Writing a Book: So you want to write a best seller

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“Can you help me write a bestseller?” Some people ask me that question during the first conversation we have about working together. Here’s my answer: “I can help you write a great book, but I can’t guarantee a bestseller.”

Writing a great book is a noble goal. A great book helps readers improve and helps authors achieve career or business objectives. Best seller status can help. Here are my thoughts on what it takes. I only work with business and other nonfiction authors. If you write fiction, some of what I’m about to say will apply, but not everything. Let’s get started with a simple truth.

Many Successful Business Books Aren’t Bestsellers

“Bestseller” is only one measure of success. It’s not the goal for many business authors. Most of my authors write a book to increase revenue in some other part of their business. They may want to increase fees or begin working with a different set of clients.

For some authors, the process is more important than the sales. They’re the ones that write books to tell a story or to bring together things they’ve learned about a subject.

Many business books aren’t sold through the channels that count for bestsellerdom. Most bestseller lists measure sales through a limited number of outlets in a specific time period. But many successful books are sold directly. Others successful books sell many copies, but over a long period of time. There’s a book of mine that’s been on the market for more than 20 years and sells a few copies every week. It will never be a bestseller, but it’s very profitable.

Here’s what I think it takes to get one of your books on a bestseller list. Think of them as ways to increase your odds.

Pick A Subject That Appeals to A Lot of People

Identify something that you know a lot about. Then, write a book that answers at least one of the following six questions:

* Will it make me rich?
* Will it make me famous?
* Will it make me powerful?
* Will it make my life easier?
* Will it make me safe?
* Will it make me loved?

Write the Best Book You Can

One fellow I was talking to about working together on a book balked when I suggested that he should write the best book possible. “Look,” he said, “they won’t know what’s really in the book until after they buy it. Why shouldn’t I write a book quickly that will get bought and not worry about quality?”

He was right as far as it goes. People won’t know the quality of your book until they read it. But he missed something important. A quality book gets better word of mouth, better reviews, and better testimonials. All those things drive sales.

Write a book with a structure that works. Add aids to action so people can put your ideas into practice. Use simple language with simple sentences and common vocabulary. Pull the reader along through the book.

Promote Your Book in A Savvy Way

Don’t wait until you finish your book to start thinking about selling it. Start in the planning stages for your book.

I often have clients do an exercise where they write the jacket copy for their book before we start working on the contents. That helps them focus on the benefits and what the book will be about.

Start planning your launch early. Get help and advice from other authors, from books, and from firms that make their living promoting books. Make friends with the experts you use as you write your book. They will love to help you promote it later.

Little Things that Help

Test your title and play with options. Most business books today have an attention-catching title and a subtitle that tells what the book is about.

Book covers are still important in the Digital Age. Make sure your title is easy to read. Make sure your book cover works when the cover is presented at thumbnail size.

Your table of contents should be a sales tool. When a person considers buying your book, they look at the book description first. Then they look at the table of contents. Use chapter titles that convey benefits. Add brief descriptions of key points.

Promote It till You Puke

I first heard Tom Peters use that line decades ago, and I’m still using it today. Work hard at promoting your book and getting others to promote it, too.

Seek testimonials. They’re one of the most powerful kinds of marketing. Ask people to review your book. Amazon’s got some rules about how to do that. Abide by them.

Takeaways

Not all successful books are best sellers.

Pick a subject that appeals to a lot of people.

Write the best book you can. Great books get better reviews and testimonials.

Start early to make the connections and make the plans to promote your book.

Get promotional advice and help.

Your title, cover, and table of contents should help sell the book.

Promote it till you puke.

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