What goes into writing a best-selling book?

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Writing a best-selling book sounds like a good goal as part of a thought leadership strategy. But how do you do that, what goes into the process, and why should you consider this objective?

Ellen Violette of Books Open Doors joined me on an episode of The Business Storytelling Show to discuss the topic.

Why launching a best-selling book is a good strategy

Launching a best-selling book can help us stand out in crowded markets. Ellen said that many people say they want to write a book. Fewer start and a fraction of that finish. Sure, it can feel like everyone now has a book when you look at social media. Most people and many thought leaders and business execs however do not have a book.

It can be a differentiator. Just being able to say “author” in your bio creates a certain level of authority. “Best-selling author” is even better.

Listing your book as a No. 1 news release certainly has value. I use that terminology in many places where I’m marketing myself, including my LinkedIn profile, resume, and other sites.

I try to be transparent with my listing to make sure people understand what the No. 1 ranking means. I’m not No. 1 of all books sold everywhere around the globe. These listings are typically in a particular category for a specific time frame. So I listed my accomplishment as follows:

  • No. 1 new release
  • Public relations category
  • Amazon

So hopefully, that helps people understand that it was in the public relations category and on Amazon. Not on the New York Times list, not on another list other than that specific list assembled by Amazon.

Some authors summarize it as “best-selling” or something similar. Technically that is correct but doesn’t always tell the whole story if it was No. 1 in a particular category.

What goes into publishing a best-selling book?

Indeed, it does start with having a topic to write about, then writing the book, but the launch strategy needs to start from the beginning. Writing can be a taxing activity and takes time, but it needs to go hand in hand with good marketing.
It’s certainly a mix of awareness, strategy, and implementation. In general, and in my experience, people usually talk about writing a best-selling book and not publishing a best-selling book. That also shows in Google search trends. Writing a best-selling book gets searched more than 40 times a month. Publishing a best-selling book or launching a best-selling book sees no searches.

So start promoting your book as far and wide as possible. For example, I’m currently actively updating the first edition of my “Content Performance Culture” book, due out in a few months. It’s already available for pre-order, and I’m booking podcast appearances to talk about it. I’m writing and promoting at the same time!

Writing certainly feels like a tall task, and at the end of the day, the book has to be well written and relevant to your target market. But, a well-written book won’t sell itself. Marketing is just as important. That can include:

  • Podcast appearances
  • Paid advertising
  • Speaking tour
  • Guest blogging and articles in relevant publications
  • Media appearances
  • And more…

[Tweet “Well-written books still need to be marketed well to become bestsellers.”]

I also like to quote experts in my books and then share their quotes, which they often share to promote the book further.

Also, keep in mind that you can’t lean only on a good marketing strategy. I’ve read horrible books. Terrible! But the marketing was fantastic, so people bought it, and it rose to the ranks of bestsellers. But since it was a bad book, the reviews quickly started reflecting that, Ellen recalls.

The different types of best-selling books

As Ellen mentioned, there are different types of best-selling book lists. For example, the New York Times has one, and there are plenty of categorized lists on Amazon and an overall bestseller list.

How writing a best-selling book works on Amazon.

It’s pretty simple. Amazon produces all kinds of lists, including in specific categories, for particular formats, for new releases, for all books, and maybe even more.

Most of these best sellers were bestsellers in a specific category. Keep in mind that it’s still an accomplishment to publish your book and move up a list. It’s a lot of work to produce, design, and distribute.

First, we should look at categorization. When you submit your book to Amazon, you put it into a category, and there are a number of those. Here are the types for my content performance book:

Those are for the paperback. And then, the Kindle version has its categories.

They don’t align, and I don’t remember why that is. I’m not sure if both formats have different categories, or I just picked them differently because they’re not submitted simultaneously. As you can guess by looking at the categories I ranked No. 1 in the public relations category for the Kindle version.

You can find the comprehensive lists by clicking on the category. Then there’s usually a link to the new releases only list.

Once you click on that, you get the current list the list is updated every hour. So that can mean that you’re No. 1 for one hour, and you’ve already moved to the number five spot in the next hour.

How hard are No. 1 rankings?

Does that mean a No. 1 ranking is easy to come by? Not really. You still have to write the book, publish the book, and then somebody still has to buy the book. Is it easier to rank No. 1 in a specific category instead of ranking No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list? Absolutely.

Is it an accomplishment? Of course, it is. It is something you should be proud of. But don’t be misleading.

When Jo Miller was on my podcast, she had just reached a No. 1 ranking, and she quickly explained what category it was in. That kind of transparency is significant and builds trust. So I did respond that number one is still number one. And it certainly is something to be proud of, and I think it’s OK to use in marketing materials – especially when called out correctly.

So that’s how we see more and more No. 1 authors out there, but it’s not everyone and it’s certainly not everyone in your industry. So, it’s a good goal to consider. Especially if you already have the content that could be used in the book.


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