Today we have author Ella Joy Olsen here on WFW talking about Spheres of Influence. I’ll admit, I’d never heard of this before reading Ella’s post, and I was intrigued. It gave me a lot to think about it…and I’ll share my own ideas in the comments. I hope you’ll do the same and tell us all about your Spheres of Influence. Now, let’s congratulate Ella on the publication of her debut novel, Root, Petal, Thorn! You’ll definitely want to check it out!
Spheres of Influence
By Ella Joy Olsen
I started thinking about Spheres of Influence, in relation to my writing, the day after my fantastic, wonderfully attended, launch party. Someone asked me if I sold a lot of books. “Did I ever!” I squealed. “I sold through the bookstore’s purchase of one hundred copies. Plus twenty of my own.” The owner was giddy! I was thrilled. Everyone went home a little drunk.
The next morning, in the haze of my book/champagne hangover, I realized that likely everyone I knew and loved (and could guilt into buying) now owned a copy of Root, Petal, Thorn. And one hundred and twenty books, though super flattering, does not a best-seller make.
After the hangover lifted, in a moment of clarity, I decided to categorize these book launch peeps into what I would call: Sphere One. These people–all attendees and all who I invited– were my most immediate Sphere of Influence, my sure thing. Every author has one of these beloved spheres. Mine consists of my family, friends, individuals I can identify on the street, or any person who I’d eventually know if they did (or did not) buy my book. These are the people I can ask candidly (or beg) to write a review on Amazon to get my reviews up to fifty, so the algorithm will give me a boost out of this small but important sphere.
On to Sphere Two. I’m lucky. My book is set in my hometown and includes a bunch of local history. Plus my hometown is Salt Lake City, a place where not many novels are set. This is not like a New York City author writing a book based in Manhattan. I knew if I poked around I’d get a little local coverage simply because I was unique.
And I did. I secured a nice article in the Sunday paper, a glossy local magazine, even a bit on a daily noon show. Sphere Two is a space where I have influence. I don’t know any of these people personally, but I can touch them through my OWN marketing efforts. I know where they live so I can send Facebook Ads their direction, I know they might be interested in my book because it involves their hometown, I can hold readings in their neighborhood book stores.
I can say honestly that I have worked this sphere with all I got. At the risk of sounding sleazy, I’ll admit to pimping myself all across my state. This is my only shot to be a home-grown debut author and my hands are cramping, because I’m milking it. I can see from Neilsen Book Scan that it’s working. I can check on my geographical sales and the area all around Utah is a beautiful dark blue. But am I a best seller? In any category? Not even close.
Enter Sphere Three. Actually, I wish I could enter. I want someone to give me a boost and pull me in, because to get a good spot in Sphere Three you need to know the bouncer. Lots of things can help you enter the party but most are outside of the author’s control. They are the “best of” lists compiled by widely read publications or celebrities, publisher dollars used to purchase banner ads on Goodreads or spots in pop-culture magazines, placement by a coveted retailer, or enormous giveaways that get your book into the hands of thousands of readers. These are the books that someone bigger than the author expects to be the “next big thing” and these books are given every opportunity to reach their hopeful potential. But will they make it to….Sphere Four?
Sphere Four is truly behind the veil, because no one really knows the path one must take to get here. To enter you have to break-out (or to keep on theme – break in). Some authors may have breadcrumbs leading them to this sphere, meaning a recognizable name, a loyal following, a trendy genre, or a bunch of advertising behind them. All these things help…but to enter there must be consensus. One must receive approval from all the little people who matter the most: the readers.
This is word-of-mouth, this is the book people are actually talking about, this is the book you have to read to keep up with water-cooler discussion. This is the genre-jumping, barrier-breaking, break-out hit. Once in this coveted sphere, you get to hang out for a sweet-spell, playing around on the biggest lists with the famous authors, while readers everywhere figure out that you’re in the cool circle and try to be your friend.
There are all walks of folks at this party. James Patterson enters through his own private revolving door (sometimes in the company of an unrecognizable side-kick), Andy Weir is truly looking around like he’s on Mars, E.L. James uncovered a naughty little trend and entered through the backdoor, J.K. Rowling worked some magic…and so on. Some get here once and never again and some can’t seem to leave.
Why? Now that’s the hundred thousand dollar question. Maybe the answer is engraved in the hallowed halls of Sphere Four, but I haven’t visited, so I’m not sure, and I have no answers.
But I do have this…one final takeaway: To make my point I’m going to drag you back to dear, sweet Sphere One. This lovely sphere of true-blues always thinks that there is a direct path from Sphere One to Sphere Four. If they don’t know any other authors, they believe that right after you walk out of the launch party at your local book store you’re boarding the fun bus to Sphere Four.
“Who knows?” Their eyes glisten with encouragement, as they buy one copy of your book. “I’ll look for your name on the best-seller lists.”
And that’s the crux of it. Who knows? And I won’t be able to help myself. I’ll be looking for my name on that list, too.