On Overnight Success

Over on a certain writing forum someone started a thread this week about how fast things can go viral and mentioned how it was 100% certain that a book would go viral if you were able to give away 3,000 free copies.

After I finished laughing my ass off (I’ve done that with two separate romance titles and while I made some nice money on follow-through sales it didn’t do much for long-term sales…), I read the rest of the thread where people were discussing how long it took for J.K. Rowling to take off and someone mentioned that she was on bestseller lists in 1998.

Well, I was working in a bookstore in 1998 and 1999 and I can assure you that the Harry Potter books were not then what they are now.  I don’t honestly recall anyone coming into the store and asking for copies and we weren’t hand-selling them at the time either.  When someone asked about a good series for a 10-12 year old kid who liked fantasy I seem to recall that Phillip Pullman was our go-to recommendation.

Then today I saw this post from George R.R. Martin where he talks about it being 20 years since the first Game of Thrones book was published and doing book tours for it with dismal turnouts.

I remember getting an ARC of maybe the second book (it had a gold cover) while I was working at the bookstore.  It was just sitting there in the back room, dumped with all the other ARCs we received and I thought, “ooh, dragons, cool” and picked it up.  Even though I was a fantasy reader and worked in a bookstore I had no clue who he was or what the series was.

And when it came time for me to do my great book purge in 2010, it didn’t even occur to me to hold onto that book even thought it’s probably worth something now.  Because the series didn’t really blow up like insanity until the T.V. show hit big starting in 2011.

It’s funny.  Because it can seem to people looking back that of course a book took off right away.  But that’s rarely the case.  I remember hearing about Twilight after the entire series was out.  Same with 50 Shades of Grey.  By the time they were big enough to come to my attention, the people I knew who liked them were binge-reading the whole series in the space of a few days.

Which is all to say that there’s time.  Maybe.  For things to take off later.  And that a book that does alright today might be part of something amazing next year or ten years from now.

(I certainly hope so given my own sales…)

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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