Online tactics that help novels go viral


At New Delhi’s traffic lights, vendors sell an impressive range of goods, from checkered dusters to bestselling (and usually pirated) books. As an author, I deplore book piracy, but our local traffic light entrepreneurs have won my grudging admiration over the years for their ability to understand exactly what the Indian reader wants from bestseller lists.

Ten years ago, book pirates helped make local celebrities out of authors like Arundhati Roy and Amitav Ghosh, Chetan Bhagat and Devdutt Pattanaik. This year, the bulk of tricolor book sales faithfully reflected a growing trend – the rise of the viral author, across genres and countries. Many of these literary stars have become brand names due to the power of book communities – including but also beyond #BookTok influencers, Substack newsletters and Goodreads reviews – transforming both traditional publishing and self-publishing.

Colleen Hoover, who started as a self-published author with her 2012 novel Slammedis now a worldwide phenomenon who has sold more than 20 million books, including his romance novels ugly love (2014) and Truth (2018). In an interview earlier this year, Hoover, 42, who lives in Sulfur Springs, Texas, paid tribute to his followers online: “Any success I’ve had from TikTok hasn’t come from me, it’s came from readers who made videos. on my books and shared them on the app.

But while CoHo, as she is known, is often described as a BookTok phenomenon, she has something in common with many writers who have found viral fame – years of fieldwork, connection with fans and reading communities, before this moment of seemingly overnight success.

Over the past decade, authors around the world have increasingly turned to digital tools and online platforms as book advances and royalties in traditional publishing dwindle. Hoover first connected with readers on Instagram, long before BookTok took off. And like many writers, she chose to self-publish some of her books, even after her initial success, in addition to being published by mainstream houses. I bet more authors will embrace this hybrid model in the future, bridging the once separate worlds of self-publishing and legacy publishing.

While a 2019 survey by the Authors Guild showed a “drastic 42%” drop in income for American authors from traditional publishing (a downward trend confirmed by reports in the UK and elsewhere), there are huge opportunities for writers willing to go beyond festival appearances to directly nurture their fans – in short, to become entrepreneurs.

Earlier this year, Brandon Sanderson, author of several fantasy bestsellers including the Mistborn series, set an unusual record by funding one of the biggest book deals in publishing history. He appealed to his fans via Kickstarter, hoping to raise around $1 million for four unwritten standalone novels – and raised $41 million in a matter of days. As a thank you to the community, Sanderson announced that he would support every Kickstarter publishing call, funding another 316 book projects from the deal.

Literary fiction writers tend to be less adventurous than genre writers, less comfortable in the new digital ecosystem, and more reliant on traditional media. But that’s slowly changing as writers like Nicole Chung, Anita Anand, George Saunders and others try their hand at newsletters and podcasts.

A few years ago, American jazz critic and music writer Ted Gioia discovered a new audience on Substack at a time when mainstream newspapers had less and less space for jazz musician profiles or long articles. on the music. Today, he has tens of thousands of readers for his newsletter, The Honest Broker. In a recent article, “Has the Internet Peaked in Clickability?” Gioia writes, “Audiences crave something more than a clickable diversion in 10-second increments.” He goes on to add, “Readers here prefer in-depth articles. Who would have guessed?

Most writers, contrary to myth, are not recluses, and many, like contemporary artists, are more business-minded than meets the eye. Publishing itself may be slowly adapting to the rollercoaster promises of the emerging creator economy, but for buccaneering authors with an appetite for risk, it’s the start of a potentially new golden age. .

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