Taking a Book from Idea to Bestseller
Taking a Book from Idea to Bestseller

Taking a Book from Idea to Bestseller

There are bits of advice scattered all over the internet on how to write a book, how to market it, how to outline, how to write a great ending, beginning, middle. But that’s exactly what it is: scattered. Seeing writing, publishing, and marketing a book as a linear process will help you to do everything in the right order without missing a step — and that is something I don’t see anywhere else. I would love to tell how to do every step in this one article, but that would take, well, an entire website. But seeing the steps will help aspiring authors understand what it takes to move a book from a simple idea in your head to a book that sells. While the step-by-step list won’t give you everything you need, it will make sure that you know what is next and where to focus your attention as you move through the process. 

Before You Start Writing

These steps are really important. If you just sit down and write something, it may be great, but it will almost never sell. I frequently see first time authors who have written a complete book, sometimes even paid an editor and a cover designer, and are left with a book that will never sell because it’s missing some key things. If a book doesn’t fit well within a genre, doesn’t hit the expected tropes, or doesn’t have a specific market in mind, it will fail. Knowing your market before you start writing will save you from putting all that hard work into a book that has no chance to succeed. 

The Written Well genre guides put all this knowledge in one place for you. You can find the right cover designs, the right fonts for your titles, the important tropes, cliches to avoid, typical word counts, and a complete layout of the expectations that readers have for your chosen genre. The guides also include suggested search terms, subgenres, and places to advertise your book once it’s for sale. 

Write To Market Research

Writing to market is the simple process of learning to understand your audience. Because you don’t get rich as an author by reinventing the wheel. Readers know what they want. They like a particular kind of book and they want more of it. They want more of the same thing they loved in the last few books they read in the genre. This means that you must take a look at your idea and see where it might fit in the market. Researching Amazon categories, other books in the genre, common tropes in the genre, and what high points you need to hit to satisfy readers of the genre. If you think you’re going to introduce horror fans to a bit of cozy mystery, or your thriller doesn’t include a ticking clock, you’re just going to disappoint your readers and end up with bad reviews and weak sales numbers. 

This process includes researching genres, categories, sales numbers, subgenres, tropes, and cliches, and reading reviews of books that do well, as well as the books themselves. All so you can find a way for your idea to fit into a space where it will be well received. 

Deciding What Book To Write

Once you have some idea about genres and categories and where your book fits, you can take all of that research (or use our genre guides) and decide what book you want to write and note all the things you must include in it. This gives you a framework to start outlining and figure out where to put all those tropes. It’s also a good time to start thinking about the characters and plot that will fit with everything else that must be included. 

Outlining (and pantser vs plotter)

We have a huge list of writing tools, but you’ll have to try them out to see what works for you. If you’re a pantser, someone who just writes by the seat of their pants and figures it out on the fly, then you won’t need a big outline, but even the most spontaneous writers usually have some sort of wireframe to hang their story on, or at least an idea of what their book is about. 

If you’re a meticulous outliner, then you can create your plot, characters, tropes, and other important parts of your book right away. Take time to get this right. An extra day or two spent on your outline can save you a lot more time later. 

Writing Your First Draft

This is your chance to get the story told for the first time. Just grind through it and get the story out. Consider it an expanded outline if that helps. Focus on getting through it and don’t worry about revisions or getting things right. Just get it done. You can go back and fix things in the revision process. 

Studying the craft of writing will help this first attempt go faster and help you end up with a more complete story on your initial attempt. We have a complete guide to writing a novel in our essentials section and dozens of articles in the articles section to help you polish your writing skills. And every genre guide includes recommendations for the best how-to books Whether this is your first book or you already published dozens of well received novels, I cannot stress enough how important it is to put the work in to keep increasing your knowledge. 

It may help to use a writing tool like Scrivener, Word, or Google Docs in this process, and I recommend you try a few of them to see what works best for you. The Written Well list of writing tools is always growing as we test and try everything we can get our hands on. 

After The First Draft

Start by putting your book away. Finish your draft, celebrate for an evening, and put it away. Don’t look at it for at least a few days. When you come back with fresh eyes it will be easier to spot the mistakes, notice plot holes, and find ways to improve your work. While you’re letting your book rest for a bit you can work on your next project. 

Revision can be tough. One of the reasons that it’s so important to just crank out your first draft without stopping to fix everything is that if you put too much work into polishing your first draft, you may feel as if you’re nearly done. If you whip through your first draft quickly and expect that you’ll be doing a lot of work in revision, you’ll be less frustrated by the work ahead. 

We have articles on the revision process and a list of books, videos, and podcasts on the subject, too, but it works differently for everyone. The key for most writers seems to be learning to see the revision process as exactly that. A re-vision. You are taking the time to take the story you’ve written and bring it closer to your original vision. This is where you make your book great. No one has ever written a truly great first draft, and you will not be the writer who changes that. But you can be the writer who revises their book so well that it becomes a work of art. 

Many writers will choose to make a new outline now that their first draft is written. This gives you a chance to see your book in a new way and view it as a complete story on one page. Now you can see how it flows, where it might be too slow, where it might rush, and find places to add important bits that you missed or include genre identifiers that readers love. 

After A Few Drafts

If you feel like you have a solid book and have put a pretty good polish on it, it’s time to decide if you’ll hire an editor or do it yourself. There are successful self-published authors on both sides of this discussion and there is no wrong answer. If you’re hiring an editor, then you don’t need to put the book away again, you can send it off right away and they can get to work on redlining, suggesting changes, and finding typos. If you’re editing it yourself, then it’s time to put it away for a for a while and work on something else so you can come back to it with the, once again, fresh new eyes. 

If you edit your books yourself, then I highly suggest getting an ARC (Advanced Reader Copies) team. A few good beta readers will spot things you missed and give you their thoughts on how the book can be improved, as well as providing reviews on Amazon immediately after your book is launched. A few good reviews can jump your book up higher in the Amazon algorithm, especially when coupled with a solid launch strategy. 

Your Book Needs A Cover

Some authors make their own covers. If you have some graphic design knowledge, this can be a great way to make sure that you get a great cover and save a few dollars. But if you aren’t already really good at this, you can get a genre-correct cover for $100 or less and save yourself a ton of time. 

The cover is one of your book’s biggest selling points. It’s the first thing people see, and it will indicate to them that your book is what they want to read. This means using genre appropriate fonts, pictures, and general appearance. A Western with a blue cover and a woman’s face on it will not sell even if it’s the best book ever written. Change that cover to a dusty brown and put a cowboy hat and a six-shooter on it, maybe laying in the dust, and now you’re getting somewhere. 

We can’t stress enough how important it is to use your cover to reassure readers that your book is going to deliver more of what they love. It should not look so much like another popular book in the genre that they think they have already read it, but it should take cues from all the top selling books so that readers know that their money is well spent on a book that gives them what they want. 

There are many sites that sell premade covers, and many of them are excellent. A good cover designer will create a cover that looks professional and fits perfectly within a genre. And once you buy the cover, they will add your name, title, and other text to it, and retire the cover design so no one else will ever use the exact same cover. This can usually be had for less than a hundred dollars and there are thousands to choose from, so I highly recommend it over paying a designer a thousand dollars or more to make a custom cover for your book. 

However, quality still counts, and paying a real cover artist to do your books can show dividends. But if you’re just starting out, that money is going to be very hard to recoup. You’re better off waiting until a bit later in your career before shelling out big bucks for covers.

Author Pages

You’ll want to create an author page on both Amazon and GoodReads at a minimum, as well as any sites that get a lot of traffic and have a good number of customers in your genre. You should do this now as you prepare for your book launch. 

Getting Ready For Launch

A good book launch is all about preparation. You need to do everything you can ahead of time to give your book the best chance to succeed. Amazon gives your book a big boost in search rankings for the first 30 days, and if you can’t generate some solid sales numbers during that time your book will not make any bestseller lists and will likely never make any kind of splash. 

We have an entire checklist of things to do before your launch, far too many to list here, but you should have your launch email ready, your social media posts scheduled, and any discounts, ads, and other promotions ready to go before you click the publish button to make your book live. 

Wide Or Just Amazon?

This is another topic that needs its own article, and indeed we have those, but you should do your research before making this decision. There are many authors who have had great success on each side of this, but the process is different and you’ll need to figure out which one is right for you before you publish. 

Category, Description, and Keywords

When you create the listing for your book, Amazon and other outlets like Smashwords and Draft2Digital will want you to choose categories that your book fits into, write a description for potential readers, and add keywords that will help people locate your book in search algorithms. Choosing all of these correctly is vital to the success of your book. 

If you choose keywords that bring in lots of readers, but then have a description that doesn’t convince them to buy the book, Amazon will stop showing your book to people in searches. Why would they want to encourage their customers to view a product that they won’t buy? If you want to sell lots of books, you have to make sure that the majority of people who see your book end up purchasing it. This means keywords that attract readers who are searching for books like yours rather than just trying to bring in as many readers as possible. It means that those readers who find you through searches will see a great cover that looks professional and read a description that makes them want to buy.

Amazon, as an example, will ask you for up to three categories that make sense for your book. You need to choose categories that not only fit your book, but where it will perform well. Finding a couple of very low traffic categories where your book fits will give you a good chance to earn a bestseller tag and get into the ABSR (Amazon Best Seller Rankings) for that category.

There are some excellent pieces of software for this part of the process. We like Publisher Rocket as a nice add-on that helps streamline the research process for this part of your book launch. Our software tools list has a host of other useful websites and apps that can make your publishing process both easier and more effective. 

The Launch

This is it, the big day. You have your social media posts ready to go, your author account looking sharp, your keywords and categories all chosen, and it’s time to hit “publish” and offer your work up to the world. 

We have a checklist of items for your launch that is an exhaustive article of its own as well, but the basics include all your promotional work, email blast, podcast interviews, submitting to advertising sites, running Amazon and Facebook ad campaigns, setting up discounts and countdown deals, and anything else you can do to help your book succeed. 

Launch day shouldn’t be stressful. If you’ve completed everything on our checklist, you’ll have a stress-free launch and give your book a real chance to succeed. 

And Beyond

We created this list to give new authors a feel for what the whole process looks like for a self-published author. But while this may be a good guide to help you understand how it works, you’ll need to join the site to learn the details of each step and how to execute them efficiently and effectively. This information, and much more, is inside, all of it in a simple and easy to use format. Information on what works, plus a community of like-minded independent authors all working through the same process and sharing their wins and losses, congratulating and commiserating in decidedly unequal measure (we hope!). You’ll have to do the work, but it will be easier with friends and some direction. If writing for a living as a self-published author is your goal, then we want to help. We’ve helped countless writers achieve their goals and we can help you, too.