The Making of a Bestseller


In Brian Hill and Dee Power’s book, The Making of a Bestseller, they interview dozens of authors, publishers, editors, and publicists to try and determine what actions help turn a book into a bestseller. It’s an older book written in 2005, prior to the modern age of self-publishing. Most of the advice, therefore, assumes that the books in question are traditionally published and have a good chance of at least finding a spot on bookstore shelves.  

But, much of the advice that’s offered still rings true for self-published books. Following are five of the suggestions that I thought made a lot of sense and could make a difference in any author’s efforts. I’ve included my own thoughts after each: 

Q: How does a publishing house go about building brand loyalty for their popular authors?

A: It does depend on the author. One approach is the creation of an ongoing series, usually based on place or character. Consistency of cover treatment and packaging is another. We’re also making increased use of teasers, excerpts, and so one, which can create a sense of anticipation in the reader. And…especially these days, the author can play a part in developing reader loyalty—through Web sites and other forms of direct communication with booksellers and readers.

–  Paula Eykelhof, Executive Editor, Harlequin Books

Phil says:

Even without a publishing house, it’s a smart idea to develop a consistent cover treatment and packaging for your books. Readers associate such things – particularly if attractive and well designed – with “successful” authors or lines of books. Sometimes becoming a successful author begins with appearing to be a successful author. Make your first book look terrific, and look for elements in that initial design, be it typeface or design elements, that can be utilized on subsequent books that fall within your “brand.”


Q: How do you go about creating a hook for a PR campaign?

A: We aren’t promoting a book per se; we’re promoting a person. In teaching people about publicity and hooks, for nonfiction books I recommend they pay close attention to what’s in the news affecting people’s lifestyle, their kids, and their pocketbooks. What is keeping people up at night with worry? What do people care about? That’s your PR hook. Then look at today’s headlines. Hooks change day by day depending on what’s in the news. Producers and editors don’t care about your book. They care about whether you can come on a talk show or be interviewed and teach us about what’s going on today and that their listeners, viewers, readers care about.

– Rick Frishman, Founder of Planned TV Arts, Coauthor Guerrilla Marketing for Writers and Guerilla Publicity

Phil says:

This is basic stuff, but for those of us who don’t have a background in PR, it’s crucial. If you’ve written a nonfiction book, figuring out how it’s relevant to what’s happening today can make the difference between consumer interest and indifference. And if you’ve written a memoir, figure out what aspect of your story is relevant to what’s happening today. What lessons did you learn that can be applied to today’s situations? 


Q: How can an author help you sell their books?

A: Do the following:

  • Promote their book at an author event.
  • Go the extra mile before the event to help with advance publicity.
  • Buys books from us. Why not?
  • Mention the store in interviews.
  • Be available for book club interviews.
  • Make sure their book is not ugly, overpriced, or hard to obtain.
  • Be nice to the owner, the buyer, the marketing person, and the booksellers.

We try harder for our friends.

–  Daniel Goldin, Buyer, Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Phil says:

The big chains tend not to notice self-published authors until online sales or independent bookstores make them sit up and take notice. Independent bookstores can be your best, most effective friends. Stop chasing the B&N’s of the world and go after the mom and pops. They’ll work hard to help make you successful if you work hard to help make them successful. Guaranteed. Nobody builds buzz or handsells like the staff of an independent bookstore.


Q: Is part of the reason certain authors attain bestselling status because they are more skilled or savvy at marketing and promotion?

A: For some people, that is definitely true. I know authors who make a study of this side of the industry and are greatly responsible for their own commercial success. In my case, it’s not true. I owe the commercial success of my books to my publisher.

–  Mark Bowden, Author

 Phil says:

As a self-published author, you’ve chosen to forego having a traditional publisher. Therefore, the commercial success of your book lies entirely on you and marketing services. If you’re not hiring a publicist, are you studying marketing and promotion? You need to be. You are your book’s best advocate. Learn that part of the business and it will make a world of difference in how many readers you connect with. 


Q: How has your attitude about what constitutes success changed?

A: Early in my career, success was defined as signing a multi-book contract. Then money because the measure of success. Then hitting the bestseller lists. Then hitting high on the bestseller lists. What can I say – I’m a competitor. As far as the deeper, more personal sense of success, nothing has changed. I’ve always defined success as finding happiness with my family and having good health. Being with people I love and seeing them happy was the true measure of success for me 24 years ago, when I started writing. It’s even more true today.

–  Barbara Delinsky, Author

Phil says:

Bestseller lists are a goal, not a reason. Write because you love to write. Period.

Takeaway Tweets

Readers associate consistent cover treatment and packaging with “successful” authors or books.  Tweet this

Figuring out how your book is relevant to what’s happening today can make the difference b/w consumer interest and indifference. Tweet this

“You are your book’s best advocate.” Tweet this 

“Bestseller lists are a goal, not a reason. Write because you love to write. Period.” Tweet this