The Four Types of Authors in the World – Part 1

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Every publisher shares a peculiar similarity. From the big New York houses to the small independent startups, a variety of books are created by a variety of writers. Yet, every publisher deals with the same reality. There are only four types of authors in the world. Just four. And you can classify any author into one of four groups by using two criteria: the author’s level of marketing effort and sales expectations.

Marketing effort is the measure of an author’s willingness to invest their time and energy to create a compelling manuscript and conduct effective book promotion tactics. Sales expectation is a measure of whether enough books were sold to meet or miss the publisher’s anticipated estimates. When you put these two criteria on an X and Y axis, you get four quadrants that define any author: successful authors, unsuccessful authors, dead authors, and authors who play dead.

4 Types of Authors

These four categories aren’t meant to oversimplify author behavior. Writing and marketing books is a complex process. However, all authors have basic tendencies that influence their success. I’ve seen these tendencies first-hand after coaching over 400 authors, which include first-time authors, established mid-list authors, and several New York Times bestsellers. My consulting experience has shown that when you correctly identify which category an author belongs, you’re better able to develop a marketing strategy that meets sales expectations.

The problem is that most publishers don’t stop to identify the difference between their authors. So, they treat them pretty much the same, which results in cookie-cutter promotional plans for authors who are vastly different. Other publishers use incorrect criteria to address the issue. For instance, some give preferential treatment to undeserving authors, and those individuals windup wasting the publisher’s precious marketing budget and staff resources.

Publishers can avoid these problems by correctly segmenting their authors into the four categories described. Each category leads to a different marketing approach based on that author’s effort level and sales expectations, which I’ll explain in upcoming posts. Effective marketing strategies exist for authors in every category, even for the unsuccessful authors, dead authors, and those who are playing dead. I’ve even developed a unique approach I’ll discuss called “Dead Author Marketing.”

What about first-time authors who have no history? How do you predict performance if there’s no track record of sales? Analyze how much marketing effort a new author has exhibited to build their readership before publication or landing a book contract. Have they worked proactively to develop a following beforehand? Have they already generated solid website traffic, email subscribers, and speaking events? Or, are they passively waiting until the book release to get started?

In my next post, we’ll look at the unique strengths and challenges of the Successful Author category. These authors contribute more than any other group to a publisher’s profitability. But, if left unattended, successful authors can just as easily bring down the house.