So you want to launch a bestseller. Great. Every writer does. But the truth is, before you can launch a best-selling book, you have to write a best-selling book. Here’s what I mean.
When my recent book, The Art of Work, became an instant bestseller, people asked me how I did it. They wanted to know the secret marketing tactic or promotional strategy I used. And those were the wrong questions to ask.
For the longest time, I wanted to be a best-selling author. I built my tribe, learned how to market, and assembled book launch teams. But it never happened. What was I doing wrong?
After four books, I finally did get a book on the bestseller lists. But it had nothing to do with timing or practice. With my fourth book, I actually learned how to write a book I believed in that would sell well. And any writer can do this, if they understand the process.
Just a couple quick notes, though, before I begin:
- This process works for writing nonfiction. I’m not a fiction author, so I can’t speak to that. This works for writing how-to, advice, self-help, memoir, business, and just about any other form of nonfiction.
- This is not about how to game your way onto a bestsellers list. I tried that. It didn’t work. This is about how to write a real bestseller, a book that continues to sell tens of thousands of copies every year.
3 Lessons I Learned from Launching my First Best-selling Book
So with that said, I want to share with you my process, what I learned from watching other authors succeed and then applied to my own writing journey. I wasted years trying to figure this out, but hopefully you won’t have to do the same. Here are three things I learned from launching my first best-selling book:
1. The best marketing happens before you finish the book.
Ryan Holiday taught me this one. Ryan has worked with Tim Ferriss, James Altucher, Robert Greene, and others, and is responsible for helping these authors sell millions of copies of their books. So when I asked him for his best book launch advice, Ryan told me, “Most of the work is done once the book is finished.”
So when I wrote The Art of Work, I thought about the conversations I would have, the interviews and guest posts I would do, and tried to give myself great material to work with from the beginning. As David Ogilvy once said:
Good marketing makes a bad product fail faster.
Most authors write books and then think about the marketing. But that’s the wrong way to do it. Instead, you need “bake” your marketing into the book – think about the problems this book will help solve and the questions it will answer and actually put those things in the book.
Takeaway: Start thinking about marketing the minute you begin to write the book.
2. The idea behind the book is what sells the book.
Ever noticed how best-selling books aren’t always written that well? Is it just the marketing that sells the book? Of course not. It’s the idea behind the book.
Best-selling nonfiction books tend to have big ideas behind them that often challenge people’s assumptions about the world around them. Right now, counterintuitive business and self-help books are especially popular.
Malcolm Gladwell is the king of this. Every book he writes follows a formula that is easily shareable. Examples:
- The Tipping Point: We think big things lead to big change, but really it’s often little things.
- Outliers: We think successful people work really hard and that anyone can do this, but the truth is success is not fair.
- David and Goliath: We think strength is better than weakness, but sometimes it’s not.
To be fair, Gladwell writes fascinating books with excellent storytelling. So it’s not just about slapping a cool idea onto a bad book. But there are plenty of talented writers who are nowhere near as successful as he is. The reason for this, at least in part, is because of the way his books are positioned. They are surprising answers to questions people are already asking.
Takeaway: Identify a conversation that is already happening in the world and then make it the main idea of your book. Use counter-intuition (“you think that, but this is actually true”) to make points that surprise the reader.
3. Give the reader the words you want them to share.
When it comes to actually writing the book, one of the best things you can do is start with the big idea (the book’s argument or goal), then break it down into smaller supporting ideas (the chapters), and then into even smaller points (the sections, paragraphs, and sentences).
Every time you do this, make sure each idea is compelling and shareable.
Think of each chapter as an article for a magazine, a big idea that could stand on its own. Include stories, facts, or ideas that people can easily understand and connect with. Make it something people can easily talk about.
My friend Lysa Terkeurst calls these “sticky statements.” They are phrases that you intentionally inject into the book that people will inevitably remember and share. These may be tweetables or topics for dinner conversation. But the point is to encourage word-of-mouth marketing by making the book easy to talk about.
When I was doing this for The Art of Work, I studied Bob Goff’s book Love Does, which has now sold over a million copies. At the beginning of each chapter, he shares a counterintuitive argument that follows this formula: “I used to think X, but now I think Y.”
So I copied that. Worked for Bob, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try for me. Each chapter of my book begins with a quick synopsis of the chapter, but it’s word-smithed so that it’s something people can easily grasp and then share.
Takeaway: When you write the book, word-smith each idea into something shareable. Use counter-intuition to surprise the reader and get them to share your work with others. For more on this, read this article.
It’s the writing, silly
So there you go. Want to launch a bestseller? Forget everything you think you know about marketing and promotional tactics and instead focus on the actual act of writing.
But as you write, think about your audience. Give them the words you want them to share. And make sure you begin with an interesting idea that the world is already talking about.
That’s it, in a nutshell. This approach should save you a lot of time and pay off big time. For more on the marketing side of things once the book is written, check out this post.
What are some book-launching techniques that have worked for you? Let us know in the comments.