I’ve talked about being a bestselling author before in videos and seminars, but the topic has been the subject of so much debate in two writers’ groups that I am in that I can’t resist diving back in again
An article by Brent Underwood in The Observer (Behind the Scam) discussed how he became an Amazon bestselling author with a grand total of three sales. The book consisted of a picture of his foot. He had a cover made up (which also featured the same picture of his foot) and put it on Amazon Kindle for 99 cents. There was no text, just a picture of his foot. Which made the script for Bambi Meets Godzilla (a short film also featuring a foot) seem like War and Peace.
He had three of his buddies buy the book and it shot to the top of the charts (with a bullet!) in an Amazon subcategory. BAM! Amazon Bestselling Author.
John Locke, a fiction writer and author of How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months, came under fire from writing bloggers when it was discovered that he had bought copies of his own books. (GASP!)
I remember feeling a bit put out when I learned of this tactic years ago. Authors or publishers buy their own books in order to jump-start sales.
“That’s cheating!” I cried, like a third grader who had lost at pick-up sticks. Is it cheating or leveling the playing field? (And why do I suddenly think of Lance Armstrong being kicked around for getting caught taking performance enhancing drugs in a sport that is rife with competitors taking performance enhancing drugs?)
You might look at it as priming the pump. You’ve got to put a little in to get something back out.
People have been “buying” their way onto the “legitimate” bestseller lists (NY Times and Wall Street Journal, for instance) for decades. Publishing houses had guaranteed sales waiting that could push a book onto the New York Times bestseller list which then created an avalanche of sales. If half of those initial sales became returns a month later, there were enough sales coming in from the bestseller list bump to make up for them. The snowball was already gathering speed and size.
Amazon bestselling author status is just easier and cheaper to game than the NYT or WSJ lists. It’s a matter of choosing to put your book into at least one obscure category no matter how tentatively it is connected to your topic. Then you need five to 100 of your friends and family to all buy the book on the same day. Once you hit Amazon’s radar, you might be lucky enough to be included in one of their emails of recommended books. This can bring in thousands of sales… which keeps your book at the top of the rankings which of course brings in more sales.
A Bestselling Author Need a Platform
If you’re writing a book to increase your authority and reach (as opposed to using it as a teaching tool for clients and students), then you need a platform. And by platform, I mean followers. Not just your friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter, but people who have opted into your mailing list. People who have in some way invested in you already. Maybe they have heard you speak or bought your services. You need followers who will buy your book on launch day and spike your numbers, not Facebook friends who give you a Like. Just so you know, having 18,000 Twitter followers translates into about four sales. Okay. I made that number up. But I bet I’m close.
Traditional publishers expect their authors to have a following and that means a blog with thousands of hits per month or an engaged mailing list with over 10,000 names. You are expected to bring the sales. With the convenience and low cost of print-on-demand technology, the benefit to the average author of having a traditional publisher is reduced to “status symbol.”
The best time to plant a tree is 40 years ago. The second best time is now. The best time to start building your platform falls into that range, too. Build your email list using an ethical bribe. Build your social media platforms. Consistently put out thoughtful blog posts. Form alliances with people who have the same target demographic you do. When it’s time to launch your book, your pump will already be primed.