Why you shouldn’t be writing a bestselling business book
In my life as a publisher of books to support businesses, I have lost count of the number of times someone has said to me, ‘How do I get my book to be an Amazon bestseller?’ Or ‘How do I get on to the New York Times Bestseller list?’
These are understandable aspirations. First, as soon as we start to research words like ‘successful books’ or google ‘how to sell lots of books’, we find a plethora of offers focusing on how to get your book to bestseller status.
But what does this all really mean? How many copies do you need to sell to become a bestseller? And what happens if you do?
Take a moment to think about why you are dreaming of reaching the dizzy heights of bestseller status in the first place… what is it that you are imagining? Does it mean that suddenly the whole world opens up to you and you find that both you and your book are in huge demand?
I hate to disappoint, but this scenario is rarely the reality…
First of all, it seems almost anyone can achieve ‘bestseller’ status. In 2016, Brent Underwood took a photo of his foot, created a book on Amazon called Putting My Foot Down and a few hours later became a bestseller in the category of Freemasonry.
As Brent says in his blog post, the term ‘bestseller’ has become meaningless. It’s simply too easy to achieve it. Although there are many somewhat dodgy businesses out there who will part you from a wedge of cash for making it happen for you. Readers and buyers are, at best, blind to the word, and at worst, may even be wary of it – perhaps to the point of feeling a sense of mistrust. And given all the effort you’ve put into writing your book that is all about building your credibility, that is something you really don’t want!
Think about the messages you want to get out about yourself now you are a published author. Most people might have a list that goes something like this:
If adding the word ‘bestseller’ means very little, what if all that energy you might use to create it could go into other things? What about sitting down and working on a list of people you would like to meet? People who might be able to open doors for you.
One of our most recently published authors, Mike Pagan (Mental Wealth: Unlock Your Potential, Enrich Your Life, 2021), said to me, ‘I’ve never enjoyed selling myself, as an individual, a speaker or the next best thing – however these days I am having the most incredible conversations with people I would not necessarily have spoken with before. I realise it’s so much easier to start a conversation about my book than it is about me. It’s a fantastic introduction to what I do and a way of opening doors. I’m enjoying every minute of it. The book is a product – okay, it’s me, but it’s also outside of me, which makes it easier to talk about.’
Another author who published with us some years ago, Kate Mercer (Buzz in the Building, 2016), said, ‘I’ve made about £120 in royalties in the time I’ve been published. And yet I’ve lost count of the thousands of pounds that we as a business have generated because of the book.’
The book does not have to be a bestseller to do this work. As an author, you just need to be willing to start those conversations and get the book in front of the people who will really make a difference in your business. They don’t care if you are a bestseller; all they care about is that you know your stuff.
So what do you need to do to achieve something worth much more than bestseller status?
First, be clear about what it is you want to happen. Are you:
Looking for speaking opportunities
Where do you want to speak? Research every stage, every platform, from your dream destination (perhaps a TEDx or a major trade conference) to the more accessible (for example, a local business networking group). Think of what can be achieved by speaking at each event, whether that is a speaking fee or further opportunities for your business. Find out who runs the event and send them a copy of your book together with your speaking credentials.
You will always be picked over someone who doesn’t have a book. Bestseller or not.
Gaining visibility in the media
Having a book automatically gives you credibility and journalists love this. Whether you use a book publicist or PR agent or you do this yourself, you will find that a book can open doors for you and make you attractive. It also shows you can write. So if a regular column or blog (think Huffington Post or Forbes) is on your wish list, then a book will seriously impress.
Journalists may well be more attracted to an alternative badge of honour to bestseller, which is getting through to the shortlist of any book awards. The Business Book Awards promote the authors and their books on several social media platforms. As long as you are shortlisted, you will find yourself able to hang on to their very well-regarded and followed coattails. This will consequently lend you a high degree of visibility.
For more on getting reviews in the media, read our blog post here.
Your mission to make a change in your industry
If your book is groundbreaking enough, you will impress your peers and they will join you in your cause. But don’t sit back and wait for them to find the book. Send a copy of your book to every CEO, every leading light, every prominent figure in your world who you believe may be able to help you with your mission. If your book is your manifesto, don’t hide it behind a sales barrier; get it out there to be read by as many people as possible. Quite frankly, that beats bestseller status into a cocked hat.
The book as a lead generation tool
Fiona Hudson-Kelly, serial entrepreneur and author of Survival of the Smartest: Entrepreneurial strategies for today’s college leaders, told me that her book (which has sold perhaps half a dozen copies on Amazon over many years) was the single most effective lead generator she has ever used in business. She gave it away at trade shows, handed copies out to every college leader she met, while growing her educational tech business from zero in the space of a few short years.
Now Fiona could have spent a lot of time and energy getting her book to ‘bestseller’. She chose to ignore that path, and this year she sold her business for several £million.
Whatever your plan for your book and your business, think of the two as one. Combine the forces of your brilliance in both areas and let them work together. Think of your book as a business partner, one you’ve brought in to do some of your heavy lifting as you journey to building your platform, your visibility, your credibility and massive success for your business. Don’t get distracted by the shiny badge of ‘bestseller’, but look at the real benefits of getting your book out to as many people as you can. By doing so, you will inevitably be making a much greater difference – to your world, to theirs, and to your business.
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