How to become a best-selling author

Ever since I was offered a publishing contract for “The Big Picture” I have been undergoing a transformation from an analytic and thoughtful writer to a bold marketer and salesman.

The success in finding a publisher was followed by an honest look at the book that I had written, and the realisation that it was rubbish! Well, not rubbish, but lots of scope for improvement.  So having taken some professional editorial advice from I had an intense couple of months restructuring and redrafting.

After such surgery the book needed several re-reads to smooth out the knots.  Rather like combing tangled hair, each re-read/re-write improved the flow of the text and arguments.  And perhaps like combing hair, the job is never finished; you just have to stop sometime.

The title has changed a lot over the past three years.  It began as The Human Project, was The Minimalist Christian for a while, took and excursion into bizarre title such as The Myth of Reality, Sacrificing the Sacred Cows, and even You Need to Read This Book.  It settled on The Big Picture, basically because that’s what it is about!

The Big Picture includes a lot of references, and I learnt the hard way that you need to record the source of your information when you find it. Going back months later takes much longer, and sometime you just can’t remember where you found something.

Then the deadline is met, and it’s over to the publisher to put the text into the right format for both paperback and multiple e-book formats.

There is the excitement of what the cover should look like.  I am amazed at how inventive graphic designers can be.  I can be ‘tidy’ and make something look presentable, but there is a spark of inspiration that creates something I would never think of.

And finally, the mail arrives with “The Big Picture is live!”

Champagne moment.

But not for long.  There’s no point in having produced a brilliant book if nobody knows about it, and so I have to grasp my confidence in both hands and start to advertise.  But what works?  Do I spend £1-2000 on a Kirkus review and marketing package?  Do I put adverts in the major newspapers?  These are the big questions that face every new author.

It seems to me that someone has to have a reason to buy a book, and until there are some reviews then the reason will probably be personal connection.  So I let friends know, and work colleagues, and those who follow my blog, or twitter, or LinkedIn.  Remember this, if you are writing a book it has to be worth building up some sort of following and making connections on social media for a long time before you publish.

I got a lot of good feedback from the engineers that I work with in UK and overseas, and so I decided to experiment with an advert in Professional Engineering – a magazine with a circulation of over 60,000.  Being a Fellow of the IMechE I got a substantial discount on a quarter page advert which went live at the start of November.  I have to say that the response based on daily statistics from Amazon sales was astonishing and suggests that a total of zero people have bought the book as a result.  Remind me never to expect an advert to work again!  But then I have to remind myself, would I have bought from an advert? No.  So why should I expect anyone else to?

But the early sales are leading to some reviews, and so I can use those reviews to promote the book to others who don’t know me from Adam.  And they are encouraging! See for instance:

And I think it’s important not to skimp on sending review copies to people who influence others.  What we need as unknown authors is as many people as possible telling other people that our book is worth reading.  So reviews and word of mouth recommendation are indeed important, and I’ve found that politely asking someone to recommend the book has never caused offense. Usually people are happy to oblige.

The other nice thing about reviews is that a good review can lift the spirit when the sales figures seem disappointing.  A good review tells me to keep going – it’s worth it!

So it seems to me that marketing takes a lot of perseverance and patience.  There are so many books out there that people are not going to find yours by chance. They need a reason to buy, and unless your book is aimed at budding authors and is called “How to become a best-selling author”, the reason to buy won’t be the title.

Having said all this, I’m still at an early stage and am not yet a best-selling author.  I’ll post again later when I’ve learnt more about what not to do!

Meanwhile, let me recommend an excellent book.  It’s by someone I’ve known all my life. It’s called The Big Picture…..

Have a great day.

The Big Picture - cover

About Minimalist Christian

Phil Hemsley is a graduate of the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the UK. He works for a multinational company in the power industry, has presented technical papers at international conferences and holds many patents. He has published two books, the most recent is "The Big Picture, an Honest Examination of God Science and Purpose". He has lived on both sides of the faith fence. He is married, with two daughters.
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2 Responses to How to become a best-selling author

  1. Pauline says:

    Yes, well, good luck to you! I hope you have lots of time to pursue marketing strategies, because from what I have seen most are expensive and don’t offer very much return! It seems to come down to hard work and dogged persistence.


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