By Dorie Clark
How can you make your book a bestseller? A good person to ask would be Michael Hyatt, whose 2012 book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World became an instant New York Times bestseller. He’s seen book marketing from both sides – as an author, and as the former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. Here’s the advice he shared with me during a recent interview about how to ensure your book hits the top of the charts.
Start Creating Content – Now. Hyatt started blogging in 2004, and at first, it was slow going; it took him four years to reach 1000 readers per month. But in 2008, he hit a tipping point, and went from 1000 to 20,000 monthly readers. He credits his success with diving into social media, blogging consistently (three times per week), and finding his narrative voice. “When I started making it about the reader [and not about me], it was a little shift, but a huge impact. I’d tell a personal story, which is important in terms of connecting with the audience, but I’d quickly turn and make it about them.” Today, he reaches nearly 400,000 readers per month.
Master Time Management. Some people claim to be “too busy” to focus on platform building, but that’s a mistake, says Hyatt. He built his blog while running a 600 person company and being an active father to five daughters. “I didn’t have any discretionary time, but I found the time because it was important and I saw the potential of it,” he says. “For me, what gets scheduled gets done, so I scheduled the time on my calendar. It’s writing three blog posts on Saturday morning. I could have been out golfing or doing repairs on my house, but I’d spend that time creating [the blog]. How much time does it take to do social media? I still maintain you can do it in 30 minutes a day, but you’ve got to be intentional and strategic, and you don’t have to be involved in every social media channel. The main one [to focus on] is where your prospective customers congregate.” For new authors, Hyatt advises literally splitting your writing time. “Allocate half of your available time to platform building, and half to creating content for your book.”
Build Your Email List. Just starting to build your platform? Don’t worry about your page views or the number of social media followers, says Hyatt. “The real metric is your email list,” he says. “For all the ‘email is dead’ blog posts that have been written, email is still alive and it’s the most intimate way to connect with people. They allow you access to something personal, their inbox.” And that means you can keep in touch with them regularly and develop a lasting relationship.
Secure Early Readers. One thing Hyatt wishes he’d done with Platform? Distribute a draft copy to a group of early readers. “I’d give it out to a smaller group and invite feedback. You have to steel yourself, because the best feedback is brutal feedback, and you can take your content to the next level. It’s better to fail in front of a few hundred [rather than the general public].”
Create a Launch Team. Once you’ve got your final copy nailed down and your book is about to be released, Hyatt suggests reaching out on your blog or Facebook page and asking people to apply (this ensures serious inquiries) to join your launch team. He had 786 applicants, and selected 100 to join the team. They received a free advance electronic copy of the book, access to an exclusive teleseminar with Hyatt, and more, in exchange for their commitment to help spread the word about the book. The upshot? With their help (and pledge to review the book, good or bad, online), “By launch day I had 76 Amazon reviews that averaged 4.8 stars,” he says. “Don’t leave it to chance. The worst thing you can do is publish a book, leave it to chance, get hammered on Amazon, and then you’re done.” While it’s unethical to solicit stellar write-ups, it’s appropriate – and essential – to reach out to your followers and ask them to post honest reviews.
Emphasize Launch Week. If you want your book to be a bestseller, you first have to understand how bestseller lists work. (Tim Ferriss offers an excellent post explaining them.) The most important thing to know is the numbers are tallied on a weekly basis, ending on Sunday night. “You’ve got to focus on that week,” says Hyatt. “I didn’t do pre-sales on Amazon, because it bleeds off sales for Launch Week. I literally wrote a blog post and begged the audience, ‘please don’t buy it’ and told them that if they waited until Launch Week, it would be worthwhile.” His offer? Email him a receipt showing a purchase of his book during Launch Week (online or off), and he’d send you $375 worth of e-books, audiobooks, and other digital materials. (For a full list, see Hyatt’s post on “How to Launch a Bestselling Book.”) More than 11,000 fans took him up on the deal, driving him to the top of the bestseller lists.
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her new book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.