One of the many wonders of my job are the surprises. The unexpected successes of books you really never thought twice about. I found my most recent surprise in a book published this past fall. The book was a drop in title for its print publisher and was submitted to audiobook publishers in August, just a few months shy of publication. Giving that publication was only a few months out, no audiobook publisher jumped to snatch the rights. For a while, I didn’t either. Logistically, it didn’t make sense for most audiobook publishers. Many fall lists were already full and there just wasn’t enough time to find recording space and time in order to make simultaneous publication. A big headache for a book that, on the surface, didn’t have much going for it. The author had no track record in the United States. The book had previously been published abroad where it sold millions of copies. Impressive? Yes. But what did that mean for us? Would it have the same appeal here in the United States?
The author of the book is the creator and owner of a cleaning consulting business. The business has blossomed into a famous service that has an extensive wait list. The author’s business prowess was appealing and certainly another plus to acquiring the rights, but it also led me to one of my biggest concerns. Were people going to be interested in listening to how to clean their home versus reading about it? The self-help genre is very popular in audio, but cleaning? I wasn’t sold yet. I let the submission sit on my desk until its publication in October. One day I decided to check it out and guess what? It was selling. As a matter of fact, it was selling very well. How long would it last? Who knew, but the audio rights were something I wasn’t willing to pass up any longer.
Before I made an offer for the rights, I read the book. I needed to see what all the hype was about. To be honest, it only made me more skeptical. In my opinion, she took cleaning your home to a whole new level. I found some of her cleaning and organization suggestions extreme. Despite all it’s offbeat advice, something about it felt familiar.
Since, the audiobook has been published and it hasn’t disappointed yet. I have seen countless articles about about the author in all major magazines, newspapers, and journals and the sales haven’t ceased. What made this book so successful? What about it appeals to both readers and listeners? It’s self-help genre had something to do with it. People like to continually “work” on themselves- always seeking a better version of themselves. But, there was certainly more to it than that. Something that all writers could learn from.
It’s practicality and accessibility has a lot to do with the book’s success. Cleaning and decluttering is practical. Everyone can do it. No matter how old, what gender, or what physical shape you are in you can clean. It’s something we all need to do and unfortunately, can’t avoid. It’s also accessible. In our world of “stuff,” everyone can relate to the need to purge some of their belongings. Our society puts so much value on material things that eventually we become overwhelmed. We all have a need to clean out our lives once in a while. Cleaning is a topic that puts all readers and listeners on an even playing field.
How can writers of all different genres learn from this? First, think practicality. Could the reader see your story actually happening in real life? Does it make sense? This does not mean you can’t make up a fake world with alien, vampire, and werewolf characters all rolled into one. Science fiction is one of the most popular genres out there. What you need to think about is does your world make sense? Does the fundamentals of your world, it’s characters, description, and events all add up to make something believable? Could the reader close their eyes and see the story play out in his or her mind? Is it believable enough?
Second, think accessibility. Can your reader easily understand what is going on? Are they left wondering how you got from one scene to another? Are the laws/rules of the world in which your story takes place explained? Are any cultural differences pointed out? Always assume your reader knows nothing. Find a way to tell your reader everything they need to know without them even realizing it.
Whether you are writing about how to clean your house, an alien abduction, or anything in between, practicality and accessibility will always be two necessary pieces to your puzzle of success. Write on.