In Part I of this article, I discussed how I overcame the negativism of the Discouragement Fraternity and self-published my first book into a New York Times #1 bestseller after it was rejected by twenty-three publishers.
But I’m certainly not alone when it comes to being successful as a self-promoting author. Today I’d like to share with you one of my favorite examples of another author who defied the Discouragement Fraternity by taking matters into his own hands and guiding his book to mega-success.
The Road Less Traveled
The Road Less Traveled, written by the late M. Scott Peck, was first published in 1978, when Simon & Schuster sprung for an initial printing of 5,000 copies. That’s pretty typical for major publishers, none of whom are willing to seriously back an unknown author’s book.
With so few copies in print and virtually no PR, the book was barely noticed by the public. It sold only about 12,000 copies in hardcover, and the paperback edition sold a measly 30,000 copies in its first year.
Peck, a practicing psychiatrist, appeared headed for a life of oblivion as an author. But he apparently possessed a latent marketing gene that prompted him to make a commitment to do as many radio and television interviews as he could scrounge up, no matter how small the listening or viewing audience might be.
In addition, he made copies of a positive review written by Phyllis Theroux of The Washington Post and sent it to several hundred newspapers. As a result of this effort, in each of the next two years The Road Less Traveled sold 60,000 copies. Then, in mid-1983 — five years after it was first released! — the book finally made it to the coveted New York Times bestseller list.
All told, The Road Less Traveled remained on The New York Times list for an unfathomable 694 weeks — the equivalent of more than thirteen years! Had Peck not taken matters into his own hands and made a career out of ingraining his book into the public’s consciousness, I wouldn’t be writing about it today.
Jonathan Dolger, who bought The Road Less Traveled for Simon & Schuster when he was employed with that company as an editor, later became Dr. Peck’s literary agent. Years after the book’s title had become a household term, Dolger was quoted as saying, “I have no idea what made it such a success, and I don’t think Scotty had an idea either.”
Translation: Publishers just don’t get it. Trust me, I’ve known hundreds of Jonathan Dolgers in the publishing industry, and they haven’t a clue about how to market a book.
My first book and The Road Less Traveled and are but two examples from the long list of books that have made it to the top only after years of intense promotional efforts by their authors. The lesson is clear: If you have a manuscript you want to get published, or a book that’s already out there dying on the back shelves of bookstores, the most important thing you can do is ignore the negativism of the Discouragement Fraternity and fight on.
When I say fight on, what I am referring to is that you have to make things happen yourself. If you already have a publisher, by now you surely know that it is not going to do anything — repeat, anything — to promote your book. Unless, of course, the book miraculously manages to become a success on through word of mouth (which is like winning the lottery), after which the publisher will get behind it. Sort of like a bank that won’t lend you money unless you can prove you don’t need it.
If you fail to take action — preferably bold, even outrageous, action — and don’t commit yourself to doing everything you can to get your book known to the general public, it’s destined to spend an eternity residing in the Heaven of Unknown Titles.
I again emphasize that everything I’ve discussed in this article applies equally to all industries. No matter how hard members of the Discouragement Fraternity work at trying to convince you that your project is ill-fated, the truth of the matter is that just about anything can be sold through hard work and creative marketing. That’s a reality that is intellectually impossible for establishment types to fathom.
Which is their problem, not yours. The problem you have to be concerned with is your own procrastination and/or lack of belief in your product. Once you have those two issues under control, the light at the end of the tunnel becomes pretty bright.
Oh … and by the way, once your efforts pay off and you make it to the top of the financial ladder, be prepared to be disliked. Rest assured that your success will be a difficult pill to swallow for those who warned you that what you were contemplating was all but impossible.
Now, here’s the good news: Of those who dislike you, probably 50 percent will kiss up to you anyway, because they are shamelessly impressed by wealth. And probably another 40 percent will genuinely respect you for your accomplishments. But about 10 percent will actually go through life mad and refuse to acknowledge your success.
But do you really care? The best mind-set is to simply smile and say to yourself, in the words of Emmett Smith (the midget among giants who broke the NFL’s all-time rushing record): “Now tell me what else I can’t do.”
Then go about your business — and make short shrift of any naysayers who from time to time may cross your path.