The first trailer for the film adaptation of The Girl on the Train was recently released, and it got us thinking about the runaway success of the novel, which was, upon publication, by an unknown author. When the writers' festival was on back in October, we took in the Paula Hawkins event. Compelled by the book itself (a true page-turner) and its record-breaking sales (8 million copies worldwide), we wanted to hear what Hawkins had to say about writing what has been referred to as the "fastest selling adult novel in history."
She had a few theories about the book's success. Readers (mostly women) identify with the protagonist. Is she likable? No. Relatable? Definitely. The book was well reviewed in advance of publication by some significant media. And timing, timing is everything. With the success of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, the "suburban noir" is hot right now, and The Girl on the Train fits perfectly into this genre. Hawkins also didn't discount pure and simple luck. Sometimes, it just takes the right alignment of the publishing stars to make all the aforementioned happen (and a solid manuscript – let's not forget about that).
So, is The Girl on the Train an anomaly? You bet. First of all, a "bestseller" in Canada is a book that has sold more than 4,000 copies (a far cry from the astronomical numbers above). And, as indie author Hugh Howey puts it, "It's very rare for an author to blast out of the gate with their first book, and that's true no matter how you publish." So the endgame is not about writing one huge bestseller; it's about the long-term commitment to keep creating content and building readership.
Remember the tortoise? Slow and steady wins the race here, too.