) and want that to bring them all the income they need to become a professional author. Nope, it does not work that way.
    • If you have a series of book (good job!), you can afford to give the first one away in an e-book format in order to sell the other books in the series. One freebie usually prompts interest in purchasing other books in the series--if the first book is good enough to sell itself.
  • Good financial sense
    • Just because your book is selling scads of copies does not mean you are making any money. What are your expenses? What are you paying for promotion? For taxes? For other book-related costs? Here is an interesting--and eye-opening article--on how to launch a bestseller without earning anything from all those sales.
    • Don't expect your book launch to make money; almost all book launches lose money, in my experience, both for the author and for the publisher; use the book launch to solidify a platform for future sales.
    • Don't keep throwing good money after bad. If a promotional tool did not work for you, it probably makes little sense to try it again.

No links this time to other reading on this topic (other than those above). There are many. Just google "good author," "bestseller." and whatever other hope you have for your book and yourself as an author.

Lesson for today's Tuesday talk: Chances are you will not become rich overnight with your first book--write more, spend wisely, and set realistic expectations.
If you want to be a successful author, you are going to have to work for it, just like you would for any other success in life. And you will have to be resilient when that success does not come right away.

 Read more posts about publishing HERE.

The Tuesday talks reflect real discussions between the management of MSI Press LLC and our own authors or those would-be authors who come through our doors but don't make the cut--yet. If you have a topic you would like to see addressed, leave the question in the comment section. Chances are, in our 17 years of publishing first-time and experiences authors, we have had a conversation with one of our authors that we can share with you.


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