Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Where Is Your Tipping Point?


By W. Terry Whalin

How do you find your tipping point in book publishing? Or to ask it a slightly different way: what elements have to come together for  book to become a bestseller? One of the critical elements in my view is great writing and storytelling. Good writing helps people spread the word or buzz about the book (word of mouth).  Yet some wonderfully written books don’t get to the bestseller list.

Several years ago, I was interviewing Jerry B. Jenkins for a story related to one of the Left Behind books. Jerry realizes the unusual way his series of books has caught public attention—with over 60 million copies in print and a huge appetite for the concept which continues today with about 10,000 units of the first book continuing to be sold. Jerry wrote the first book in 1995.

Jerry recommended that I read a book from Malcolm Gladwell called The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Little, Brown Company, 2000). A tipping point according to Gladwell is that magical moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips and spreads like wildfire. What causes it?  

The Law of the Few is one of the critical elements where three groups intersect and come together. These three factors are: connectors, mavens, and salesmen. A connector is someone who knows lots of people and Gladwell gives a simple test. He takes about 250 surnames from the Manhattan phone book. You are to scan the names and see if you know someone with that last name. As he says on page 41, “All told, I have given the test to about 400 people. Of those, there were two dozen or so scores under 20, eight over 90, and four more over 100…Sprinkled among every walk of life, in other words, are a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances. They are Connectors.”

A Maven is one who accumulates knowledge. “A Maven is a person who has information on lots of different products or prices or places. This person likes to initiate discussions with consumers and respond to requests.” (p. 62) So you see two of the elements—mavens and connectors.

“In a social epidemic, Mavens are data banks. They provide the message. Connectors are social glue: they spread it. But there is also a select group of people—Salesmen—with the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing, and they are as critical to the tipping of word-of-mouth epidemics as the other two groups.” (p. 70).

Do I have it figured out? Not at all. I believe Gladwell is on to something significant for these factors to come together to tip the balance and make a book move from one level to the bestseller category. I hope it provides you with a bit of my insight. I still have a great deal to learn about this particular question.

How do books finally make a tipping point to become a bestseller? Let me know in the comments below. 

Tweetable:

How can you find the tipping point for your book? Get some ideas here. (Click to Tweet)

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W. Terry Whalin is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. His work contact information is on the bottom of the second page (follow this link).  One of his books for writers is Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams, Insider Secrets to Skyrocket Your Success. One of Terry's most popular free ebooks is Straight Talk From the Editor, 18 Keys to a Rejection-Proof Submission. He lives in Colorado and has over 205,000 twitter followers

3 comments:

  1. Terry, this is such an interesting topic. I wouldn't have thought of Gladwell's The Law of the Few as a tool for creating a bestseller. I guess the key is to figure out how to get the three groups to connect!

    I think what you said is right, write an amazing book. That and some luck, as there are many amazing books that don't get the recognition.

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    2. karen,

      Thanks for this comment. From my study of the bestseller list, strange things get on the list. Why in the 50s did a book about how to play canasta get on the bestseller list? It's because canasta swept the nation and everyone wanted to learn the game and bought that book. There are several keys in my view: first, write an amazing book with a solid title and cover and have it distributed; then try different ways to reach your audience--and finally keep promoting no matter what happens. Some books are slow starters and don't catch on for a year or two (way after many writers give up). As a writer you have to control what you can and let the rest go.

      Terry

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