How many years does it take to become an overnight success?

I get asked various forms of this question on a weekly basis. Sometimes it’s worded, “My book was published months ago. How come it’s not doing as well as I expected?” or “I am passionate about writing, not marketing. Do I really have to invest in promoting my book?” or “Won’t my book do well without a lot of publicity since it’s a great read?”

I had the privilege of studying under numerous phenomenal writing professors at The University of Central Oklahoma. Occasionally some of them shared about the promoting side of publishing. The biggest pearl of wisdom I took away was your potential best-seller won’t revolutionize the world if no one ever knows about it. To do well as an author you need a hard-working promoter. Sometimes a book will get picked up by an agent, then a major publishing company who will do that work for the author. Today many authors are choosing to self-publish. Or they are going through publishing companies that still require the author to do the majority of his or her own marketing.

Writing and Promoting are two sides of the same coin. Some people only pick up a penny on the ground if it’s heads up, because they think that makes it lucky. That penny is not any less valuable depending on whether Abraham Lincoln’s face is staring back at you or not. Just like you can’t buy groceries with a penny that’s blank on one side you can’t ignore the promoting aspect of publishing. To make a name for yourself in the world of storytelling you need to become skilled at both sides of the coin. I first spend all my time focusing on developing the best book I can. Once it is ready I invest that same amount of energy into getting it out into the realm of the reader.

My philosophy is: 1 reader = 1 hour writing/promoting

No, I don’t literally say, “I want a million readers so I have to equal a million hours on one story.” What I mean is the further you want your book to go, the more professional, well-written, and marketed it should be. Are you writing it solely for your family? Do you intend to pass out copies to friends as Christmas presents? Then you don’t need to spend as much time or finances on it compared to if you are not only going to let strangers read it, but also expect them to invest their own money in it.

If you want to get an agent research how to write an excellent query letter. If you plan on self-publishing a fiction story, those are not generally revised once printed. Make it the best it can be then promote, promote, promote. (If you aren’t sure which publishing route to take, check back soon for my upcoming blog Publishing: One size doesn’t fit all).

If you plan on writing non-fiction, know that even after it’s been released to the world you can re-release it down the road if you have more insight to add. Often a non-fiction book has been rewritten, revised, and revisited more times than the author can recount before it hits that magic seven digit number. One best-selling author who did this was Dave Ramsey. My husband and I are fans and have read many of Dave’s books. He started off selling them out of the trunk of his car, and spent years using his automobile as his number one marketing tool. As he sold he kept improving his work and made a name for himself.

Some authors sell books at trade shows, do book signings at stores, and speak for free at any opportunity presented. Other shyer authors go on blog tours and let their virtual self shine. Find ways of promoting that fit your personality. The trick is to continue improving on the craft of writing as you build your fan base by sharing what you’ve already finished tinkering on.

Yes, occasionally an author will have his or her first published book become a best-seller. Even so, most likely the person spent years developing his or her craft. Or they were famous before the book came out and already had a substantial fan base. What’s your passion? Is it helping change the lives of others? Is it bringing mystery or laughter to those who’ve had a hard day at work and need to spend a couple hours seeing the world through another’s eyes? If so, then pick up that penny on the ground and embrace both sides.

3 comments (Add your own)

1. E.M. Havens wrote:
Hey Jennie,

Great info. I appreciate the candor!


Tue, March 5, 2013 @ 12:31 PM

2. Jeanine Blount wrote:
This is so true, which we've now learned from experience. However, you said it much better than I could have!

Tue, March 5, 2013 @ 2:54 PM

3. Sarah wrote:
Thank you so much! Writing the thing really is only half the battle! Great advice!

Tue, March 5, 2013 @ 5:22 PM

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