The New York Times Bestseller List was once the holy grail of the publishing world. Not to say that it’s been dethroned, but it’s no longer the sole purveyor of status. It is now equally awe-inspiring to tell someone that your book is charting on Amazon, whether you’ve authored a cookbook, sales-coaching bible, or the next Hunger Games. I’ve wrangled a few best-selling slots on Amazon in my day, and the authors we’ve published at Advantage|ForbesBooks have done the same. I’m excited to lift the curtain back and show you how it’s done.
It’s not quite as simple as whipping up a half-baked ebook, uploading it to cyberspace, and waiting for a legion of adoring fans to swarm the reviews. Amazon may have democratized book publishing, but in a world of self-published mavericks, there’s a huge clutter of mediocre content on the market. As it became easier to get “published,” (and I use the term liberally), it became harder to stand apart and get yourself noticed.
This is the primary hurdle you have to overcome on your way to becoming an Amazon bestselling author. You have to stand above your competition on the merit of your content and presentation, but few authors know where to begin to accomplish that. There are, however, 3 concrete steps to take in order to obtain that coveted Amazon bestselling author badge.
Step 1: Secure a Professional Ghostwriter or World-Class Editor
It all starts with what’s in the book. If your copy can’t entrance the reader, you’ll never mount the bestseller list. And if writing isn’t your professional strength, that is A-OK. Don’t labor over a MacBook trying to channel your inner Fitzgerald. So long as you have the raw material/ideas to share, you’re more than halfway there. Let someone who writes for a living take over the rest. The true beauty is that professional ghostwriting services have demolished every barrier that once stood between smart people and writing a book.
Additionally, programs like TalkYourBook® allow you to, just as the name suggests, talk through the narrative that you want translated to print. With tools like that at the disposal of any would-be author, there’s no reason not to take full advantage of them. What a spectacular time we live in, right?
If you’re adamant on penning the book yourself, more power to you. But internalize the truth that you will need a professional editor to work through your copy with a fine-tooth comb. Better yet, an entire editorial team will serve you best if you intend to put Amazon-worthy content out there. Editorial excellence is the first totem in publishing bestsellers. Nothing says “self-published mediocrity” like typos and clunky phrasing. No matter how you approach the copy in your book, you can’t leapfrog this step.
Step 2: Design a book cover that people will judge…positively.
Presentation is key, people. The fact is, people do judge books by their covers. You need to attract a reader’s attention at the outset with a stylish, professionally crafted cover. While taste in cover design is subjective, objective quality is not. If you design the cover of your book yourself in Microsoft Paint, people will notice. A “self-published” feel does not convey quality, and readers will make a knee-jerk judgment about the quality of the book based on how the cover presents. Enlist the aid of a professional graphic designer to conceive a cover design that will stun and allure readers, but more importantly: do the book justice. There are freelancers available on the market, but hybrid publishers have them on-staff, along with editorial experts who could write/edit/proof your book. In essence, you could kill two birds with one stone if you walk the path of hybrid publishing.
Don’t think of it as selling out because you’re outsourcing the design. It can be as collaborative a process as you want it to be. Even if you don’t have a flair for photoshop and your spatial understanding is nill, do your best to envision what the cover will look like (and how it will look when listed on Amazon), then, to the best of your abilities, create a simple mockup to share with the designer.
Few people are photoshop powerhouses, just as few people are editorial powerhouses. Do justice to your book, and recruit professionals. If you’re curious and want to dig a little bit deeper, Advantage|ForbesBooks crafted a nifty guide to book publishing for first-time authors who want to publish a professional book in their field/niche/space.
Step 3: Devise an Amazon bestseller strategy/Amazon bestseller campaign
- Make sure your title contains keywords relevant to the niche you’re publishing in. If the title is too esoteric, it will be far harder forAmazon to index and for readers to find. A searchable title will be an enormous credit to your case. Try to think from the perspective of reader/searcher. If you were looking for a book on this particular subject matter, you usually won’t know the exact title in advance, so you won’t be searching for it. You’ll be typing targeted search terms that still serve as a catch-all for books in that space. Even if your title is not exactly search-engine optimizable, try to include a subtitle that is. Amazon indexes that too.
- Choose the correct category. And aim for one that doesn’t have a lot of competition. If you’re unsure, look for other titles in your niche and see how they were categorized. You’ll find that information in the product description.
- Don’t purchase reviews. But do use guerrilla methods to secure reviews, and even put in the legwork to secure them prior to the book’s publication. For example:
- Hold contests where reviewing the book is a condition for entry.
- Review a glut of other books in your niche, but not your direct competitors’. Other authors are as hungry for reviews as you are. Form a symbiotic relationship by reviewing their book. You’ll be surprised by just how grateful they are that a fellow published author reviewed it! This is a good way to get the ball rolling, and get credibility established with some glowing 5-star reviews.
- Promote the book aggressively on social media. Self-serve advertising on platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram has made it easier than ever to get your book before the correct targeted audience. Promotion is relatively inexpensive and you get to cherry-pick the audience you promote to.
- Don’t focus too hard on the numbers of copies you’re selling. One of the most incredible “secrets” I came across since I entered the world of publishing is that the bestseller lists are incredibly misleading, if not entirely bogus. Yes, the titles that emerge on these lists are selling well, but they are decidedly not ranked in order of which sold the most copies. The NYT list and the Amazon list factor in obscure criteria when ranking the book, and focus heavily on single day sales, as opposed to long term performance. If X Book sells thousands of copies over the course of a year, it can still be beat on the bestseller list by Y Book which has sold a fraction as many, just as long Y Book sells a high concentration of copies of in a single day.
There are, naturally, quite a lot of components, boxes to check, and hurdles to overcome on your way to Amazon authorship. As a fellow author, I truly believe the greatest service you can do for yourself is to streamline the entire book creation/ghostwriting process by enlisting the aid of a hybrid publisher. When it comes to achieving bestseller status on Amazon, that nugget of advice alone is perhaps the best I can give.