How to Make Your Book a Bestseller

An imagined guide to successful self-promotion
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Flickr / Ian Muttoo

More and more often these days, authors are considered responsible for their own success—and those who were once responsible for promoting them now tout the glories of self-promotion. Or, as a cheery New York literary agent recently put it, “You, the author, have an unprecedented amount of control over the way people discover you and your work, and how your ‘presence’ is presented to the world.”

Here’s what an author's guide to stardom might look like in the near future.


What a fortunate time to be an author. With the range of social and antisocial media at your disposal, you, the author, have unlimited opportunities to reach every single member of your potential audience. And we have your back, we do. That’s why we’ve assembled these tips for getting the world’s attention. It’s time for you to think outside the book.

The Internet

Finding the right audience is like online dating. Who loves long walks in the rain? There’s a soul mate for your Portland-born Samantha! Is someone enamored of the majestic beauty abundant in America’s national parks? Marry this novel, already! All you, the author, have to do is play matchmaker.

Your ripe and delicious novel could be all over that internet like a brag on Facebook. Take the passage where Samantha climbs Half Dome to meet up with Hugo. You might:

  • Write a life-changing essay about a trek of your own, and submit it to LifeChangingHikes.net, YosemiteAfternoons.com, StoriesBehindPeopleNamedSamantha.net, or the Huffington Post.
  • Craft a dozen painstakingly researched pieces on Samantha’s gear. Offer these to blogs devoted to day packs, crampons, tampons, etc.
  • Post a novel excerpt in TripAdvisor’s Yosemite comments section.
  • Write a quiz on Literary Hikes for your Goodreads author page—give away your novel as a prize!
  • Organize a flash mob performance atop Half Dome. Don’t hesitate to go full frontal Hollywood—maybe the crowd wears bear suits and ranger hats, though wet T-shirts work, too. All the better if you can do it on a double-rainbow day. Hiring several videographers will ensure that you have abundant footage for fashioning a two-minute You-Tube clip.

If each of the above leads four people to your novel, you, the author, will have nearly two dozen new readers. So start generating related content that your audience can use!

Book Clubs

Get chosen, already. Handy things to remember:

  • You, the author, have written the perfect book for any club, whether centered around dogs, Nobel Laureates, or 19th-century classics. After all, Samantha names her kitten Aung San Suu Kitty—there’s the Nobel tie-in. With the same page count as Middlemarch and a review citing your “dickens of a plot”—hello, 19th century! And for the dog lovers, there’s your vet’s blog post, featuring that author photo of you surrounded by rescue greyhounds.
  • Volunteer to make personal appearances. Samantha’s campfire-roasted quail? Treat the club to a mini-wing fest. The brandy toddies steaming forth from Hugo’s thermos? Mix, pour, repeat. (Bring your laptop for those who want to drunk dial Goodreads!)
  • Once at book club, stay at book club. You, the author, might offer to read your hosts a chapter each night or clean the bathroom. When the others have gone and the household is asleep, locate the post-it above the computer labeled “passwords.” Don’t be getting all ethical at this late date; take a lesson from both the Nigerians and the NSA. Three bumps out on their email contacts, and you, the author, will go viral, baby.                       

Publicity

We counsel authors to manage their expectations—by which we mean, lower yours. You, the author, shouldn’t expect coverage for merely arranging words on a page. A better bet is to become a story. We suggest:

  • Gain 100+ pounds and then lose them! Extra publicity for endorsing one simple rule that lets you enjoy the food you love and take off the weight.
  • Find a cure for—oh, for heaven’s sake, do we have to do everything? You, the author, can do at least identify potentially curable diseases for yourself.
  • Give 5,000 of your books away. This may sound counterintuitive, but once, for a single author, it worked. 
  • Stop saying, “I couldn’t get arrested!” Use that password cache you collected, though robbing a bank works, too. Depending on the magnitude of your caper, you may garner cable or even national coverage. Added value: Bus stops now feature security cam footage, a.k.a. free book trailer!

Politicians know there are tradeoffs for being in the public eye, but the rewards are hard to beat. A term in the Senate or in the pen undoubtedly yields a new book, one embossed with the coveted “based on a true story.” And while it takes millions of dollars to run for office, you, the author, don’t even need a publicist to knock over a jewelry store—we are confident that you can get arrested! It takes bold moves like that to get your name out there. Or should we say in there, because you’d be lucky to get five to 10 years to capture an increasingly expanding audience. Don’t forget, if every prison library buys your book, it’s a guaranteed bestseller. 

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Mary Kay Zuravleff is a writer based in Washington, D.C. She is the author of Man Alive!. 

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