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How to Write a Nonfiction Bestseller

 

6 months to 6 figuresBy Buck Flogging

Hmmm. How to write a nonfiction bestseller.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes for a bestseller lately. Since late May I’ve overseen the promotion of hundreds of books, and I feel like I’ve gotten really good at predicting what’s got that certain Jenna Said What, and what doesn’t stand a chance.

The most important ingredient in the bestseller recipe from what I can tell is the subject matter. If the subject matter pertains to the core human desires, it has more bestseller potential. Those core human desires, in a nutshell, are to be happier, make more money, and be more attractive. There are other human desires of course, but those seem like the ones that have the highest ratio of demand to attainability. Ever met anyone that didn’t want to look better, make more money, and be happier? Me neither.

For a book to have a decent shot at making some real money (more than $100,000 lifetime), its chances are greatly increased when it is written about something that the vast majority of living, breathing, human beings are interested in.

On the other hand is the “breeding seahorses” book that I always use as an example of a book with no sales potential. There are very few seahorse owners in the world, and fewer still that want to breed them. Those that don’t have a seahorse have zero potential to become interested in reading about it. Such a book could never ever possibly sell tens of thousands of copies.

Second to subject matter is a book’s title. A bad title conveys no clear meaning to a book browser. A good title tells what the book is about. A great title tells what the end destination is. A truly superb title is one that tells the end destination and also happens to appeal to core human desires.

Third is the book cover. It doesn’t have to be spectacular, but it needs to look professional, and that amazing title should be very easy to read. Any images used should be large, simple, and otherwise easy to see and derive meaning/feeling from in an instant.

Fourth are the reviews. Quantity and quality of reviews makes a big difference. I have always found that average star rating didn’t make much difference for me because my subject matter and writing style was always so controversial–giving me a lot of 5- and 1-star reviews. But as a general rule, quality does matter. And quantity matters a lot, too. Large numbers of reviews establishes instant credibility and therefore curiosity in a prospective buyer.

And fifth is a good book description. A great book description follows the old marketing mantra of “create a problem, be the solution.” The book and author shouldn’t be mentioned until the very end of the book description. The book description shouldn’t describe the book, it should describe a problem and tap into core human desires in the process and pitch the book as the solution to that problem.

Lastly is the need for building up enough launch pressure to get at least 500 initial paid sales. Those sales can be at 99 cents, but it needs to be at least 500. I’ve never seen a book get fewer than 500 downloads at launch or in a promotion shortly after launch and just magically take off. Never. 500 downloads is not a guarantee that a book will be a bestseller, it’s just a prerequisite for having a chance.

So, with the hundreds of books we’ve published and/or promoted over the past 7 months, there’s really only one that came through that I instantly knew would be a hit even before it was live on Amazon. Sure enough, it appears to be bringing in $2,000 per day of gross revenue as I type this. That’s THIS BOOK.

This book is relatively short and full of typos. It has some compelling ideas, but overall isn’t groundbreaking. I assure you that what’s inside the book has little to do with its success. It is successful because of launch pressure, promotion (I promoted it through Buck Books to about #125 in the Kindle store), subject matter, a clear, concise title that would get anyone’s attention, excellent reviews (this person had a loyal following already built and some great colleagues who chipped in, and that does wonders for getting better reviews than a book deserves and a LOT of them), and a great cover. I knew it was destined for greatness without reading the book description. With a title that great, you don’t even need to read the book description! So I can’t say that was a big factor in its success. It even has an error that was prevalent in the book, which was a question mark on the end of a sentence that clearly wasn’t meant to be a question.

Like a bra two sizes too small, I’m happy to get that off my chest.

Hopefully this quasi checklist of sorts will help you do a better job of filtering your book ideas. If you’re anything like me, you could easily come up with 100 times more book ideas than you have time to write in a lifetime. Please do yourself a favor and pass them through a few inspections before you start typing away on them. And please, please put special care, attention, focus, and money into the things that count: your book cover, description, launch strategy, reviews, and title.

Odds are your book will still only bring in a couple hundred bucks a month on par with the average even when you think you’ve gotten everything right, but keep chipping away at it and you just might have a breakthrough nonfiction bestseller one day. Armed with the above information, I know your odds just improved.

If you’d like to have your book promoted through Buck Books, fill out the form HERE.

If you don’t hear anything back, you failed at one or more of the five key components we look for in a book worthy of promotion (subject matter, title, reviews, book description, book cover).

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10 Comments
  1. Liked it. The tips are very helpful and shall bookmark it for future reference.

  2. Excellent insight. This is definitely one of the most raw descriptions of what makes a best-seller.

    As an author, I’m 99% concerned with the books “internal organs.” Does it sound good, did I get rid of the typos, how does it look on different devices.

    But next time I publish something I’m going to come back to this list. I’m especially interested in nailing that initial 500 sales – something none of my books have yet to do.

    Thanks again. I always learn something from you guys.

    • We just tested out Epic Launch, which was the company behind the launch of Peter Voogd’s book. Next post is going to be about our results. Pretty phenomenal so far.

      • Hey Matt,

        Looking forward to hearing about those results. In the meantime, know any great launch experts for fiction?

        (We’re already scheduled for a Buck Books promo shortly after launch)

        Best,
        Chad

        • Fiction still remains a mystery to me. No insights to report right now, but someday I’ll have more to say about it I’m sure.

  3. Great stuff you have here. Really helpful tips for anyone who wants to publish a book. I think you have emphasized important points here and explained each really well. Thumbs up!

  4. Hey Matt,

    I just started reading your blog, and I must say that this is great stuff you have here. My goal is to set up a launch campaign that nails 500 paid downloads.

  5. What if one is only interested in writing about obscure subjects,such as the Aristotelianism in the middle ages, or the history of the doctrine of justification in the debates between the Reformed scholastics and counter-reformers, 1560-1700, or books of (technical, analytic) philosophy- books traditionally published by an academic press under even more onerous terms than fiction.

    I understand no one gets rich writing them, but is there a way too bring it to the attention of the general public (i.e. the relevant subculture) or even to partially overcome the stigma of it not coming off the iron at Oxford or Clarendon or Augsburg Fortress?

    Or is it better to write (dishonest) titles (or if not dishonest, at least ones with such a low expectation that buying a lottery ticket is in truth not much worse a gamble, statistically) about how to take control of your financial future and become an overnight millionaire by trading in financial derivatives* (my day job) in order to ‘get made’ first, and then jump genres? (My bias would be to distrust philosophy written by a financial author – very few people are Nassim Taleb.)

    *Only requirement: you start with 1.05m in trading capital.

  6. Apologies for the terrible formatting

    -A phone-whisperer

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