Stephanie J Hale is a publishing expert who helps high-profile entrepreneurs and speakers to write best-selling books. She is the founder of Oxford Literary Consultancy and author of award-winning books including How to Sell a Million Books.
How did you come to write your book, Celebrity Authors’ Secrets?
Well I thought about the question that I’m most commonly asked by my clients, which is, ‘How do I sell more books?’ It doesn’t matter if they’ve sold millions of books or if they’ve sold a hundred, they still ask me the same thing. So this was the obvious topic that would help the most people. It was then a natural progression to ask the gold medalists of the literary world to contribute and give tips. I’ve worked with a lot of famous authors over the years, both while working at Oxford Literary Consultancy and while lecturing at Oxford University. So I asked authors who have sold not just a million books, but who have sold over a million books several times over. I chose authors from all genres: from spiritual to business, relationships, even children’s books. This included authors as diverse as John Gray (Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus), Brian Tracy (Eat That Frog), and Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar) in my book. I wanted to show what they do that’s similar and what they do that’s different, so that other authors can learn from them. It’s easy to look at a successful person and forget that they were once unknown too.
So, what is the secret to writing a great book?
The secret is getting really clear about who your target reader is and then thinking about what their most pressing problems or questions are. You have to understand your reader inside out and to write in a way that resonates with them emotionally (both in the language and content) so that they think, ‘This book is written for me.’ It’s much easier to achieve this with a non-fiction book than it is for fiction, though in reality the same principles apply. Next, you have to have a catchy title and a compelling plot: you have to give the reader a really good reason to keep turning the pages. Surprisingly few authors do this. Most write the books for themselves rather than their readers, and spend very little time thinking about their book title or blurb. They then wonder why their books aren’t selling!
The impact of technology on our reading habits is much discussed. Do you think we are still as interested in long-form writing as blogs and paparazzi-style magazines?
People still read books, especially if they have a pressing problem that needs resolving, or if they are an avid fan of a particular fictional genre. Yes, you can hunt out the solutions to your questions piecemeal on blogs, etc, but it’s not the same as having all the answers in one place from a trusted authority. Books still have kudos within our culture that the internet doesn’t really have. This is why famous people keep writing them. If books didn’t have this power, everyone would just write blogs.
Celebrities are regarded as society’s successful individuals. Why is this and what do they do differently to the rest of us?
‘Celebrity’ status is all about perception and being regularly in the limelight – in addition to having a talent for offering huge ‘value’ to other people. To illustrate: you can have a new author who appears on a high-profile TV show or in a glossy magazine who suddenly becomes well-known as ‘the expert’ on a topic such as property. Or they might win a prestigious literary award or have a high-profile book launch on social media or via blogs.
In comparison, you can have another property expert with a portfolio of 500 properties who is low-profile and no-one has ever heard of. In truth, the person who is unheard of may have the greater expertise and experience, but they simply don’t have the same exposure. They have an audience or several hundred people, whereas the celebrity is reaching millions or tens of millions. Celebrities understand what their readers are looking for and they understand what the media is looking for. This is backed up with hard work, determination and the ability to bounce back from life’s setbacks. Many people face rejection or challenges and simply give up, rather than keep going. I hear a lot of negativity around publishing. But that is not my reality. I have worked with many first-time authors who have gone from being ‘unknown’ to making regular appearances on TV shows and in glossy magazines as soon as they publish a book.
Which author would you choose as a dinner guest, and why?
Gosh, I’m not sure that’s a fair question as I wine and dine a lot of authors and it’s not fair to pick out any single one. But if I were picking someone not living, it would be Dr Seuss. I loved The Cat in the Hat books when I was a kid as they were a bit zany. I think he’d be great to chat to over a bottle of wine. It’s always fun to let your hair down and have a good laugh!
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