3 Author Success Essentials

by | Feb 18, 2019

By Sandra Beckwith

One of the most common posts in the self-publishing and book marketing group I co-moderate on Facebook is some variation of this:

“I just wrote my first book and I’m so excited! What do I need to do now to get it published? Can anyone tell me? I really want this to be a best-seller!”

Group members typically share advice about what they’ve learned, often the hard way.

They address formatting and ISBNs and uploading to Amazon. But members rarely venture beyond the mechanics of publishing to offer advice about what’s required to sell books to more than your cousins and the folks in your writers group.

New authors are often focused on the mechanics of publishing, plain and simple. It doesn’t occur to them that getting the book into the system is only one piece of successful book publishing. So, when the book doesn’t sell, they’re confused.

To be successful as an author, you need to know about more than how to upload to Amazon or what to price your e-book.

Here are three author essentials that will lead to the success most authors seek.

1. Write and publish an excellent book.

Your book should look and read like a traditionally published book.

To achieve that quality, you’ll have to spend money on:

  • An editor (and possibly more than one, depending on how much help is needed)
  • A proofreader who reads the book once all editing is finished
  • A cover designer

Be selective about who you hire so you get the quality and professionalism you need. Just last week, I saw typos in the Facebook profile Intro of an “editor.” That’s not a good sign.

Because beginning writers often struggle to recognize the difference between good and bad editing, I recommend starting the search for an editor and/or proofreader with organizations for serious professionals. Try the Editorial Freelancers Association and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

Look for a cover designer with experience in your genre or category.

2. Know your audience.

Here’s the key question to ask: Who will love my book? (Clue: It’s not everybody.)

When you ask that question, be as specific as possible. You want as narrow an audience as possible.

Why a narrow audience? Doesn’t that limit the number of books you can sell?

It would seem like that, but in reality, the more focused you are with your marketing, the more likely you are to reach the right people. When you zero in on a narrow, targeted, audience you’ll waste less time and money. Only the right people will see your book marketing messages.

Let’s say you wrote The Complete Guide to Urban Container Gardening. Who is more likely to buy it?

  1. (a) Everybody
  2. (b) Gardeners
  3. (c) Gardeners in urban settings

The answer is (c), of course. “Everybody” is too broad. While “gardeners” comes closer, it still includes too much waste. Rural and suburban gardeners with acreage and yards won’t need urban tactics.

After you’ve defined that narrow audience, learn as much about them as possible. Take into account both demographics – age, gender, marital status, income range – and psychographics such as lifestyle and life stage. Are they active or reclusive? Young couples or empty nesters?

The more you know about them, the easier it will be for you to focus your marketing on where you’ll find them both online and offline.

3. Monitor your marketing.

Your goal with book marketing is always the same: Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

You won’t know what’s working and what isn’t if you aren’t monitoring what happens after you use a marketing tactic.

This applies to more than book sales, too. If your goal is to get more readers on your email list, you need to watch your list size every time you do something designed to help you get more subscribers.

Are you looking for more Twitter followers to boost your platform in anticipation of shopping around a book proposal? You need to know which tactics are getting you more connections and which aren’t.

If you’re traditionally published, watch your sales rank online as you try different marketing tactics. If you’re self-published, you can monitor book sales in your Amazon account every time you do something to promote the book.

Your promotion tactics might be sharing on social media an image quote pulled from your book or a tip sheet you’ve sent to the media and bloggers. Maybe it’s ads on Facebook or Amazon.

Monitoring is most effective when you try one tactic at a time. Otherwise, you won’t know which activity is responsible for the outcome, whether it’s a step forward or no change at all.

Hobbyist or professional?

How much attention you pay to these three essentials might depend on whether or not your goal is to sell books.

If you’re simply writing the book that’s always been in you without expectation that anyone will want to read it, you’re a hobbyist. You just want to say you finally wrote that book.

Professionals write for other reasons:

  • to earn money
  • support another aspect of their business
  • attract clients
  • even win awards

To achieve those results, they must be constantly focused on quality, audience, and marketing results.

With these three essentials firmly in place, you will be well-positioned to achieve success – however you define it.

What advice would you give a first-time author just starting out? What have you learned that could help others?
Photo: BigStockPhoto.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Robynn Gabel

    Thank you for an eye-opening blog. As one of the millions of struggling authors, the only tiny bit of information I could add would be to get into a chat site, Facebook group or local writer’s club and listen to those who have done it. This helped me before I even wrote my first word. Even now, I search out blogs on the industry, as I did this one, to see how everyone else is doing it. I learn something new every time. Always research always the job before you take it! :)

    • Sandra Beckwith

      What excellent advice, Robynn! Thank you. This is SO smart, and it’s so easy to do now that there are so many online groups that I don’t know why more don’t. Many also don’t research the job first, as you’ve recommended, and they should. You’ve clearly figured this out! Thanks for weighing in. I wish you great success.

      Sandra Beckwith

  2. Sandra Beckwith

    Thanks for all the wisdom in this response, Ernie. I hear “Good is good enough” all the time and I agree with Coker that it just isn’t. If I used that approach, I never would have been able to stay self employed for the past three decades.

    Thank you!

    Sandra Beckwith

  3. Ernie Zelinski

    At the end you ask, “What advice would you give a first-time author just starting out? What have you learned that could help others?”

    Let’s go back where you mention the first time author who says, “I really want this to be a best-seller!”

    This I can say: As difficult as it is to get a PhD degree, it is 10 to 100 times as difficult to create a best-selling book (one that sells over 100,000 copies in print) than get a PhD.

    Here are some numbers to consider: Two out of three people who start PhDs quit before they get the degree. Even so, there were 51,008 PhD’s awarded in the US in 2012. Yet out of over 1,000,000 books published every year nowadays, likely fewer than 5,000 sell over 100,000 copies in the book’s lifetime.

    As an author whose books (mainly self-published) reached over 1,000,000 copies sold in September, and have been published in 22 languages in 29 countries, I think that I know what I am doing. Out of 17 book published so far, three of my books have been true best-sellers (over 100,000 copies sold in print).

    Here are words of wisdom from people much smarter than me that have guided me over the years:

    “It’s better to do a sub-par job on the right project than an excellent job on the wrong project.”
    — Robert J. Ringer

    “A market is never saturated with a good product, but it is very quickly saturated with a bad one.”
    — Henry Ford

    “Good isn’t good enough.”
    — Mark Coker (owner of Smashwords)

    “Very Good Is Bad — It’s Not Good Enough!”
    — Seth Godin (My favorite Marketing Guru)

    “Even the most careful and expensive marketing plans cannot sell people a book they don’t want to read.”
    — Michael Korda, former Editor-in-Chief at Simon & Schuster

    “The shortest and best way to make your fortune is to let people see clearly that it is in their interests to promote yours.”
    — Jean de La Bruyére

    “In the arena of human life the honors and rewards fall to those who show their good qualities in action.”
    — Aristotle

    “Books work as an art form (and an economic one) because they are primarily the work of an individual.”
    — Seth Godin

    “Writing is the hardest way to earn a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators.”
    — Olin Miller

    “Your success and prosperity are too valuable to depend on crowd funding or lottery tickets.”
    — Seth Godin

    “I once saw my book for sale on ebay. For two dollars. (sniff) So, do you know what I did? I bid $250 on it. Then bought it. That’s marketing baby!”
    — Scott Ginsberg (The Name Tag Guy)

    “When starting out, don’t worry about not having enough money. Limited funds are a blessing, not a curse. Nothing encourages creative thinking in quite the same way.”
    — H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

    “Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.”
    — Christopher Morley

    “Low price is the refuge for the marketer who doesn’t have anything more meaningful to offer.”
    — Seth Godin

    “Empty pockets never held anyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that.”
    — Norman Vincent Peale

    “The amount of money you make will always be in direct proportion to the demand for what you do, your ability to do it, and the difficulty of replacing you.”
    — Earl Nightingale

    If these words of wisdom don’t resonate with you big time, I doubt very much if you can ever be truly successful as an author with at least one of your books becoming a true best-seller.



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