Recently, the publishing world has been in a tizzy about the “fixing of the lists” by a now notorious first-time author, Lani Sarem. There is a wonderful summary of all that transpired by Vox writer Constance Grady if you’d like to read the storied background of how this scandal erupted (and you should). This self-published author temporarily tricked The New York Times into bestowing the much-coveted best-seller appellation upon her book (but they later removed Handbook for Mortals from the rankings).
The uproar caused in the publishing world by this has been massive and has everyone wondering a few things: How are these bestsellers calculated? How many authors have rigged the system in their favor? Can you cheat your way onto the lists and get away with it?
As a book publicist, I am asked constantly if I can guarantee my clients will become best-selling authors (I can’t). If there were a magic formula for this, believe me, we’d be using it!
Short of buying your way onto the best-seller lists (which we can see is a surefire way to make waves in the publishing community and likely bring quite a bit of shade your way), risking infamy, and incurring quick reneging of your best-seller status, what else can be done to accomplish this seemingly daunting task?
Tips for Making Your Book a Bestseller…As Best You Can
- Get to know your local bookseller. Make sure that your book is the best-selling book in its genre at your local bookstore! This is an attainable goal that not only indicates healthy sales but also may generate local recognition. Being a best-seller at an individual store or in your city is a worthy goal and one that doesn’t require you to engage in any below-board business practices. Before your book comes out, introduce yourself to the store and start attending author events. Once your book is out and being sold, your good name in combination with a good book will have booksellers supporting you when readers come in looking for recommendations. This micro-marketing is hugely impactful for many authors!
- Be strategic about choosing your publication date. If you are writing a book about D-Day, be sure it comes out…on D-Day. This is going to mean that the natural news cycle is already creating great footholds for you with your book publicity outreach! It will also help your book show up in searches online more easily close to your publication date due to particular keywords you choose based on the current event.
- Plan your book launch event, other signings, and appearances at festivals to occur in the same week whenever possible. Stack your schedule with in-person events with on-site sales, coordinating book publicity such as radio interviews to correspond with a huge media push the same week. Be strategic and locate your highest volume of potential sales all in the same time frame (launch party week) so the sales are reported at the same time, which will give you the highest chance of tipping into that best-seller sales status in your area and possibly nationwide.
- Make sure you use your personal social network! Alert family and friends to not only buy your book during “pub week” at a local indie bookstore or online if that is not possible, but also be sure to request they review it wherever they can! Goodreads is a wonderful platform that can help you gain reviews this way and your personal contacts can support you easily.
There is no surefire way to make a best-seller. Writing the best possible book and pairing it with a well-planned publishing timeline, book publicity efforts, and a book marketing campaign is ultimately the best strategy for optimizing your sales to reach best-seller status. If we could go an easier route, we all would, but most of us would get caught—and burning bridges with important publications and bookstores is never in the best interest of an author looking for a long and successful career.