Since my book made the New York Times best seller list, I've had a lot of people prodding me to tell them the secret. How can they have success with their own book? Which, of course, made me ponder. What is the secret? Here's what I came up with.
First of all, in order to have a best seller you have to write a best seller. Duh, you say. That's a given. But it's amazing how many people come to me and ask me for help to create the same phenomenon with their own book, when they've written one titled "The Joy of Raising Naked Mole Rats." Sure, there's probably a small market for that, but it's never going to become a best seller. (Sorry if I sound harsh.) If you've written for a niche market, that's fine, but don't feel bad when sales are slow.
If your book is not aimed at a niche market, you're already a step ahead. However, to become a best seller, your book needs to appeal to the masses. There's a reason why books that don't have a clear genre have a hard time finding an agent or publisher. That's because in order to appeal to the masses your book needs to be well defined. That's not to say that a contemporary-western-mystery-romance-fantasy can't sell. There are people out there willing to give cross genre books a chance. But it won't appeal to the masses unless it's got a clear genre.
To write a best seller you also have to craft a good story. To do this you have to get outside opinion on your work. If you've skipped this step, remedy it right away. Join a critique group. Trade chocolate for beta reading. If all you get is praise from your outside opinion givers, it's time to seek other opinions. You need some people who are going to tear your story apart and make it better. The best critics are other writers who have been down the road a few times, have had success finding an audience and who preferably write in your own genre. And don't try to edit your own book. You'll miss stuff.
The next thing on my list is having an eye catching cover. Not only eye catching, but it needs to communicate the genre at a glance. If it's a romance, don't put an apple and a pencil on the cover, even if your main character is a teacher. Now, I'm not going to tell all authors they have to hire a cover designer. Why? Because I've seen some great covers created by the authors themselves. And I'd be a hypocrite because I designed my own covers. I will stress how important it is to get outside opinion on your cover. Again, seek opinions from other authors who have been down the road a few times and have found success in your genre. (Kindleboards.com is a great place to find such people.)
If you try and can't create a good looking cover, don't settle. Pay a professional. Sure, it can be expensive. So can replacing your stove when it breaks. But who eats raw chicken each night because they can't afford a new stove? Not you I hope. You scrape together the money. Don't expect people to buy your book if the cover doesn't look professional. You're offering them raw chicken. Not a lot of people are going to bite. Scrape together the money and pay for a professional looking cover.
The last thing I think needs to be done to have a best seller is to make people aware of your book. I did giveaways, joined forums, posted on facebook, tweeted, blogged, and paid for a couple of ads. But what really helped spread the word was lowering my price to 99 cents. I had already created a buzz about my book before I lowered the price. After lowering it other people started announcing the price change. Blogs that feature low cost books announced the price change. This got me an initial flood of sales. Then Amazon's algorithms kicked in and they started marketing for me. My low price made it an impulse buy. If you don't want to price at 99 cents you can still become a best seller, you'll just need to work more on the marketing to make people aware of your book. Come up with some creative things to do.
And don't expect your book to become a best seller overnight. It takes time. Most people I know who have sold thousands of books have had a slow build. The ones that didn't had means to spread the word to a lot of people right away.
Finally I'd like to say I'm not advocating changing the way you write just to become a best seller. If you're passionate about writing contemporary-western-mystery-romance-fantasy novels, by all means keep writing them. If you write an engaging story, it will find an audience.
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