Every writer dreams of overnight success. Even when you know it’s unlikely and unrealistic, it’s hard to stop the eternal flame of hope that maybe—just maybe—your book might truly take off.

But the truth is, overnight successes don’t actually happen overnight. Not even over a week or a month. The path to success, even overnight success, doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work and failure.

Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train, struggled through a number of books that failed before ever hitting on something that took off.

“. . .she was commissioned to write a fictional series about a young woman who loses her job in the recession under the name Amy Silver. It was at a time in Hawkins’ life that she says she was ‘very bad at following things through’ and didn’t have a lot of confidence in herself as a fiction writer.

‘They were never really my cup of tea, romantic comedy is really not my forte so it was always a bit of a struggle and I did keep getting more and more miserable. Three of them did fine, they did okay. They didn’t really set the world on fire but the last one really bombed.’ — source

She considered giving up before her agent convinced her to write something new, and she came up with The Girl on the Train. Hawkins’s story isn’t all that uncommon. For self-published authors looking to make a second income or replace their full-time job with writing, success might be years in the making.

“Overnight Success” Takes Hard Work and Luck

Without the backing and strong marketing network of a publisher (something not even all traditionally published books get), it can be difficult to spread the word about your book. As many indies discover, one of the best ways to increase success is to continually produce books. More books mean more chances for readers to discover you—and more books to read once they do, compounding your success.

Many aspects can affect your journey to success, and there’s no one formula for success. Authors who hit bestselling lists have a number of factors working in their favor. Here are just a few—how does your situation stack up?

Genre and Series or Funnel Setups

Like other industries, the literary world goes through trends. Twilight hit the shelves early in the resurgence of vampire books, cementing its popularity. If you can hit upon a trend or write books in genres with rabid readers (e.g., romance or science fiction) and write good books, your chances of reaching success increase when other factors also fall in place.

Series or funnel setups refer to how people can move through your backlist (provided you have one). A fiction book series, for example, encourages readers to read through the entire collection, not just one book. Connected nonfiction books, too, can encourage your readers to buy their way through all your books.

Author Platform

Your author platform, or community of fans and followers, can help boost your books’ success. When you have a built-in group of people eager to buy your book(s) and spread the word, you’ll have a much stronger release when your book’s available for purchase.

Successful authors have a strong platform that allows them to launch their books to an already engaged audience. These people sharing the news can make it seem like “everyone” is talking about a book, which increases the chances of people picking it up—no one wants to be the “last one” to read a book.


Along with your author platform, marketing can play a large role in your overall success. If people don’t know about your book, no one’s going to buy it. The point of marketing is to get the word out about your book. While your author platform can help with spreading the word, you shouldn’t depend solely on it.

Develop a solid marketing plan for each book you publish, including paid advertising. You’re not going to reach a wide audience without putting money into some kind of advertisement. But paid advertising can be intimidating, especially if you’re not familiar with a platform. Try starting off with something like a $5 boosted post on Facebook for more interaction with the people who’ve liked your page is better than nothing.


As is the case with many vocations, success comes with time. A lot of authors write and publish books for years before they gain popularity with readers. All that toiling away in what feels like total obscurity may actually pay off in the end, with enough sustained growth over the years.