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The formula for how to crack the bestseller’s list is as elusive as ever, but it’s still at the top of many aspiring authors’ wish lists. I was one of those authors for a long time. I hoped that my own book, Panic! Germs and the American Mouth, would make the list. And, just a few days after the book’s launch, it did; the book hit #2 on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list.
I learned a lot through my process of marketing the book that led to this achievement, and I simply followed steps that anyone can follow if it’s their dream to be a bestseller, too. The truth is, it takes more than writing a great book. These lists calculated by the number of sales within a week, which means marketing needs to be a concerted effort orchestrated from before the book even becomes available.
Here are the tips that I learned and put into practice to achieve my own bestseller status.
1. Find partners with large email lists
Tyler Wagner is the founder of Authors Unite, where he helps people become successful authors and land bestseller status. Wagner confided in me that his secret weapon is partnerships with large subscriber bases. “We’ve built these partnerships over time, and then we offer the book at a discounted rate for launch week so the subscribers feel more compelled to purchase, and to purchase quickly,» he explained. «This results in a major boost in sales right out of the gates. It’s a win-win: Subscribers are getting a discounted book, and authors get the boost they need.»
These partners could be companies, organizations or even nationwide book clubs. It’s a good idea to forge these partnerships ahead of time, and each one will look different depending on the relationship you build and what you can offer (in some cases, they may charge for exposure to their audience). Wagner says that the sweet spot for hitting bestseller status is to move at least 5,000 books within a one-week timeframe after the launch, and large email lists are one of the fastest ways to hit that milestone.
2. Market the book by the results it can provide
Given that people are self-interested, they want to know what they’ll get from reading your book. This is why results-oriented titles do so well. If you can get a reader excited about how the book will transform their life, finances, health or otherwise, then they’ll want to make the investment to purchase. Think of this promise as the attention grab that will spur an email subscriber or a social media follower to take action. Rob Eagar, the author of Sell Your Book Like Wildfire: The Writer’s Guide to Marketing and Publicity, noted in an interview with Forbes to “never tell someone what your book is about. Tell them what’s in it for them. They care about the results the book will produce.”
So, tailor your marketing efforts around the results you aim to offer through the book’s content. When early readers see change in their lives after reading, ask for testimonials or use them as examples on your website and future marketing material. Give prospective readers these bullet points of the book’s major takeaway points, and make it as much about the reader as you can (as opposed to you, the author).
3. Diversify content strategies
Once you’ve established your main bullet points or takeaways for readers, get creative with publicity. Get on as many podcasts as you can (I personally never say no to a podcast invitation), take to Instagram and even make some YouTube videos about the book. TikTok is another great platform for exposure. Some TikTok-using authors have seen outrageous boosts in book sales from a few viral videos. Stephen Axtell explains for Kismet Writing that forging this relationship with viewers is best done through three formats: “expertise, relatable and validation.”
The first and most important piece is educating viewers by sharing expertise related to your book. “Engage with your followers in ways that you are a uniquely authoritative voice,» he continues. «If you’re a nonfiction author or have a job with specific expertise, make videos showing your expertise in action: how-tos, break downs, sights only you get to see.”
What does your book teach? Consider taking smaller lessons or stories and turning them into video content to reach more eyeballs. From there, share who you are so that viewers have something they can relate to, and validate their interactions by replying to comments, sending a quick “thank you” if they purchase your book, and engaging with their content, too.
Compounded, these efforts for exposure and genuine engagement may help you hit the numbers required to land on the bestseller list. Good luck!