So You Want to Become a Bestselling Author? Here’s How… Part1: A few things you need to know.

Since I work with several successful authors, it’s a question I get asked a lot…
“How does a book become a bestseller?”

Normally it’s a question coming from someone who is a first time author or who has written a few books but perhaps not achieved the level of success they feel they should.

What they really mean when they ask the question is, “How do I make MY book a bestseller?”

Before we dive into the HOW, there are a few things you need to know…

First, the term “bestseller” can be a little loose. While most people refer to bestseller meaning NY Times Bestseller status, the bestseller claim is also made by some who hit a variety of different lists. Those might be landing at #1 on or, topping the Business Week Bestseller list or ECPA list for Christian books (just to name a few). Making the top of any of these lists indicates the book has positive sales traction but all equate to quite different sales volume since their rankings are determined uniquely. Example: In most cases it takes selling 9,000 copies or more, via retail, of a title in one week to make it to the top of the NY Times list while you can sell 1,000 or so in a day and hit the top on Amazon (examples can vary based on market conditions and overall sales volume, there is no “exact” formula).

Second, every book and author is unique. While there are some basic fundamentals that work across the board to help sell a book and build a platform, what works for one author may not work exactly for another. It’s also different for the type of book (fiction, nonfiction, etc) and the availability of resources from the author and the publisher. When I say “resources” I don’t just mean money. I also mean creativity, ability and execution (making things happen).

Third, if it were easy then every book would be a bestseller. I don’t say this to discourage you but there is a reality that the average author never sells more than around 5,000 books. If you’re published traditionally, normally you need to sell more than 5,000 copies for the publisher (and you) to earn a profit (again this is a generality and varies dramatically). There’s a lot of competition out there which means if you want your book to rise to the top then you’re going to have to work for it (in most cases). Consider this… according to Bowker’s book publishing statistics; an estimated 1,052,803 books were published in 2009. 764,448 of them being self-published or POD (Print on Demand). How many of those made it to bestseller status? Only a very small fraction. Anything is possible but don’t think you can simply get published and become an instant success story, it doesn’t always work that way. It’s a marathon not a sprint and you have to be willing to run the race if you ever expect to cross the finish line.

Fourth, your book content must be good. This should be pretty obvious. That old saying, “the cream rises to the top,” yeah it’s true. You can have the best marketing in the world but if your book content stinks then you’ll never really build momentum towards a tipping point and gain mass appeal. What is good content? That certainly is subjective but try to get some objective insight from others (not just your relatives and friends who have a vested interest in wanting you to succeed but also from those who are not as tied to you emotionally). Listen to what they say. You don’t have to let their opinions drive you but at least take them into consideration. If you hear similar comments from various people then take special notice. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an author say “Everyone tells me my book is great” but when you dig deeper you find that “everyone” is their close family members and friends. You need objective views since your book will need to sell more copies than just what your family and friends can likely buy. This is also where having a good agent comes into play. (While there are many different agents who specialize in different areas, I love reading the insights of agents Chip MacGregor and Rachelle Gardner, good stuff all around).

Fifth, understand your motivation and connect it to your goals. You don’t have to hit a list to be successful but you do need to first define what the measure of success will be to you. That starts by determining what you want. Are you primarily wanting to be a writer? Do you want to write and speak? Speak for profit? Are you wanting to influence change or simply entertain? Do you have an existing business that having a book could help compliment or expand your visibility as a result of? Traditional publishing versus self publishing… which route should you go? All unique questions and situations that determine a lot about the path you choose in your marketing and platform development. In some of these cases “bestseller lists” don’t matter. In others they do much more. You have to know where you ultimately want to go in order to plot out a way to get there. Sounds logical right? You might be surprised at how many authors really don’t take the time to think through this step. It’s quite important if you ask me. Being an author isn’t just about writing books, it’s a business these days and you have to be smart in how you approach it if you want to leverage it and maximize it for the best results.

Now that we’ve established some ground rules, in my next post I’ll take you through a few HOW TO tips that you can use in your journey towards becoming a bestseller, however you choose to define it. These will be specific HOW TO’s on formulating strategy, expanding influence, developing a platform and marketing ideas to actually sell more books.

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Question: Are you a published author (traditional or self published) or do you have dreams to write a book? Share more about yourself and your book or book idea here.

UPDATE: Here is PART 2 of this post…
14 Platform Building Tips for Authors

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

  • Daniel, perfect, perfect timing! I have four more posts until my book finished (goal–completed this week) and I am already brainstorming my proposal. To answer a few of your questions, I am writing to influence change–I want to help people think through their faith and to look at the reasonableness of what they believe. I'm hoping my book will open the floodgates of having a solid understanding of God's absolute love and of manifesting His love in our world.

    In last two week or so, my blog topped 1,000 visits in a week. Other than lots of spam, I have received some positive comments, so I think my content is on target. I do not have the time nor the knowledge to self-publish, and I would really like the access to the market that traditional publishers have. I participate on Chip's and Rachelle's blogs (I met them at a conference) along with those of a few other agents. And, of course, I have been interacting with Michael Hyatt for about a year–I have learned so much from him. So, I am looking forward to what you are about to write–thanks for putting in the work to share!

  • Hi Daniel,
    This is a great post, written from a unique perspective, I think. Thank you. I find all of the above to be true, not only in finding a "bestseller", but also simply in having traditional publishing success in today's extrememly tight market.
    I have one non-fiction devotional published through Tyndale's The One Year line, and have since been writing my love, fiction. Hopefully, I've written and will continue to write stories that resonate and entertain. I write because I can't not write, and am grateful to have an outstanding agent. Hopefully we'll find success at a publishing house in the near future.
    Thank you for this post. I look forward to reading your follow-ups.
    Jennifer King

  • I like that you mentioned every book and author is unique. I see so many authors trying to write these master-pieces that are reflections of other authors. No one is perfect, so copying off of someone else will lead to nothing positive.

    Great post! 😀

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