Formula One is the highest class of single-seater auto racing and has a set of rules to which all participants’ cars must conform. Just as in racing there are rules or elements for creating a successful book. And, make no mistake, writing and publishing a book today is a race to success. Does your book have what it takes?

The elements are the book’s appearance, the awareness you have built, and distribution system you have developed. Paying attention to each element is required to win your race. However, depending on whether you are a legacy writer, a writer with a message, or an entrepreneur disguised as a writer will determine how much attention you play to rules of the road and how much awareness is necessary to accomplish your goals.

Element One

Create the most professional product you can for your book. Have you or your publisher created the best possible most professional product? Give yourself a gold star if you have had an editor thoroughly review your book. Then give yourself or your publisher kudos if the interior design is clear and easy to read. The final check and the greatest selling point is the book cover. There are many articles about how to create an attractive, even exciting, book cover. Do your research. What books in your genre catch your eye?

There’s more to the rules of the road than book quality alone; however, it is, in fact, governed by a complex chain of interdependent and sequential elements.

Element Two

What are you doing to bring awareness to your book? We’ve all read books that moved us. These books become part of us. We wear the experience of them on our sleeves. We don’t just recommend these books to our friends—we insist that our friends read them. We buy them for our friends. We become single-minded evangelists for the books and the authors. How did we find out about these books? What brought these books to our attention? The answer lies in developing a word of mouth awareness.

Writers have many opportunities to foster word of mouth about their books. We’re all familiar with things that go viral. Whether we’re talking about an internet meme or an amazing book, these things pass from one person to another via the power of word of mouth. For books, word-of-mouth manifests in online reviews, social media recommendations, book group suggestions, a phone call to a friend, or watercooler conversations at work.

Element Three

What are the distribution channels for your book? Do you depend on Amazon to make all your sales or is your book in Ingram’s wholesale system? Or, better yet, do you have a distributor? Has your publisher made your book available to all the bookstores in the U.S.? Consider what needs to happen for one reader to spread a book to another. The reader must become aware of the book, discover a reason to desire the book, and then find convenient access to the book. Readers could hear great things about the book, search for it, not find it, and then give up. I have seen way too many books linger in boxes in garages for lack of distribution.

Just like a finely tuned race car, think of a book as an object and attached to that object are dozens of dials and levers—we’ll call them viral catalysts—that you can twist, turn, and tweak to make the book more discoverable, more accessible, more desirable, and more enjoyable to readers. If you can identify and minimize your books’ potential weaknesses, you’ll have a better chance of encouraging word of mouth. Identifying such issues requires an open mind and a keen sense of self-awareness.

With 20 years of experience in the book industry, I am a firm believer in creating your own imprint. One of the many benefits of publishing yourself is that your books can be dynamic, living creatures. You can evolve your books over time. Even established bestsellers have the opportunity to reach more readers. When you get your formula just right, each reader creates another reader. Multiplying readers in that way guarantees that you will win your race.

© Mari Selby, June 13, 2018

MARI SELBY founded Selby ink in 1998 after working for a small publisher where she was successful in improving their sales from 20,000 books to over 100,000 books in one year. Prior to being a publicist Mari was a family therapist in private practice for almost 20 years.