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How do you define a successful book?

A fellow author and I were having an email discussion about writing and publishing last week and came upon the question - what makes a book successful?

Here is my answer:

Ahh yes, every book has its own definition of success and I totally agree that you must have a product that makes you proud.  That is why so many are disappointed when they use some of these online "book mills".  There is nothing better (well, maybe getting married and having your children!) that is more special than holding that first book in your hand - I’ll never forget that day - I was so thrilled. 

IF you define success with sales, then here are the order of important things that I often hear and agree with:

#1 cover - first thing people see, still generally acknowledged to have the most single impact on sales;

#2 Title - pulls the reader into the content and what people see first on the bookshelves - must be easily readable on the spine;

#3 Marketing and personal connection with the author - the author’s willingness to promote the book as long as it is in print - most give up too quickly and the book never gets "legs"

#4 Either the back cover copy (what I think) or some people say the introduction - either way this is where you tell the reader what’s in it for them.  All of these things happen before the reader has read a single word of the book (most likely) or no more than  just a few lines glancing though it.  The decision to buy is made on these first 4 things before the reader ever delves into the book.  I would submit that another item that is in the early pre-sale mix is also reviews - what others think of the book - whether it is readers reviewing on Amazon, word-of-mouth from friends or professional reviewers in magazines and newspapers and now bloggers.

#5 The content. If they don’t get through the above four items, they will never open the book to read your beautiful words.
 

If you define success in terms of personal satisfaction, doing a service for the world, or some other non-sales related definition, then I would agree that each person’s success definition will be different.  My definition though was sales first and helping others access the information as a result of good sales.  If nobody gets to read what you have written (via buying the book), then what good is having written wonderful words, crafted carefully - your personal satisfaction will be greater if you get to share that joy with your readers.

My friend’s answer tended to focus on the writing aspect itself - which, of course, is a necessary and valid perspective. Her top 5 were:

My personal order of importance for a ’successful’ book

#1 the story idea  #2 the writing  #3 editing/graphics/cover  #4 marketing #5 successful follow-up book

So, what do you think makes a successful book?

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"And I thought after 40 years of writing, I could write a sales letter... WRONG! Carol White's letter went beyond my imagination and into the sales stratosphere. Thanks, Carol! " -- AD Walker