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Swallowed by a whale? You just might have a bestseller

This headline might have grabbed your attention for a variety of reasons. If you live here in the U.S., you may have heard about the guy who got swallowed and spit out by a discerning whale looking for a guest spot on one of those restaurant makeover shows. This diver and whale story is pretty unique, so it received a boatload (nautical pun intended) of media attention. Step aside, Jonah.

During a discussion with a publisher about my client’s book concept, she grabbed my attention with a pointed comment. She used the abducted-by-aliens question, but her point was clear. My client didn’t have a story quite that dramatic or unique. Does that mean her book concept is dead on arrival?

It depends

Prospective clients often ask if they have a good enough story. By good enough, they usually mean a bestseller that can land them a Sunday morning tea sipping session in Oprah’s garden. My standard response is always: it depends. Many factors contribute to a book’s success, but uniqueness tops the list. I then unleash a swarm of questions, attempting to reach an honest answer to this pestiferous (garden puns intended) question. These examples just scratch (last dorky pun, I promise) the surface of this topic:

  • What’s the purpose of the book?

  • Do you have a unique (extreme/death defying/heroic) experience or groundbreaking perspective on a topic?

  • How truly unique is it?

  • Who is the audience? (Tip: “everyone” is not a valid answer)

  • Why will they care?

  • What does the marketplace look like in this category or topic? This is big. A crowded marketplace means your swallowed-by-a-whale story has got to be pretty damn good.

Bestseller or bucket lister?

This part of the discovery process can leave your ego with more bruises than the unfortunate peach at the bottom of the grocery bin, but the answers to these questions allow us to clarify your book’s purpose and unearth the true unique gems in your story, or not. The deeply personal and often emotional nature of an author’s experiences can make them seem important and book worthy. Getting fired from a job, for example, can be a life-changing experience, but it lacks the uniqueness of a top selling story, unless there are aliens or hungry whales involved, of course. Figuring this out up front will save money, time, and disappointment in the long run. Ultimately, you may have to adjust your expectations.

Being short on unique gems does not mean you don’t have a book. It means that you might not have a bestseller that sells millions of copies. It means you will write what we call a platform book that typically sells hundreds or thousands of copies. Think marketing tool for your business, passion project, memoir or a legacy for your family. You can still write a worthwhile book that serves a valuable purpose for you and your audience. Thousands of authors write quality platform books every year that serve their purpose incredibly well.

A book has the power to open doors to opportunities to speak, teach, inspire and help others, and to supercharge your career or your business. Ask any author what it was like to write their book and they will tell you about their eye opening, sometimes gut wrenching, sometimes humbling, always life impacting journey. I am confident that very few authors regret writing their book. Bestseller or bucket lister, it is a journey worth taking. And who knows, we might just unearth a real gem in the process that transforms your bucket lister into a bestseller.

The Discovery Stage of your book writing journey includes three Decision Points that help fine tune your concept to make the ultimate decision to go ahead, change direction, or scrap the project. I'll be talking indepth about these Decision Points in upcoming blogs so stay tuned. Or, if you need to know right now, just email me.


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