What makes a book a bestseller?

teasersquare600After two years of pounding the keyboard and putting out indie fiction, I finally hit what I consider a bestseller. Half Wolf had 6,000 combined sales and borrows during its first three months of life, and the sequel seems to be enjoying even better reviews (and, hopefully, sales).

While my figures still don’t hold a candle to those of some authors, I thought it would be worth mentioning what I did differently in case you want to follow suit. Here’s a quick rundown in what went into my bestseller.

  1. Studied the genre harder. I read widely and often and write what I love to read. That said, I noticed repeated criticisms of my Wolf Rampant series surrounding lack of sex and action scenes. At first, I turned up my nose and said, “Hmmph! That’s what makes me an indie author — I can write what I want!” But then I decided to give it a whirl. And I have to admit I feel like the resulting book was more powerful for the inclusions (even though those component are still below average on a modern chart).
  2. Paid for an amazing cover. I have basic photoshop skills and thought I could make my own covers…and I did manage to make passable ones. Then I upgraded to hiring a cover artist…and was amazed at the difference in sales. Rebecca Frank is, unfortunately, now booked months in advance and no longer accepting new clients. However, I highly recommend shopping around and paying for a top-notch cover to match your top-notch book, hitting all of the same genre buttons to signal exactly what’s inside.
  3. Workshopped my blurb to death. Seriously, I think about ten people helped me make approximately 100 revisions on my blurb. Even before that, I studied the blurbs of the bestsellers in my genre, noting word count and other factors. Overall, I spent nearly a week on the project! But the result is tight and humming with life and it sells books.
  4. Launched with forethought. A lot more goes into a sticky launch than just telling your fans and waiting for the sales to roll in. If you haven’t read it, I recommend Chris Fox’s Launch to Market as a primer. I used a spreadsheet and every bit of social capital I’d built up in recent months on my launch and it was very much worth it.

I hope that gives you some ideas for pushing your next book into the stratosphere! And, if you’re curious, Half Wolf will be free Saturday and Lone Wolf Dawn is already marked down to 99 cents for launch week. Feel free to lurk and see whether my second launch does as well as the first.

22 thoughts on “What makes a book a bestseller?

  1. Thanks, as always, for such an informative post, Aimee. I’m especially impressed by the bit on the blurbs. I want to improve all of mine in the weeks ahead, and will look to your ideas on that. And I know I stink at the marketing/launch stuff. I’m truly hunting for someone to tackle that for me, so I can spend my time writing. I simply don’t have the stamina or hours to do it all, myself, especially since I want to write all day, every day.

    I would add one more thing. Know your target audience. Though I get a surprising overlap with my books, including men and younger women, the larger part of my audience is women past “a certain age,” and they expect and look for different things. They all seem to want wildly romantic scenes, but they don’t want “clinically” graphic sex, for instance. So adjustments have to be made for the sensibilities of those who make up the larger share of your readers. Because I meet so many of my Florida readers face to face, I’ve been able to get a feel for what they like and what they don’t, and that’s been very helpful. The love scenes are probably the #1 thing I hear about. But if I were targeting a younger audience, I’d probably go about it differently.

    Thanks for all you share with us. Tweeted & shared this, as well. šŸ™‚

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    • Don’t get me wrong — I’m definitely not saying everyone should sex up their books! As you said, it’s all about knowing your audience. *But* it’s also a question of knowing how large your audience is. My Wolf Rampant series filled a niche of people who really didn’t want graphic sex or action scenes…which was fine until I realized that meant my book was only going to sell so many copies because those people were only about 5% of my potential audience. So, the hypothetical question (not necessarily for you, but just in general) becomes, do you want to stick to your niche or expand to a wider audience?

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      • True, and there is no one answer for every writer, which is one of the reasons I love self-publishing so much. It gives us the flexibility to decide for ourselves.

        I tend to think in terms of drawing in the most folks, too, and one of the things I read (and that stuck with me) was that while lots of people aren’t offended by graphic sex, violence, or language, many are. The difference is that those who hate it won’t read books that include it, and those who don’t mind it don’t usually let the lack of it stop them from reading a book, IF the story sounds good.

        In other words, while they don’t disapprove, they don’t generally require those elements to enjoy a good story. Again, this isn’t true 100% of the time, or for 100% of all authors, but for my own audiences, giving them plenty of passion without specifically spelling out what goes where, or naming it, seems to reach the broadest appeal. Plus, it’s what I generally prefer, too, since I find physical descriptions of love making less interesting than the passionately emotional ones. So it works for me, and as I say, I have a surprising amount of overlap in my audiences, all the way down to young adult, though they aren’t the majority, by any means.

        By no means am I against more sex and action, especially when aiming at certain demographics. I don’t find a thing wrong with it. It’s just not what I want to write, and not as popular with those I’m writing for. But keep in mind, too, I’m at a very different point in my writing career from most. I’m not planning to make a living from it for the next few decades. (I’ll just be happy if I HAVE a “next few decades.”) Yep, I want to sell books and increase our household income when Mark retires, but I also have very specific things I want to say about life and profound love, and that directs my stories more than anything else. The rest is just filler. šŸ™‚ I’ve learned a lot in my 72 years, and want to leave readers with a reminder of a few of those things, and doing so is a huge reason why I enjoy this all so much.

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  2. An interesting post. Thanks for sharing these tips with us!
    I think a story, any story, can become a bestseller if it entertains, moves, and inspires us to wonder.
    And I am with Marcia regarding gratuitous graphical sex in a book, if it’s not written as erotica.
    Passion, emotion is much more important to readers than lust. Just my opinion.

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    • Thanks for weighing in, Carmen. I do think there are readers who really want that extra kick of a detailed sex scene, or the horror of graphic violence, but I’m not sure they won’t ALSO read good books that don’t have it. Either way, it’s why there’s chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry in the grocery freezer . . . something for everybody! šŸ™‚ And as self-published writers, we get to pick and choose which way we want to go with our stories, and hope we bring along a big enough group of readers to make it all worthwhile.

      I don’t think you can go too far astray if you write what’s in your heart–what you love. That comes across in everything, pretty much, and I believe it will pull readers to your books more than anything else. Aimee’s books are very well done, and carefully crafted, and I’m really happy she’s found ways to expand her readership that work for her. We all have to look for the things that feel right to us, and thankfully, today we can make our own choices. I would hate to have some big company demanding I write this kind of story over that one, if it wasn’t what I wanted to write about.

      Here’s to each of us finding a path that takes us where we want to be with our books. I suspect each path will likely be as unique as each writer is. šŸ™‚

      And by the way, if you haven’t read any of Aimee’s books, and you love werewolves and their political pack structure, you should give them a try. They are very good! And this post has given us all a lot to think about, so thanks for that, Aimee. I’m really going to work on the blurb thing.

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      • Yeah, I should add that my version of adding a sex scene was so mild that some readers have still complained that there’s “no sex” in the book. It’s definitely in the “warm” region of the romance-novel scale. Which, admittedly, was enough to scare away a few of my core readers…while netting me many new ones. So it’s a tradeoff.

        Rather than getting derailed on the sex-scene issue, my broader suggestion is — do at least one free period so you widen your funnel to draw in a larger audience. Then read the resulting bad reviews with a pen in hand to see if there are common threads you could address. Maybe your books are falling into a small niche because the beginnings are too slow or the characters are too whiny or any of a multitude of other reasons. Luckily, readers will tell you quite candidly what they think you’re doing wrong. šŸ™‚

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        • Oh, I didn’t think you were adding over the top stuff, Aimee. I was only meaning to point out that knowing one’s target audience is helpful when deciding these things.

          Personally, I don’t think my books are falling into a small niche, target audience or not, since I have a fair amount of overlap. That doesn’t mean I don’t take my negative reviews seriously, though. I read every one of them, and try to be honest with myself. So far, I’ve been very lucky with the reviews I’ve received being pretty good, and being specific about what they liked. But the ones that aren’t, when they are specific, I do try to learn from. I think that’s the only way you grow. I’ve been revamping my writing style a bit more with every book, and it seems to be working, so far.

          My biggest issue is in finding (and getting into) the best categories, so that readers can find my books. Rabbit and Finding Hunter are both suffering from being books that don’t fit comfortably into any one category. But I’ve been making notes, and plan to contact amazon for help in getting them into smaller, more specific categories that will help them be discovered.

          I do plan to do a free period for Harbinger just as soon as I can get it set up the way I want, and have my funnel book at 99 cents. (I can’t take the funnel (WRR) out of Select until August, so that’s another issue, but I did lower the price to $2.99 until then.) Not sure what else I can do before that time, though, other than get my newsletter out, post here, and tweet a bit.

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          • Categories really do help with exposure, especially if you’re able to do a promotion or use some other method to hit the top 100 lists in several. I’ve had good luck emailing KDP support and simply asking them to add new categories. Give them the full thread (like: Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Mythology & Folk Tales > Mythology) so they don’t get confused. Definitely a good thing to put on your list!

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            • Thanks, Aimee. This is the kind of thing you EXCEL at, and I know it’s because you’ve worked very hard to learn the ins and outs of it all. I’ve had good luck calling amazon, too, and in fact spent 45 minutes on the phone with CreateSpace Thursday when I simply could not get a problem solved on my own. They not only fixed it for me, but taught me how to avoid it in the future, so I’m very grateful to them for the help.

              I’ve been taking notes of categories that I think would suit Rabbit’s stories and Finding Hunter much better than where they are now. I’m going to do just what you say, and I appreciate the info. If email doesn’t get results, I’ll request a call. They are AMAZINGLY good about responding. I could probably stand to do this with ALL my books. I believe it’s James Scott Bell who said you should shake up your categories and keywords now and then, anyway, to expose your books to more readers. Something else to consider.

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  3. BTW, Aimee, I meant to say I love this graphic, and the cover IS fantastic! Your designer did a great job for you, especially in giving all the right signals. What a shame that she’s not available right now. (Well, a shame for you, but good for her, I guess.) Anyway, it’s very dynamic! Super job.

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    • Well, luckily for me, she’s keeping all of her original clients. But that’s why I no longer pass out her contact information to all and sundry — she had to stop taking new clients because we keep her so busy. šŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • (I answered this but it went away. šŸ˜¦ Probably end up with TWO answers, now.)

        Yay! I’m glad you can still use her. She seems to have nailed exactly what you want for this series, and it should be great having her for a partner, going forward. It’s so nice when your cover designer “gets” what you are looking for, and then improves on it, too. šŸ™‚

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