How Reviews + Book Clubs = Author Success

Today’s authors spend a lot of time blogging, tweeting, Pinning, etc… It’s practically become a requirement in today’s world of writing. But is it possible that the key to an author’s success lies in something much more basic and timeless: word of mouth? Possibly…

It’s important to remember that each genre of book is different. How a biography becomes successful (hot subject matter) is completely different from how a cookbook becomes successful (great recipes at the right time). And a novel? That’s a completely different beast entirely.

You see, when it comes to nonfiction books, it’s easy to get the word about your book out there to your target audience. They already are interested in the subject matter and looking for information on it, so all you have to do is get your book in front of them.

Fiction books are a completely different beast. No one goes on Google and searches for “the best novel.” Instead, fiction books generally become popular because people hear about those books from friends. When everyone else is reading it and/or raving about it, you want to, too!

Want proof that book reviews and/or book clubs are the secret to a fiction author’s success? Just read this Wall Street Journal article.

It talks about Kathleen Grissom’s debut novel, “The Kitchen House,” which came out in February 2010 and is now a huge hit. What took two years and how did it become so popular?

Here’s a paragraph from the article:

In an era when digital buzz is considered crucial to launching books overnight, it was old-fashioned book-club word-of-mouth that prevailed. The book is in its 21st printing, with 254,000 copies in print and 152,000 e-books sold, the publisher says. It has hit some best seller lists, and in July, giant retailers like Target and Costco began selling it; sales jumped 25%. An Alice Walker blurb now adorns a new front cover. Grissom’s $35,000 advance has been followed by “a couple of checks” for $100,000 each with more to come, she says.

How did she do it? Hint: It wasn’t her publisher. As a first-time author, her publisher wasn’t about to invest a lot of time and money into marketing her book. Just like most authors today, Kathleen had to do the work herself:

She sent advance copies to influential book bloggers, asking for a review. If she didn’t hear back, she’d bug them again. Eventually, bloggers began to read it and review it—positively. Book clubs, which pay attention to such sites, started contacting Ms. Grissom via her website. She often offered to speak to the club personally, sometimes driving there on her own dime, or to call in to talk to the groups. She estimates that she has spoken to as many as 50 book clubs over two years. She would also arrange for the nearby bookstore to have enough copies to accommodate the members. Word of mouth spread.

Today, Kathleen’s book is in most airports, on summer reading tables at Barnes & Noble, and will be prominently displayed in its stores throughout the end of the year, said Michael Selleck, executive vice president of sales with Simon & Schuster.

You see? Sometimes a little old fashioned hard work pays off. If you’re the author of a fiction book, build yourself an author website and then focus your time and energy on getting that book reviewed in as many places as possible, and encouraging book clubs to add your book to the reading list. Here’s to hoping you’ll be the next Kathleen Grissom…