Every author wants to write a bestseller. For some it's a stretch goal. For others, it's a business strategy. Being able to call yourself a best-selling author (as long as it's on a legitimate print list like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal) can be a big credibility booster and can even warrant an increased speaking fee.
So when authors tell me they want to become Greenleaf Book Group's next best-selling author, we turn our attention to ensuring that their author platform is abundant, aligned, and advocating on their behalf. We'll call that list of features our "A-list". These attributes are not limited to the publishing realm. What helps to sell an author's books is not far removed from what helps to sell any company's product.
In publishing, we use the word "platform" to refer to the group of people an author can realistically reach who identify as part of that author's community. They are supporters, tribe members. They have bought in to the author's message and want more.
A platform is not just a brand. It starts with a brand, but it is really composed of an engaged audience. These are the raving fans that every business wants.
For any book, the content itself is (and will always be) vitally important to its long-term success. It needs to fill a need or be entertaining. Long-term sales are an important goal, but becoming a best-selling author requires velocity of sales since print lists are calculated weekly.
To move thousands of books in a one-week period, an author needs to campaign and activate their entire platform to support the launch effort. A bestseller doesn't have to happen in week one of release, but for multiple reasons oriented around building momentum through retail networks, it's ideal.
Exactly how much abundance do you need? It's different for every author, and it depends on your track record for converting your audience into customers. Just remember that your word of mouth sales will typically come after the initial launch period (people need time to read it), so if you want to pile thousands of sales into week one, it follows that you'll need to directly hustle thousands of people to order from within your own platform.
Returning to our A-list, having an abundant platform is important, but that's not a guarantee of book sales in and of itself. To leverage an abundant platform, your product needs to be aligned with your brand.
By way of example, consider this gem from Kylie and Kendall Jenner. These two share a combined Instagram following of 110,000,000+. That's a number just 18,000,000 shy of the entire population of Mexico.
Yet as of April, 2016, their book Rebels, City of Indra has reportedly sold just over 16,000 copies since its release in June of 2014. Why? It's easy to question the validity of their social media followers, but even if we boldly assume half of those accounts are fake, the release-to-date sales still demonstrate a horrible conversion rate.
The real issue is that this product does not align with what Kendall and Kylie's platform wants. They want lip kits, fashion, and celebrities - not a dystopian girl-power tale of "air, fire, and a bond of blood." There's nothing wrong with that. The Jenner sisters just need to be mindful of their own brand and audience demographics.
The takeaway here is that alignment is critical, and as tempting as it can be to stray from a core brand to grab any available dollar (especially startups), it's imperative for all businesses to maintain the discipline to say no to misaligned opportunities.
Finally, a powerful platform advocates. There is no marketing tool more powerful than the enthusiastic recommendation of a happy customer. The power of networking effect, word-of-mouth marketing, social proof, reviews, and all other ways of generally influencing peers hold the proverbial keys to the kingdom of long-term sales.
Honor your audience and deliver a quality product and they will reward you with the multiplying power of their recommendations. That will certainly make future bestseller launches easier!