So I just finished Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. It’s a book that’s been on my to be read list for a long time but I just made it a point to read it because, well, I had a professional reading assignment due for my battalion commander and I couldn’t very well yell at my lieutenants if my own assignment wasn’t done.
But that aside, I really enjoyed it and it got me thinking. For those of you that don’t know, The Tipping Point is a book about epidemics, both good ones, like word of mouth for a book such as the Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood or bad ones, like crime or AIDS. In it, Gladwell establishes 3 rules of epidemics:
The Law of the Few
The Power of Context
The laws are actually very simple but the insight provided in them are incredibly profound. While I did my professional assignment on how to implement some of the things I learned for the Army and specifically, my own company, I also started thinking about it in the context of books, specifically, the genre fiction community. Today, I’m going to talk about the Law of the Few in the context of the publishing community.
The Law of the Few is basically that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the population. In disease epidemics, it is only a few people that are the cause of the viral spread at the heart of epidemics. In HIV/AIDS, Gladwell argues, there was a single flight attendant who was particularly promiscuous and from her engagements, HIV/AIDs tipped. The Law of the Few revolves around the idea that the FEW are Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen.
When looking at this from a book selling perspective, authors and publishers alike are constantly looking for that elusive word of mouth that catches fire and goes viral. It was how I’d heard of the Hunger Games, through word of mouth. More than one person mentioned them to me and the title stuck in my head until I finally downloaded a sample. That first chapter stuck in my head until I had to read about the girl who tolerated her sister’s cat out of love even though the cat was one more mouth to feed. And once I’d read them, I told and continue to tell everyone about the amazing power of those books.
But who are the Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen of the romance world? And more, who are those people who connect the romance reading world to the outside reading world?
Connectors, according to Gladwell, are the people who just seem to know everyone. They are not people who seek you out but rather, those people who seek you out because they genuinely want to know you. It is not a rapid accumulation of people but rather a genuine desire to be connected to people. So who is it in the romance world who seems to know everyone? Agents are invariably well connected but agents are generally interested in starting word of mouth for their own clients. That is not wrong, that is what they’re supposed to do. But outside of agents, who are those people who know everyone and who, when they hear about something, they’re the people who are going to share what they know with you? If they hear about a fabulous new book, they are the people who will hear about it first, simply by virtue of knowing so many people?
Mavens are different from connectors. Mavens have a passion about a particular thing and they genuinely want to help you know about that particular thing, too. There are car people, fishing people, people who are passionate about soap. Who are the mavens in the writing community, who are so passionate about books they can tell you about the best books, the best technique to fix a broken chapter or the key behind a successful trend? I’m not only talking about bloggers and rapid readers on Goodreads. I’m talking about the member of your RWA chapter who is passionate about what he or she does and seems to just know when trends are kicking off or ending. Who are the people who just ‘know’ everything about books and who you can listen to for hours because they are so passionate about what they do?
Salesmen are those people who have that elusive influence that advertisers so desperately pursue. Salesmen are people who have the same passion about what they do but that transform that passion into influence. You listen to them and you find yourself willing to buy whatever it is they are selling, whether its a new pair of shoes or life insurance you don’t need. Salesmen have the unconscious ability to influence us and there are very few in our society who can resist the power of influence of these salesmen.
For a book to go viral, as with any epidemic, it has to have access to all three of these few. A Connector must read the book and tell you about it. A Maven you listen to must grant the book his or her approval for you to believe that yes, it really is worth reading. And a salesman will be so excited about the book, you’ll buy it that very day. It is more than just the Law of the Few that causes books to go viral, however, it has a better chance to do so if it is located closely to Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen.
So I ask you, fellow book people, who are the Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen of our corner of the world?