The Secrets of E-book Bestsellers


Once upon a time, bestseller lists were dominated by big publishing houses, but these days, e-books, and even self-published e-books are breaking into the upper echelons of literature. With the advent of e-books, it’s never been easier for independent authors to become bestsellers, but don’t get us wrong: it’s still not a cakewalk. To earn bestseller status, you’ll have to do the hard work of creating great content and marketing your book, while being smart about the entire process. Here are some of the best practices we’ve observed in the e-book bestseller marketplace.

  • Write a great book:

    This one seems obvious, but bear with us, there’s more to it. Writing a great book is clearly an essential part of becoming a bestseller. But in the e-book world, a great book with a fervent following can really pay off, especially if you’ve divided your story up into segments. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune created a six-part narrative series on the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, offering the book for free on its website, doled out in segments over a span of five days. But the readers loved it so much, they couldn’t wait that long, instead opting to download the entire e-book for $2.99, propelling the narrative to New York Times nonfiction e-book bestseller status. Write a great book that readers can’t wait to finish, and they’ll be willing to pay for the next installment.

  • Give it away for free:

    It sounds crazy, but it works. Offering your book for free, for a limited period of time, of course, is a great strategy for becoming a bestseller. Doing so allows you to spread the word, marketing your book to a whole new audience, many of whom will give you valuable social proof in the form of reviews and personal recommendations. Once the promotion is complete, you’ll have valuable marketing tools, including new reviews and fans, at your disposal to spread the word to paying readers.

  • Offer bonuses for buying during a certain period:

    If you really want to drive up sales during a specific period of time to hit the bestseller list, offer a promotion or bonuses that encourage readers to purchase your book during that time, and that time only. Adding on extra chapters, sharing special reports, illustrations, and more can share value that readers can’t resist snatching up. Make it an event and promote it accordingly.

  • Interact with your community:

    Advertisements aren’t a big draw for today’s readers, but reviews, ratings, and recommendations are. Readers can research books before they decide to purchase them, and the best way to have research available for them is through buzz on social media. Twitter, Facebook, and bloggers can give you lots of great press that can make a difference in a potential reader’s decision whether or not to purchase your book. Gain an audience with book bloggers, who can create extensive reviews and really push your book into the awareness of readers. M. Leighton, self-published author of The Wild Ones, a New York Times bestseller, credits her success with a book blog review in the weeks following her novel’s release.

  • Find your niche category:

    You don’t have to hit the big lists to be considered a bestseller. Category wins count, too. While a No. 1 New York Times fiction bestseller is pretty sweet, a bestseller on Amazon.com in graphic books, advice, or picture books is a bestseller to be proud of. Be a big fish in a small pond, finding your niche category to maximize your chances of attaching “bestselling author” to your list of claims to fame.

  • Spring for a great cover photo:

    We live in a highly visual society. Great photos and graphics are everywhere, and readers will definitely judge a book by its cover. Encourage readers to check out your book with an eye-catching cover. Great photos can be purchased from stock sites for $20 or less, well worth the investment.

  • Remember keywords:

    For readers who know what they’re looking for, keywords are important. If you’ve written a cookbook, don’t avoid the word “cookbook” in your title and sales copy. It’s all too easy to come up with “Norma Jean’s Recipes, full of down-home cooking” and omit the most important information that readers may be searching for: the fact that it’s a cookbook. Be careful not to miss out on readers because they can’t find you in a simple search.

  • Make your first few pages pull readers in:

    Amazon’s publishing arm offers the first 10% of your content as a free sample that readers can download, presumably to help with their purchasing decision. Make it count. Create compelling content that readers can’t help but get sucked into so that they can’t resist the urge to buy your book, and thus make you a bestseller.