Books and Viruses

Thoughts on how authors can maximize word of mouth.
Mar | 6 | 2024
  Mar | 6 | 2024
BY Phil Simon
  Phil Simon

Books and Viruses

Thoughts on how authors can maximize word of mouth.
Phil Simon
Mar | 6 | 2024

Books and Viruses

TL;DR: Thoughts on how authors can maximize word of mouth.
Phil Simon
Mar | 6 | 2024

Thanks to COVID-19, more of us know about R0—or at least we should. As The Harvard Global Health Institute puts it:

R-naught calculates how fast communicable diseases spread. It represents, on average, the number of people that a single infected person can be expected to transmit that disease to. In other words, it is a calculation of the average “spreadability” of an infectious disease.

If that definition doesn’t wet your whistle, try Wikipedia.

Either way, as we learned in the early days of COVID-19, when it comes to viruses, a large R-naught means trouble. If it’s ten, then every person exposes the disease or virus to 10 others. Ten becomes 100, and then 1,000, and bad things happen. An R0 of 0.2, however, means that ten people expose the virus to 2, who then expose 0.2 people. If we can flatten the curve, then we can avert a crisis.

Changing the Lens

Think about R0 in a very different context, however: books. A mediocre book sports a low R0 and, by extension, a low chance of selling more than a handful of copies. A meh or fine book won’t catch on.

All things being equal, an original, compelling, and well-written text will result in superior word of mouth. What if people each told ten people, each of whom proceeds to tell another ten people, and so on? Can someone say bestseller? (Marketing whiz Seth Godin writes about this topic in Unleashing the Ideavirus.)

This begs the question: How do authors maximize their R-naughts?

The Secret Is There Is No Secret

Despite ridiculous top-ten lists, there is no secret sauce. I can, however, tell you what won’t get you there. The list includes:

  • An ugly cover.
  • A clunky title and subtitle.
  • Oodles of jargon.
  • Confusing figures.
  • Bland text.
  • Poorly constructed sentences.
  • Highly derivative or obvious insights.
  • Books that missed their windows.
  • A dearth of original insights.
  • An overly expensive book.
  • An author who doesn’t engage with fans or do media appearances. (Yes, even rock star Adam Grant gets out there.)

I could continue, but you get my point. As I describe in The Author Flywheel, word of mouth is the Holy Grail of marketing, even book awards and pricey Amazon ad campaigns. In an increasingly crowded world, there’s no easy way to achieve it.

What You Need to Know

When writing and promoting your book, check as many boxes as possible. Will your sales will still ultimately disappoint you? Probably. (Cue Edison quote.) At least you will have given yourself the best possible chance for your ideas to spread.

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