In 1978, a book purporting to share a “new psychology of love, traditional values and spiritual growth” was published without fanfare. The book’s previously unknown author was a 42-year-old psychologist who had worked for the government, and then in private practice. The book moved slowly at first (a “word of mouth” book). It would take five years before it would hit the any bestseller lists, but then, it would make publishing history by reaching the granddaddy of them all—the New York Times Bestseller List—and remaining there for more than 10 years.
That book has now sold more than seven million copies in the US and Canada and has been translated into more than 23 languages. Its publisher, Simon and Schuster, says that in its generation “perhaps no other book … had a more profound impact on our intellectual and spiritual lives…”
That book is M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. What was the reason for its unbelievable success? Was it full of brilliant insights? Did it contain answers to life’s greatest mysteries? Did it promise its readers instant happiness or infinite riches?
It did not.
What it did do was appear at the right moment in time. As Scott Peck himself described in a reflective introduction to its 25th Anniversary Edition in 2003, (two years before his death) the book spoke to a very large, very specific market and told them what they were waiting to hear.
The Road appeared two decades after the ascendance of both Alcoholics Anonymous and the widespread practice of psychotherapy in North America in the 1950s. “This had major implications,” Peck told his audiences. “One of them is that you are a body of people who have begun to transcend traditional culture.”
Part of what he meant by that was that the people who gravitated to, related to and referred to others his book were those people – and that at that time (as emotional healing therapies had become more mainstream in North American culture in the intervening two decades) there had developed huge market of people who were, as he put it, both “psychologically and spiritually sophisticated” and had begun to deeply contemplate “all the kinds of things that people shouldn’t talk about.” As he says in the introduction, “They were almost literally waiting to for someone to say such things out loud.”
Some people called him a prophet. He says he accepted that only because many pointed out that a prophet is not actually someone who can see the future, but “merely someone who can read the signs of the times.” The Road was a success, he says, “primarily because it was a book for its time; the audience made it a success.”
In the next post I will share five questions you can ask yourself to determine if your content is, as we like to say at Indie, ready to become a book whose moment has arrived. Are you a prophet in your own time? How do you find your communities of interest? Tune in next time and see…