Numbers. Sales. Rankings.
That’s all anyone seems to care about when it comes to books. Is your book a bestseller? No? Then you might as well forget it and go home.
If you’re like many business authors you’re probably assuming your book needs to get that elusive ‘bestseller’ status to be a success. And that can feel pretty daunting. Far easier not to start in case you don’t sell thousands of copies when it’s finally done.
It’s enough to make even the boldest entrepreneur feel worried and inadequate.
But what if I was to tell you that writing a bestselling business book isn’t the necessity you think it is? And that focusing on selling as many books as possible could actually harm your income and reputation rather than increase it?
Why we think having a bestseller is the holy grail
But first, let’s look at why we’re so hooked on the bestseller myth.
It comes from the days when all books were produced by traditional publishers. For the investment they put into a book they naturally want it to sell in large numbers. And large numbers lead to bestseller charts and rankings, so authors and publishers can bask in the shared glory of being at the top of the list.
But now business authors can publish their own books, they’re not dependent on working with a traditional publisher who makes money from the book sales any more. Of course sales are nice, but they’re rarely the primary reason a business book is written these days.
And why it’s actually not
When I start working with my authors, I always ask them what their main goal is for their book. Here are the answers I get:
To position myself as an expert in my field
To give away to potential clients or speaker bookers to showcase my knowledge and personality
To sell at speaking events in order to reinforce my talk
To help my readers overcome their problems
To attract new clients
To reposition myself in a new niche
To claim my space
You can see making money from royalties is not on the list. Which means these authors are making the real money from their book through the avenues above.
Let’s look at the first reason – to position yourself as an expert. Do you need to sell a lot of copies of your business book to do that? Absolutely not. Sales are a nice side benefit, but simply being the author of a thoughtful, well-written and persuasive book achieves that goal.
After all, the real payback is in the clients and new business your book will bring you. So how many copies do you really need to sell in order to get a queue of excited customers at your office door? The answer is: only as many as it takes to get you in front of the right people.
This also goes for the second reason, to give away to potential clients or speaker bookers. Many business authors use their book as a calling card. Note that there are no sales involved at all here. And even if you sell your books at your event, your sales won’t register on the bestseller rankings because they’re not officially recorded.
So forget sales numbers if getting speaker bookings is your main aim.
How about helping people – surely a bestseller will do that better than a book which hardly sells any copies? It all depends on who you’re targeting. Many books are written for a broad audience under the illusion this will lead to more sales, which often leads to your book not really being for anyone. And that means it helps fewer people, not more.
If your readers are in a tight niche of, say, family business owners, a book written especially for them will be of enormous help.
The final few reasons are all variations on the theme of claiming expert authority and generating new leads and business with your book – for which, as we’ve seen, a bestseller is not necessary by any means.
Why the bestseller myth harms your book
It seems a bit extreme to talk about a bestseller harming your book, doesn’t it? But here’s how it works.
For a start, staying stuck for the fear of not having a bestseller has its price. You don’t get your book out there, which means you’re not building your authority and attracting new and better clients, thereby increasing your income and establishing your expertise.
And it’s all for nothing, because you don’t need a bestseller in the first place. It’s really that simple.
There’s more. Say you’re a life coach specialising in helping divorced women in their 40s and 50s rebuild their lives. You have a great idea for a business book that you know will help them, position you as the go-to expert, and get you the speaking gigs you want. You’re really fixed on it being a bestseller, because you’ve read about how important that is. And anyway, who doesn’t want to be at the top of the list?
But when you think about it you realise your niche audience isn’t broad enough if you want your book to sell in the hundreds of thousands. In fact you need to widen it to all divorced women. That’s a lot of people, and in doing so you’ve lost your focus the issues they’re facing at their time of life.
Now your book may turn out to be a bestseller and it may not. Most books, by definition, are not. But even if it does hit the top of the rankings you’ll not end up with the queue of mid-aged divorcee clients that you’d hoped for; you’ve become a bit of a generalist.
And that’s not why you wrote your book in the first place, is it?
The other way in which going for bestseller status can be harmful is in the pricing of your book. If you want to sell lots of copies you’re probably going to have to go for a lower price, especially at the beginning when you’re gaining traction. Sure, you may sell more books but even so, this may eat into your profits.
Free yourself from the shackles of writing a bestseller
So you can see how assuming you’ve got to gun for bestseller status can be a massive distraction from getting started on your book. And it can even set you off on the wrong track altogether.
But no longer.
Now you’re free to focus on your real goals – the ones that will skyrocket your business and bring you the true satisfaction you deserve – rather than worrying about sales figures and all the time and money sucks that go with them.
So what’s stopping you getting started? Get out that mindmap and start planning your book. You know, the one that’s going to help people and make you a superstar.
Focus on what matters to you most about your book.