William P. Young’s sensation, ‘The Shack,’ is surely one of the best examples of a self-publishing success story. Originally written as a Christmas gift for his six children, the story was also shared with additional family and friends… who in turn shared the story with their friends, leading to the suggestion that Young publish the book via traditional publishing channels, thereby making it available to the world.
As one can surmise, Young was met with trepidation by the major publishing houses – both religious and secular. So, Young, along with two business partners (former pastors fom Los Angeles), decided to create their own imprint, Wind Blown Media, and publish the book themselves.
So, how does one go from self-publishing something that no traditional publisher will touch to becoming a New York Times #1 Best Seller for 35 continuous weeks? The answer was not a large advertising spend, as according to sources, only about $300 was spent on promotion of the book through its web site. The answer, as is very often the case in the Internet Age is this: Word-of-Mouth.
This is where The Shack finds its biggest success. Since it is a religious book, focusing on how one deals with the pain of loss through one’s faith, it has a very large, albeit targeted audience to appeal to. The religious community is just that: a community. The fact that The Shack was written specifically for members of the Christian community, and has been seen by many as a way to reevaluate the their faith in God, especially in light of the kind of terrible events that happen in every day life. The story is interesting fiction, yet serves a specific, meaningful purpose to many of those who have read it. And, as the Evangelical Christian movement has shown, it is very important for those who have been religiously moved to share this experience with others.
One other key aspect of the Christian community that influenced the success of this work is the fact that there are many influencers, including local and national pastors and preachers, as well as the voices of Christian musicians (including Michael W. Smith and Wynona Judd) and other celebrities.
Word-of-mouth (the most basic form of viral marketing) was built in to this kind of story. It was the perfect kind of book to find success, regardless of publishing channel, as The Shack resonates with its readers on a spiritual level and for its fans, this resonance is something to be shared with others.
So what can we learn from this?
Find your niche. Know your audience. Once you’ve found them, be aware of how to speak to them. If you’ve created something that resonates, they are likely to share it with other members of that audience (or community).
Obviously not every work will succeed at the level of The Shack, but it’s also clear that traditional publishers are no longer required to be a success. What is required is creating something with strong value, and getting it in front of the people who will see that value – and hopefully shout about it from the heavens.