Book Marketing, Author Publicity, Branding

Thursday, August 5, 2010

How Stieg Larsson's Millenium Series Became Bestsellers

You have no doubt heard of Stieg Larsson's Millenium Series:  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.  All three books have become bestselling novels.  All three books have been turned into movies in Larsson's native Sweden, with American remakes in the works.  Only one author in the entire world sold more books than Larsson in 2009, and he was the first author to sell more than one million e-books on Amazon. 

Not bad for a guy who died of a massive heart attack in 2004, before the books were published. 

Larsson wrote the books for his own enjoyment, after he came home from work every night.  He didn't even try to get them published until just before his death.  So how did a dead man become a bestselling writer and celebrated mystery novelist? 

Book signings were out, as were media appearance, obviously.  The publishers, both in Europe and in the United States, had quite a challenge.  How does a publisher market books released posthumously?  The answer:  niche marketing.

In Great Britain, the books were published by a small, unknown publisher.  They didn't take off or gain momentum for several years.  The publisher resorted to giving away the books.  In fact, they gave away more books than they sold.  They left copies in the back seats of taxi cabs, on trains, in public parks...any place where people might pick up a copy and start reading it.  The publisher was losing money on the book, and it was a big risk, but ultimately it was one which paid off.

The American publisher resorted to online marketing.  They reached out to bloggers who specialized in reviewing mystery novels, they gave away review copies to bloggers and members of online book discussion groups, they reached out to libraries...anything to generate word-of-mouth about the book.  It worked.  Before the book was even released in the U.S. it was generating considerable buzz.

These efforts could have failed if the books were average, but Larsson's characters and ability to ratchet up the tension in each novel have thrilled critics and readers alike.  There is a great lesson to be learned from these marketing efforts.  There is perhaps no book more difficult to market than one released posthumously by a relatively unknown author.  It didn't happen overnight, but targeted niche marketing made all the difference.
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