Sunday, 13 June 2010

What Makes a Book Popular?

Left - Display in Waterstones Watford
I've been posting a lot about my recent activities. Life has been hectic with visits to stimulating writers groups and a host of searching interview questions both online and on various radio stations. I still have quite a few events to blog about. I haven't told you how much I enjoyed talking to Thames Valley Writers, or how I felt being interviewed live on Radio 91.8 FM - link below (another live radio interview coming up next Saturday), or being approached by Woman and Home Magazine (where we talked about blogging!), or spending time signing airside at Heathrow Terminal 5 (where I saw ROAD CLOSED displayed at No. 7 on the WH Smith's Travel Bestseller Charts), hearing that my books are displayed at No. 4 and No. 6 on the Bestseller Chart at Waterstones in Bedford, or the thrill of receiving an email from award winning author Sam Millar who's just read ROAD CLOSED "and really loved it" (Sam won the prestigious Aisling Award for Art and Culture, the Martin Healy Short Story Award, the Brian Moore Award for Short Stories and the Cork Literary Review Writer’s Competition. His best-selling memoir, ON THE BRINKS, has recently been acquired by Warner Brothers... and that's just a taster)

But I thought it was time to return to some serious discussion about writing. Even I can see that there's only so much personal news I can blog about without becoming... how shall I put this?... repetitive... (OK, boring...)

One of the questions I was recently asked (Hayes FM) was:
"CUT SHORT launched in the summer and sold so fast your publisher had to reprint after two months. What elements in the book do you think made it so popular?"

That's a tricky one. What is it that makes some books grab our attention while others leave us unengaged?
For those of you who missed the radio broadcast my answer at the time went something like this.
"My books are plot driven so readers read on to find out what happens. But it is character that interests me. People fascinate me. Perhaps the popularity of my books is due to a combination of exciting plots and convincing characters." I went on to say that of course many authors achieve that, so I can't account for my success with CUT SHORT reprinted 3 times in its first year and ROAD CLOSED already off the starting posts, with its first few reviews pretty positive. So far it's been given a 5 star review from a Top 50 Reviewer on amazon: "The characters are believable and I really like Geraldine... I also liked the way everything dovetailed together so that while you're reading you get those light bulb moments when a piece of the jigsaw slots into place..." Another reviewer says "tense and gripping... with an exhilarating climax that you don’t see coming until it is too late... Geraldine is a gifted, strong and likeable character." Sam Millar wrote of ROAD CLOSED that it is "a gripping, fast-paced read, pulling you in from the very first tense page and keeping you captivated right to the end with its refreshingly compelling and original narrative...Geraldine Steel is a complex and highly driven character, with multifaceted feelings of contradiction and nuance." Jeffery Deaver also mentioned plot and character, now I come to think of it, when he described CUT SHORT as "a seamless blending of psychological sophistication and gritty police procedure. And you're just plain going to love DI Geraldine Steel." In fact most of my reviewers cover both plot and character, so perhaps it is a combination of strong plot and convincing characters that is winning fans for my Geraldine Steel series.

What elements in any book do you think make it popular?
It's an important question for an author - but is it an impossible one to answer?

Link to 91.8 FM - last 20 minutes of where you can listen to an interview plus a reading from ROAD CLOSED


Star said...

I shall read your new book when I get back to England. At the moment I am reading the Dragon Tattoo trilogy and enjoying those very much. Shame the author died and there will be no more.
I AM SO GLAD FOR YOU that you are having success.
Well done.
Also well done with the way you promote yourself. That can't be easy either.
Blessings, Star

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Star, it was a tragedy about Stieg Larsson - and he never knew about the phenomenal success of his books. He must have had fun writing them, though!

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Star, it was a tragedy about Stieg Larsson - and he never knew about the phenomenal success of his books. He must have had fun writing them, though!

Elizabeth said...

The characters are first and foremost to me. Best plot, best setting, great writing... mean nothing if the characters are no good. I have to (1) believe the characters, their actions and motivations, and (2) I have to CARE about the characters.

Now, by "care" that could even mean that I hate them and want to see them get their comeuppance, but I have to have a legitimate emotional investment in the characters above all else for a book to work for me.

Leigh Russell said...

I agree, Elizabeth. I often keep reading to see an irritating character getting his just deserts. That's one instance where fiction can score over real life, satisfying our deep need for justice.

Debs said...

My copy arrived this weekend. I can't wait to start reading it.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think it's very hard. Books that have the same kinds of profiles may sell well or not so well. I'm glad you've been on the "well' side of that.

Pat said...

Off topic - when I was ordering 'Road closed' I noticed there was another of the same title. I realise there is no copyright to a book title but how do you feel about it?
As Julian Fellowes used 'Past Imperfect' recently I felt I didn't want to use what was my original title. I'm presently scrabbling around titles and there is no shortage just difficult to make a decision. How did you decide?

Leigh Russell said...

Thanks Debs. Let me know what you think when you've read it.

Leigh Russell said...

So far so good, Charles, but the future is a mystery (as is the present very often... what am I supposed to be doing right now...?)

Leigh Russell said...

It is really difficult finding a title, Pat. We 'registered' Road Closed at the same time as Cut Short came out, but there's no copyright on book titles so anyone can use the same title as anyone else. Some titles have many books on amazon - there's nothing you can do about it. The ISBN number is unique but book titles are like people's names - up for grabs. I do try to find ones that haven't been used before but there are so many books out, it's almost impossible.

Val said...

Plot, twists, turns, interesting and engaging characters...these are the things that keep me up late at night reading a book from start to end.

Those that grip me become a permanent part of my book collection.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Val - so it's plot with twists and turns and characters who engage your interest - sounds fair enough.

Mike said...

Well, Leigh,I am torn; do I order from Amazon and boost your profile there, do I do the decent (and impatient) thing and buy from a local bookstoore, or do I wait until you are doing a signing so I can (a) get an autographed copy, and (b) make it look busy around the signing desk and help get the readers queuing up?

Heh-heh, I can hear your answer forming now; "Do all three".

Looking forward to reading it any whcih way.

Leigh Russell said...

Yes - you guessed my answer!
So here's the plan: Buy ROAD CLOSED from a bookshop, post a review on amazon (a good review, that is) and bring your copy to a signing to make me look busy... That way, you really will do all three!
But seriously, I hope you read and enjoy it.

Suzanne Jones said...

Sounds like you've been busy.

Thanks for the link - off to have a listen.


DJ Kirkby said...

Keep it up, you're an inspiration to me and many more I'm sure :). In ref to your first comment, I have jsut finished the Stieg Larsson trilogy and was delighted to see that someone with Asperger's syndrome was the MC. Your radio interview was very interesting Leigh, I look forward to listening to the next one. Title suggestion for book four - 'Goodbye' or 'Sky High' or 'The Lie'

Vic.B said...


My husband recently purchased your book at Waterstones, which you kindly personally signed. I am aware that you were given my email to contact me for research etc.
I am currently reading your book and it is extremely addictive, which reminded me to check to see if you had emailed. I have a sneaky suspicion that you did and it has ended up being classed as junk and now deleted.
If you would still like to get in touch, please do email me again, and I have made sure that this time round it wont end up in the Junk folder.
Well back to the book, I look forward to hearing from you in the future. Fingers crossed you still have my email (I dont want to publish it on here, hope you understand)
All the best
Vic B

Leigh Russell said...

How lovely to hear from you, Vic. I do remember your husband leaving the email addresses with me and I will be in touch soon. I am glad to hear you are enjoying my book and thank you very much for the offer of help.