It happened quite literally overnight. My new novel “Jomsviking” had been available for mail order for a few days, and as I waited for the books to be printed and arrive here in Norway, I decided it was time to tell my friends. I had planned to wait until the books were physically in the stores, but I was just too excited. So on a Sunday afternoon, I posted on social media that I had a new novel coming out in a few days.
The following Monday two major bookstore chains here in Norway ordered a whole lot of copies. So many, in fact, that the first print sold out immediately. I have been a published author here in Norway for 21 years, but I went indie in 2015, which means I am my own publisher. so I now had to order the second print and explain the situation to a lot of readers who couldn’t find my book in the stores. By the time I ordered the second print, several hundred copies had already been pre-ordered. For the first time in my career, I saw my novel hit the Top 10 bestseller lists. And writing this, it’s only been a month …
So how did this happen? I know no one, except myself and my close family, expected me to ever write a bestseller. But I did. So let me try to explain how this came to be:
1. I never lost faith
I always knew I was going to write a bestseller. Before I went indie, I used to tell the editors and the marketing people they should treat my novels as bestseller material. This annoyed them, of course. A few even laughed at me, and I am sure most of them felt I was being arrogant. But I was not being arrogant, I was being accurate in my predictions. So to those who laughed: Who’s laughing now, suckers?
2. I broke all alliances
Some time during 2013 I came to realize that I had to go indie if I was to become a commercially successful author. The big publishing houses in Norway were holding me back. Not only were they delaying everything, but I witnessed the quality of the editorial work decline to an embarrassingly low level. I already had freelancing editors and proofreaders reading my manuscripts and the publishers weren’t marketing my books much, so I was basically putting money in the publisher’s pocket for no reason. So I broke every alliance, professional friendship, and connection to the publishing houses, and started my own small company. It cost a lot of time and money, but it pissed off a lot of people in the «cultural establishment», which was a big bonus and absolutely worth the money.
3. I made my own rules — and kept most of them secret
It took me a while to understand that if I wanted to compete against the large publishing houses, I had to follow my own set of rules. Why? Because the existing rules are there to protect them and to strangle the competition. So I made my own rules, and the first of those was that I would never compromise on quality. My books were to be more expensive to produce, as I only use the best editors, proofreaders, designers, etc., and quality would always come before short-term income.
For the rest of the rules – see the headline.
4. Social media rules
By the time I published “Jomsviking”, I had already put a couple of years of effort into my blog, and my Youtube channel was growing rapidly. I had come to the conclusion that I don’t have social media followers, I have friends I meet on social media. There is a big difference, and in that difference lies the secret to social media, by the way. It must always be real. It must always be honest. It was my social media friends that made «Jomsviking» take off, the bookstore chain managers didn’t just wake up one day and decide to order a load of “Jomsviking” for no reason. My guess is they looked at the sales and saw a spike, and it was my social media friends (those of you living in Norway) who ordered the book and produced that spike. By the way, let me thank you guys again: THANK YOU!
5, Work harder than others
I have seen bestselling authors come and go. They are hyped by some big publishing company and then thrown away like some worn out shoes when the book sales start to decline. Which they always do, in the end, if you don’t manage to follow up with another book, and another, and another … Quality is essential, but stamina is equally important. If you want to succeed as a novelist, you must be prepared to work very, very hard, probably for the rest of your life. I’m okay with that, by the way. I like to write.
6. Prepare for the world
I am currently in the process of finding a suitable literary agent. I am, as I have said, an indie writer here in Norway, but I have no intention of being an indie writer abroad. I know how the book industry works in Norway, but things tend to be different abroad. First of all, no writers have agents within Norway — you communicate directly with the publisher. So when a Norwegian author is looking for an agent, it’s not for Norway but for getting book deals in other countries. I have been “agented” before, by the way. I used to be “agented” when the big publishing houses were still publishing my novels (the agency agreement usually came as an attachment to the book deal). But the thing is, I was just one of the less important writers to them and I know they didn’t do much to get me book deals. They put my books on a list of many books, that’s all. So basically, I am now, after 21 years, looking for my first proper literary agent. And I have a commercial success to show for. I should also mention that I have been preparing for this by negotiating with my former publishers – I got all publishing rights returned to me just a few weeks before “Jomsviking” became a bestseller. Maybe they wouldn’t have handed those rights over to me just like that if I had asked them today …
So that’s it. I like to think of the whole process as a never ending boxing fight where you have multiple opponents and where anyone you knock out is immediately replaced by another fighter. There is only one rule in that fight, by the way: You must stay on your feet, no matter how tired you are and how badly you’re hurt. And you must never stop learning and improving yourself. Never forget: The competition is fierce. So be fiercer.
-Bjørn Andreas Bull-Hansen – jomsviking.no