Why Authors Should Rethink Becoming a Bestseller

Almost every day I hear from authors who want me to help them make their book a New York Times bestseller.

Most of these people are looking for silver bullet type advice.

My first question back is always this… “Why?”

“Why do you want to be a bestseller?”

There is normally a pause and then some sort of scattered response like:

If I am on the bestsellers list then…

-I’ll get the attention of national media.
-All these opportunities will start the flow in.

On occasion someone will say that it’s not the list so much but it’s what the list represents that matters (number of people actually reading the book). I like these people. : )

Regardless of which perspective you fall into I want you to be honest for a moment. Without going to Google, tell me 4 of the top 10 bestsellers last week. Or the week before that. Can you? I bet your answer is no. Most people, especially the general public, have no idea which books are hitting the lists. FYI… They don’t care. In fact, there are many one hit wonders that hit the lists this week and are gone next week, never to be heard from again.

But that’s not really my point here.

There IS indeed value in having a bestselling book but let me debunk a few myths for you.

1. Just because your book hits the NYT list does not mean the media will come knocking at your door begging you to be on TV. It might give you a greater chance at landing a media hit with proactive outreach saying that your book is a bestseller but hitting the list alone won’t do it. However, if your book has legit staying power and stays on the list for multiple weeks… then people might start to take notice.

2. Same goes for opportunities. A lot of authors think that by simply making a list that the flood gates of opportunity will open. That’s untrue as well. Now, like media, if you use your bestseller status in your marketing to position yourself with more authority… chances are you can increase your impact and conversions on other things like speaking gigs, etc. But again, that is something that benefits are found in from proactive effort (not passive inbound activity).

Now, here’s the really important part…

Your goal shouldn’t be to just have a bestselling book. Your goal should be to build a bestselling platform. (Tweet That)

When you have a platform that can propel your book to bestseller status that means you have tapped a significant tribe of followers. And when you have that, all the other things that you thought landing on the NYT’s list would bring will start materialize. Why? Because you made a list? No. Because you’re making an impact to a wider audience? Yes.

So ask yourself… “Why do I want to be a have a bestselling book?” Is it for the accolades or the impact?

It’s a subtle but significant distinction. The difference, however, will make the difference between your short term and long term success.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Interesting point of view. I see people chasing the dream of having a bestselling book, but not knowing why. I see people wanting platforms, thinking having a popular blog will make them wealthy. Very few make any money from a blog (tweet that!). Everyone seems to be chasing a dream, not really understanding what they are going after.

    • So true Skip. I wonder if the pursuit of popularity and recognition (i.e. acceptance) is also at play for some. For me, I don’t want to be popular, I just want to make an impact. If making an impact makes me popular then so be it but I don’t want to chase the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

  • Sean D

    Some one asked me this question back in 2004. I didn’t have an answer back then. But if I were asked this question today, I would have an answer for the kind of book I am writing. Today, my book would be about empowerment. Ten years ago, the agenda would have been about getting well known. As it turns out, that’s not such a problem if you stick around for a while.