Do you want to publish a best-selling book?

I think I know the answer.

It’s simple. It’s YES

Yes, you want to publish a best-selling book. (Am I right?)

Okay, so, listen up: publishing a best-selling book might not be what you think it is.

There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, wanting to be successful, and selling millions of copies of your book.

At the same time, I’m guessing that you might not be 100% clear on what actions will get your book to best-seller status.

Here are 5 steps to get you started.

Joelle's Photo of a best-selling book

Step 1: Write your book

The first action is a no-brainer: write a great book.

By “no-brainer,” I don’t mean easy. Writing a great book is many things. It’s fun, challenging, frustrating, incredible, sometimes dull, and definitely eye-opening.

I’ve written about this on the blog. (When you decide to write a book, your life will change in unexpected ways!)

Step 2: Reflect on your reasons for writing a book

Ask yourself early in the game: What does writing this book mean to me?

Do you want …

  • … the silver sticker on your book that says, New York Times best-seller?
  • … to be recognized as an authority in your field?
  • … your book to be optioned for a movie or TV show?
  • … to make lots of money?
  • A combination of the above — and more?

There is no right answer to this question. But, we often have a fuzzy idea of what is motivating us.

I recommend returning to this question throughout the book writing process to check in with your big why.

Getting clearer on your motivation and your expectations can help you know where you’re going and why.

Step 3: Build your audience

I suggest doing this later in your book writing. Nothing will crush your creative process faster than feeling like you have to win a popularity contest.

But, if your heart is set on making the lists, you will need to get smart and strategic, and invest the sweat equity required to reach your goals.

Here are some realities:

To make any of the bestseller lists, you need to sell 5-10K books in the first week after publication.

Yup, five to ten THOUSAND copies in seven days.

Brooklyn Book Doctor talking about how to create a best-seller

What does that mean, in practical terms?

It means that you already have an audience that is jazzed to hear from you in any form. A book will be a welcome addition to every other way they already hear from you.

(Fiction and memoir writers have slightly less pressure on them to cultivate active audiences than non-fiction writers. However, in today’s market, writers are expected to have some public presence.)

If you are already a celebrity or influencer, you know you can move copies.

If you’re a regular human, you might get incredibly lucky and be caught in the wave of a movement — such as #metoo, #blacklivesmatter, #timesup, etc.

If your book is on topic, it has a chance of being carried to best-seller status by those movements.

Otherwise—since there’s no way to control for social uprisings— consider how you might reach the people who need to hear what you have to say.

And, P.S., it doesn’t have to be entirely through social media.

Step 4: Build a best-seller over time

If your book doesn’t sell 5 – 10K copies in the first week after publication, and doesn’t appear on the best-seller lists, it can still become a best-seller.

It’s the slow build.

For example, Elizabeth Gilbert’s mega best-seller, Eat, Pray, Love, sold decently in hardback, but it didn’t become a best-seller until after the paperback was released nine months later.

Gilbert kept doing readings, often at small venues, as well as press events in support of the book. She didn’t stop just a few weeks after publication.

Her persistence, as well as the hunger among her readers, created an underground grassroots movement as friends handed Gilbert’s book on to friends, heard about the story, told more friends, and so on.

Eat, Pray Love wasn’t an instant best-selling success. But, today, no one would question Gilbert’s status as a best-selling author.

The book became a phenomenon.

Step 5: Take a deep breath

This is not as much of a step as it is an orientation to book writing. 🙂

If you’re despairing at this point in the post, remember step 2: know your big why.

There are many reasons to write a book! There’s also a lot of value in books that never become best-sellers.

Think of important literary or academic books that help shape our culture. What kind of world would it be if we didn’t have those?

If we measured our success just on copies sold (which is our tendency), we’d live in a world that was all about consumption and not about creativity or intellectual engagement or innovation, or things we can’t really measure.

So, what is it that YOU want for your book, and why?

Not sure? Do some free-writing or journal writing to see what you discover.

I delve more deeply into these questions (and more) in this video.