Eat, Pray, Love-erize Your Book!


I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a book a runaway international bestseller
. I get asked about this all the time. “What does it take?” “How do people do it?” “What’s the secret formula?” While those of us who write do so with the hope, intent, and burning desire to be widely read (+ simultaneously get a whole lot off our chests and out of our crowded brains), what’s perhaps less discussed is that we write to share, connect, and heal. And hopefully in multiple languages.

So, since we’re all dreamin’ + husslin’ to make it happen, I thought I’d reveal some of my latest thoughts on creating/manifesting YOUR runaway hit. Let’s take one of my fave writers and do a little case study, shall we?

Welcome, Liz Gilbert, author of… I’m embarrassed even to say the title because you’ve already heard it a zillion times… Eat, Pray, Love. Whether you love Liz or not (I don’t get how you couldn’t), she’s KICKS serious publishing you know what. To date, she’s spent something like 200 weeks on the New York Times bestseller’s list (that’s almost FOUR years, people!), not to mention Julia Roberts played her in the film by the same name. Impressive.

Plus, Liz is just good people. I’ve met her several times, and can attest. And ridiculously talented.

But her merits aren’t actually my point. How her biggest book to date can inspire your international sales aplenty is.

A little backstory:

This daughter of a Christmas tree farmer is an author, essayist, short story writer, biographer, novelist, and memoirist. Nine years before the release of EPL, she penned a terrific article for GQ about her stint as a bartender at Coyote Ugly, an eastside bar. You may have seen the resulting film. I was tempted to bleach my hair and take up drinking (and dancing atop bars in sexy short shorts and cowboy boots), with the hope that doing so would suddenly make me feel hot and ballsy like those femme fatale barkeeps. Since my scalp burns within 5 feet of hair dye and I fall asleep after half a gin and tonic, I instead decided to become the proud owner of Dandy, a young and ballsy brown and white gelding (okay, not literally ballsy), with serious attitude. I ride him nearly every day. In decidedly unsexy, thick blue jeans and a bulky helmet, but still.

Back on point. Yes! Our girl Liz has chops, and publishing cred in spades. Her words go down as smooth as Kahlua and cream. You can’t imagine how many people have sat in my office and said, “I read EPL and thought, ‘I can do that. So, that’s why I’m here. To do what Liz did!’” Gulp.

Eat, Pray, Love wasn’t an immediate massive sensation. While it did hit the list for two weeks, sales dropped to below the top 10, where it sold around 1,000 copies a week for about a year before the paperback sales suddenly hit a tipping point and went ballistic.  Liz was 40 years old. “I’m really happy that it happened after my nervous breakdown, not before it,” she has said, grateful for the wisdom bred of experience.

Here’s how I suggest using her book to influence you and YOUR writing. Hang tough if you don’t have a copy in front of you; I’m enclosing a little cheat sheet to make it easy.

Take a few minutes to STUDY the glowing testimonials below from the pages of her book to see why and how she’s moving critics, the media, other authors, and readers worldwide to pledge their everlasting love and buy multiple copies (I bought 22 one Christmas, I kid you not). See for yourself, through their words, what the buzz is all about… specifically.

As you do, ask yourself: What do I want people to say about my work? What do I want readers to feel when they’re done… take away from the experience? When you keep the end in mind (as Danielle LaPorte and I advise to do in Your Big Beautiful Book Plan), you’re more empowered to pen your own success story. And, even if you’re not writing a memoir, I suggest reading on to see how these examples can be used for any genre.

First up, let’s look at a review of EPL from The New Yorker:

“… after a protracted divorce, she embarked on a yearlong trip of recovery, with three main stops: Rome, for pleasure (mostly gustatory, with a special emphasis on gelato); an ashram outside of Mumbai, for spiritual searching; and Bali, for “balancing.” These destinations are all on the beaten track, but Gilbert’s exuberance and her self-deprecating humor enliven the proceedings: recalling the first time she attempted to speak directly to God, she says, “It was all I could do to stop myself from saying, ‘I’ve always been a big fan of your work.’”

Notice the words I’ve put in bold… Exuberance and self-deprecating humor. I found references to these traits again and again. For example:

“… Gilbert’s prose is fueled by a mix of intelligence, wit and colloquial exuberance that is close to irresistible.” ~The New York Times Book Review

“… This insightful, funny account of her travels reads like a mix of Susan Orlean and Frances Mayes.” ~Entertainment Weekly 

“… She is an irresistible people magnet, an inveterate explorer, a marvelous storyteller, a vicious wit often at her own expense.” ~Seattle Post-Intelligencer 

Reviewers also loved the richness of detail, the exotic, sexiness of her storytelling, and the infusion of God + self-love, as you’ll see in the next five quotes:

“…Sustaining a chatty, conspiratorial tone, Gilbert fully engages readers in the year’s cultural and emotional tapestry—conveying rapture with infectious brio, recalling anguish with touching candor—as she details her exotic tableau with history, anecdote and impression.” ~Publisher’s Weekly 

“… As Gilbert switches from gelato to kundalini Shakti to herbal cures Balinese-style, she ponders the many paths to divinity, the true nature of happiness, and the boon of good-hearted, sexy love. Gilbert’s sensuous and audacious spiritual odyssey is as deeply pleasurable as it is enlightening.” ~ Donna Seaman, Booklist

“This is a wonderful book, brilliant and personal, rich in spiritual insight.” ~Anne Lamott

“A meditation on love in its many forms—love of food, language, humanity, God, and most meaningful for Gilbert, love of self.” ~Los Angeles Times 

“Readable and funny… She’s a gutsy gal, this Liz, flaunting her psychic wounds and her search for faith in a pop-culture world.” ~The Washington Post

Last, but not least, readers just plain found EPL entertaining:

“Gilbert’s prose is fueled by a mix of intelligence, wit and colloquial exuberance

that is close to irresistible.” ~The New York Times Book Review

“An engaging, intelligent, and highly entertaining memoir.” ~Time

“Be advised that the supremely entertaining Eat, Pray, Love—a mid-thirties memoir by the endlessly talented Elizabeth Gilbert—is not just for the ladies, fellas.” ~GQ

“Compulsively readable.” ~Elle

“Engrossing and captivating.” ~Marie Claire

Which brings me back to you:

Remember to hold in your heart the point of all this—what you want your readers to think, and more importantly FEEL, when reading your work… Do you want them to fall in love with your story through your intelligent wit and eye for minute detail? What about drawing them in through your whacky characters with all-too human frailties and challenges to overcome, or your deep sense of care for the earth and her fragile, beautiful creatures. You’ve got a style all your own, and it’s just as unique (and special) as your fingerprint.

Whether it’s your suspenseful sense of timing and rhythm, your raw vulnerability, your salacious scenarios, or knowledge of all things artistic and historical—maybe even all of the above—use what’s uniquely yours.

Start with the end in mind, and see where it takes you. I’d love to know what you want readers to say about your writing in the future, and any inspirational testimonials you’ve found in your favorite books.

Yours,

 

Linda

xx

 

May 5, 2012   /   24 Comments

24 Responses to “Eat, Pray, Love-erize Your Book!”

  1. Julie Jensen says:

    Thanks Linda:

    Thank you for the beautiful reminder to be authentic in expressing my unique self through my story. A reminder that no one else in the world can do Julie Jensen as well as I. So, I will be fearless and vulnerable as I write my NYT best seller.

    Hugs,
    Julie

  2. Marthe says:

    I would want my readers to say that my writing is vibrant, mystical, inspirational and compelling. Hopefully my words are like an Indian Holi festival – colourful, enchanting and larger than themselves.

    One of my favourite books is Sabbath by Wayne Muller. One of the testimonials on the cover describes it as “simple practices and stories that nourish the soul and comfort the heart in meaningful ways”. I agree, this is the feeling I got from reading the book. I truly recommend it!

  3. Linda Ford says:

    Hi Linda, just love, love this article. What I would want writers to say about my writing is really what I would like them to say about ME. ….inspiring, moving, truth telling, brave…beautiful teacher. My mentor, Martha Beck is my kind of writer. Here’s one of her testimonials for “Expecting Adam,”:

    “Expecting Adam’ is not one of those grit-your-teeth, lemons into lemonade sagas that leaves the reader feeling more besieged and guilty than the writer. It is a long hymn, from a practical woman caught flat-footed by amazing grace. Martha Beck is a celebrant skeptics can trust.”

    and another…
    MB shares her journey out of religion and into faith and healing with heartbreaking candor, softened by wit and uplifted by a deep spiritual longing.

    • linda says:

      Hey Linda! You and me both… I love Martha’s writing so much. My all-time fave, from a time when she was learning HTML: “… my brain felt like a raison on fire.” Thanks for sharing! xx

  4. I would like people to laugh out loud, be drawn to their gardens to plant and their kitchens to cook the fruits of their gardening efforts. To want to buy chipped dishes at yard sales, iron grandmas linen napkins and invite the neighbors over for a convivial, candle lit meal. To create memories that have nothing to do with ‘Kodak’ moments and everything to do with being vulnerable and sharing the best of who they are with those they love.

    • linda says:

      Marie, you’re making me want to put my fingers and toes in the earth. Can’t wait to see what you’re working on! xx

  5. What I wanted was for an under-18 to say this about my book:
    “I love this book. It’s the best book I ever read. It’s the first and only book I’ve ever read that captures my life story.”
    Done. Check. Above was said to me by an African-American female high school student.
    If I didn’t have more to do, I’d say that I can die happy.

    • linda says:

      Maybe you’ve noticed that those kids are more than getting the vision, right? I love that you use these young + beta readers. Brilliant!

  6. Diana Cachey says:

    Hi Linda, missing you & Carmel. Here is what I want them to say about my book “its Eat Pray Love meet the Da Vince code.” LOL but true. That’s good for 200+ weeks on NYT list. Or when it first hits the shelves or online grid: “its a bestseller in the making with its intrigue & romance & delightfully flawed characters displayed against the backdrop of a wonderfully drawn picture of the beautiful and magical city of Venice.”

    • linda says:

      Hey D! Along with writing novels, I think it’s time to write travel films for Venice! Oh, wait! You already do:) Can’t wait to see your favorite city one day. Miss you too! xx

  7. Mandy says:

    I want people to say what you said at the recent retreat, Linda! :-) I’m not ready to make those comments public, but here’s what I would love for people to say about my work: intelligent, eye-opening, accessible, riveting, easy and fun to read. I want people to experience my book as both validating of their own life experience and eye-opening to new ways of seeing and understanding themselves and the world. Thanks for supporting the effort!

    • linda says:

      And they will! Okay, I’ll say it: out of the countless writers I’ve worked with over my career, you are the ONLY one who writes like Malcolm Gladwell. There. Done. Out in the open for everyone to see! Massive career in the making. xx

  8. Julie says:

    I want people to say, I want to love like that. I want to feel like that. I want to laugh like that. I want to be imperfect like that. I want to be with other women that celebrate all of the above like that! I want to scream, YES! I am alive and I am going to celebrate this life!

  9. Marc Renson says:

    Thank you for your words of wisdom. I have people saying that about my book, Is The Coffee Fresh? My struggle is getting my book noticed. The publishing world has changed so much and much more is now relied on from the authors to help promote their books. Unanswered e mails, unreturned phone calls, LinkedIn professionals who don’t want to see anyone get ahead of themselves and the list goes on. Forging forward doing the best I can!

    • linda says:

      Thanks for writing, Marc. Sounds frustrating, and I understand! The best advice I’ve ever heard for getting the word out is to do at least ONE, but up to three things to market your book every day.
      They can be little things… sending out one press release, booking a signing, contacting a blogger in your genre… and watch as things radically turn around. The authors of the Chicken Soup for the Soul
      books and I share a publisher. I once heard them talk about how they got John Kremer’s book, 1,001 Ways to Market Your Books, and did 3 of his suggestions every day. Worked for them. Work records galore. Keep the faith and stay on track.
      It’ll be worth it! xx

  10. Philippe Tremblay says:

    What I understand, is that this book has personality, and people relate to it.

    I guess you have to pour yourself into your book.

    What would I like people to say?
    I would like them to say that my writing changed their lives, and that it was unlike anything they’ve read before. That it was authentic, and powerful.
    That they feel more confident in expressing their spark into the world, and in being who they are because of it.
    I want it to have the effect I hope it has on me while writing it.

  11. I just read this today, Linda. Thank you, a beautiful expression and explanation of the effect EPL has had on all of us who use it as a kind of North Star in working on our own memoirs.
    I hope my readers of Girl On Bike will discover the happy marriage of sacred and sexy in my story. And that the dirt trails that lead me to my true self will inspire their own adventure into nature out there and within! I want my story to be fun, funny and full of Spirit!

  12. For me I’d like them to say ‘Beauty truth and playful’. As I always say you have to laugh at yourself and god knows I provide myself with more than enough material. I think this is the excellence of EPL. She sees herself in all her shining duality and has fun with it. I’ve read it 2-3 times and each time it’s even better.

  13. Nancy Polend says:

    Linda, this advice is terrific! I remember looking desperately in the “change the world” community, in books, talks, etc. for a complete, whole-system, practical, and viable way ordinary people could literally create a whole new, thriving, abundant world together. For years, I immersed myself in these communities, thinking “this is it.” Each time, I was disappointed when I realized there were pieces missing that I knew were needed if we are to create our way out of this Giant Global Hairball we’re in as a species. I kept looking, thinking, “There are a lot of smart people out there. It’s got to be out there somewhere.” Finally, it dawned on me. It wasn’t out there because I was holding it! Doh! So now, I write the book that I hope people will say was the book that changed everything. For the sake of our grandchildren’s grandchildren, I pray that I can pull that off. Thank you for your sage advice and deep commitment to helping people change the world, one book at a time. :-)

    • linda says:

      I love that you want to write the book that will “change everything,” Nancy. I think many authors have done that, and each time their books come out, the collective shifts. I will hold that intention for you. I love your tagline: “Predict the future, create it.” Keep it up, mama! :)

  14. Patti M Hall says:

    I want people to smile, and imagine me and my kid walking the halls of a hospital without trauma or trepidation. I want my book to make people hug their kids, value the breath in their lungs more than they used to and to know that anything, absolutely anything can be survived.

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