What Self-Publishers Can Learn from the 2018 Bestselling Books

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Publisher’s Weekly shared a list of 2018 bestselling books so far in this article, published on July 9. The books on the 2018 bestselling books list are all traditionally published, but that’s one of the best places to look for insight as a self-publishing author. Looking to the successes of traditionally published books is an easy way to learn from those with more money and years of publishing experience than you may have. In this blog we’ll break down some key takeaways self-publishers can learn from bestselling books.

Cultural Influence

Let’s face it, politics are consuming the American zeitgeist and have been ever since the 2016 election. And America isn’t the only country talking about it. As we discussed in this blog post about the 2018 political books trend specifically, many times people use books as a means of escape from reality, but not this year. It seems people are thirsty for more and more information on that which fills the 24-hour news cycle. The list of 2018 bestselling books boasts several political heavy-hitters, not just in adult nonfiction (Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff; A Higher Loyalty by James Comey) but also in children’s books (A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Marlon Bundo, presented by John Oliver) and fiction (James Patterson and Bill Clinton’s The President is Missing).

There is something to be said about having the book of the moment when it comes to cultural fascination. For a while there, everyone was interested in vampires (can you say Twilight and its million spinoffs?), and after that it was the unreliable female narrator (Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, and even The Woman in the Window, which seems to be a delayed success from that trend, making it onto the 2018 bestselling books list after the fact). If you're able to write well to trend and churn books before the trend expires, this could be your bread and butter, but I recommend writing with an eye toward longer term success.

Longevity

With the exception of just four books (and these authored by tried-and-true staples on bestseller lists such as James Patterson and Stephen King, and authors of celebrity status such as Joanna Gaines and James Comey), all of the titles in the Top 20 bestselling books for print books had more than three months to gain persistent sales. When thinking about book sales as a self-publisher, an author goal of long term, persistent sales may be a better route to overall sales success, not all or nothing pops. Self-publishers (and many traditional authors) are not James Patterson or Stephen King. There is rarely such a guarantee that your (or their) next book will hit the bestseller list regardless, which is why you should focus on creating a book with a theme that has some universal staying power or with a sincerely niche audience that needs your type of book in an underserved community.

Sustaining Theme

Success for most books, isn’t in the fad; it’s in the longevity and persistence of your title to resonate and continue to accumulate book sales. That couldn’t be more true for Dr. Suess’s 1960 Green Eggs and Ham or his 1990 Oh, the Places You’ll Go, which have found their way to the top of 2018’s bestselling books, despite their age. They both contain such simple messages, but ones that have resonated for almost 60 and 30 years, respectively, are ones that sell books.

Effective Book Marketing

And regardless of age or theme, you’ll want to invest time into creating a book marketing plan to sustain continual sales. All books, regardless of age, come back in style with a movie adaptation, such as Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 book A Wrinkle in Time or R.J. Palacio’s 2012 Wonder. For a book, a movie adaptation is a wide-scale marketing campaign.

It’s rare that self-published books find their ways to the big screen, but the takeaway for self-publishers in this little tidbit is the effect of good book marketing. You may not get a movie deal, but there are a slew of ways to market a book beyond a movie adaptation. If you’re consistently finding ways to market your book to get it in front of the right audience, you’ll see the results of that in book sales. (And substantial book sales always help when attempting to get a movie deal; just saying.)

Importance of Writing a Book Series

One highly effective means of book marketing is writing a book series, like Jeff Kinney’s bestselling series Diary of a Wimpy Kid or James Patterson and Stephen King’s constant churn of unconnected, but similar titles. You need to go all-in on that first book so that all of the books you release thereafter give sales bumps to each previous book. Getting readers hooked on the first book and thirsting for more of your particular plot, characters, or writing style, is a surefire way to continue to sell book after book. Writing a book series gives you the opportunity to market the previous books in your series as well by doing price promotions and advertisements featuring all of your books at once to get people excited for the newest release.

Importance of Author Platform

One theme to the 2018 bestselling books list and all bestselling books lists that have come before is this: the importance of an author platform. Regardless of whether your book speaks to trends, has been published for a while, features a persistent theme, has effective book marketing, or is a book in a series, the number one thing all of these books have in common is authors with substantial platforms. The first place to begin if book sales are your number one goal, is to build your author platform. An author with no platform is an author without book sales. How does someone hear about books? Most likely they’ll find out about it in one of the following ways:

  • From an author website which they’ve subscribed to or check frequently
  • From social media they follow and with which they interact
  • Mentions or guest posts on blogs they follow, author events at places they shop, speaking engagements they attend, or media they watch/read/listen to
  • Advertising in places they frequent online or in person
  • An email to which they’re subscribed
  • Book reviews they read
  • Word-of-mouth recommendations they receive from a friend or family member, librarian or bookseller, influencer or someone else they trust

…all of which require you to build your network as an author.

No author on the 2018 bestselling books list has achieved book sales without first building their platform. A traditional publisher can help them build it, but before the traditional publisher even took notice, these authors had to have a platform worth investing in. Publishers want to know the author they take on has a certain level of reach, where if combined with their own, can achieve sales that will make it worth their while. So start building that author platform, self-publish your book utilizing a few key takeaways from bestselling books, get some proven sales under your belt, and traditional publishing may be your next step to the bestseller list.

 

How to Build an Author Platform

Renee Lamine

Renee Lamine is the Marketing Manager for IngramSpark. She holds a master's degree in writing and publishing from Emerson College and began her career on the marketing team for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's trade book division. She's happy to contribute her marketing expertise to help self-publishers share their stories with the world via IngramSpark.