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Rethinking Bestseller

Becoming a bestseller is a wonderful accomplishment, but for many who seek to see their books on shelves, it’s not the end-all-be-all, and for a vast majority, it’s a goal that can be more harmful than good.

Rethinking Bestseller

There’s one piece of publishing advice so controversial that I’ve dared only whisper it in certain rooms or share with utmost caution with clients and industry friends — until now.

For many published and aspiring authors, there’s a pinnacle of success they’ve had in mind since day one – a single measurement of publishing success. 

Perhaps this one thing has made its way onto your vision board, been an intention as you meditate before writing, maybe even declared as a deep desire amongst friends and colleagues.

It’s a success metric used both within the publishing industry and by those who yearn to be part of it.

That measure of success is, of course, becoming a “bestseller.”

Becoming a bestseller is a wonderful accomplishment, but for many who seek to see their books on shelves, it’s not the end-all-be-all, and for a vast majority, it’s a goal that can be more harmful than good.

Let’s start with why I don’t center the word bestseller in my marketing.

WHY– Because it’s not actually my goal for you. (Keep reading to learn what I DO want for you…)

And because it’s arbitrary. 

It’s a word thrown around so often that, in a way, it’s lost meaning. 

If you were to Google what defines a bestselling book, you’d find many different definitions – even from within reputable publishing resources. 

We don’t have a consensus on how to define it. There’s been inflation around a word that is defined differently depending on what outlet or publication you seek an answer from.

The bestseller status as a primary goal has come to mean everything…and nothing. 

And what’s worse is that we’re using it as a metric to measure our success — when it’s simply a metric we can’t agree on. As an author with valuable ideas, frameworks, and relatable stories, focusing on that type of sporadic external validation can be harmful. Your work is worthy because you are. But, you do, of course, want to sell books.

As with all things book-related, the goal is to, as organically as possible, capture the eyes and ears of the right readers

But it can take time. 

Not attaining bestseller status within the first few weeks or months of your release doesn’t actually mean that your book journey has failed. Please hear me on this.

And the illusion that your publisher will turn you into a bestseller is a myth that needs debunking. Your publisher is your partner, yes, but they are looking for you to drive the efforts on marketing and promoting your book. What they provide is supplemental to your efforts.

We certainly can’t have this conversation without talking about the infamous bestseller list(s). This is usually the absolute dream for most authors I speak to. But the truth is that it isn’t attainable for most people.

It’s not because your book isn’t incredible and worthy or because you haven’t worked your tush off – it’s because the bestseller list is flawed. The math (on sales) isn’t always mathing, it is inequitable, and we don’t have clear answers on how to achieve it.  It feels a bit like Oz behind the curtain.

There have been some incredible journalists who have taken this mission on, including this article – which I agreed with on many points.

Bestsellers lists use all kinds of criteria beyond sales to determine who gets the coveted spots, but if you ask what they are, they won’t tell you. And that sure as heck doesn’t help you.

It leaves a shroud of mystery around attaining this industry stamp of approval–so where does this leave us?

My Goal for You is More Than the B Word

Here’s the opportunity within the bestseller mystery–focusing on the only thing that really matters: creating a high-quality book from a high-quality idea. Write a really good book that people will talk about. And then shout it from the rooftops…for a long time. 

I’ve always told my clients during our work together that while I would be so excited for them to make a bestseller list, my real goal is for them to sell consistently for as long as possible.

Think: even beyond your first year in print.

The pressure from within the industry to have a pop of sales (including pre-sales) often excludes the part of the conversation where I see the most results: the long game. 

I want you to look at your work, your business, and your promotions and see how you can keep your book top of mind for people. Where are you integrating it into everything you do? How are you creating high-value opportunities to make connections and sell books?

In a book proposal coaching session with Gina Moffa, author of Moving On Doesn’t Mean Letting Go (GCP Balance, 2023), we discussed the plethora of grief books already on the market. Spending time looking deeply at the market, comps, and positioning is a BIG part of book proposal development and something we focus on intentionally in The Book Proposal Blueprint

Gina looked at me and said, “I just want to be part of the conversation.”

That is a wise goal for everyone.

How can you continue to be part of the conversation for as long as possible?

In Gina’s case, people will always be grieving, sadly. It’s a part of life. So her focus was on how to be there when people needed her most. How would she add to the voices already out there?

If I had to boil it down to one word, it would be momentum. How do you keep the ball rolling as long as you can?

You are writing your book to make an impact. You want to influence and help people. You want to share your story so others feel less alone. You don’t need any institution’s stamp of approval more than you need a reader to message you and say, “You changed my life; I told all my friends about your book.”

That’s where the torch of real success is lit – in the readers.

Should you land yourself in a coveted spot on a bestseller list somewhere, I will be celebrating with you–but after doing this work for 20+ years, I can tell you that the lists that will be most likely to impact yours and my client’s lives are the TBR (To Be Read list for the non-millennials), the Goodreads or Amazon reviews, the book circle or the book club. 

With this reframe, your possibilities for success are unlimited. They’re ongoing. They’re determined by you and your readers. And they happen as a result of your continued efforts and intentionality towards centering your book wherever you can.

Go get ‘em!

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Picture of book proposal coach Richelle Fredson seated. She talks with author Terri Trespicio about imposter syndrome and the myth of waiting for inspiration.

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Rethinking Bestseller

Becoming a bestseller is a wonderful accomplishment, but for many who seek to see their books on shelves, it’s not the end-all-be-all, and for a vast majority, it’s a goal that can be more harmful than good.

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