How to Launch a Bestselling Book

Ever since my book, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, hit the bestseller lists, I have been asked how I did it. Aspiring authors want to know what they can do to enhance their chances of success.

A Rocket Launches from Cape Canavera - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #17082802

Photo courtesy of ©

I spoke on this topic yesterday in New York City under the title, “My Bestseller Launch Formula: How I Mobilized My Tribe to Drive My Book onto the Bestsellers List.” It was well-received, so I thought I would share the highlights here.

As you may know, Thomas Nelson published my book on May 22 of this year. In the first week after the publication, it hit all three major bestseller lists, including New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.

I took seven actions to make this happen. First three disclaimers:

  • I can’t promise this will work for you. While I characterize this as a “formula,” I refer to it as my formula. This is what worked for me. Hopefully, you can personalize what I have done and build on it.
  • This assumes you have a wow product. As I say in my Platform keynote speech (quoting from David Ogilvy), “Great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster.” Your book must meet a felt need, be well-written, and have the potential to reach a large enough segment of the population.
  • This doesn’t include what the publisher did. In Chapter 8 of the book, I exhort my readers to accept personal responsibility for the success or failure of their product launch. This is especially true in book publishing. This list only includes the items I had control of.

Okay, with that out of the way, here are the seven actions I took:

  1. I set a specific goal. On December 16, 2011, as part of my annual goal-setting exercise, I wrote this: “Get Platform on the New York Times list by May 30, 2012.” I was notified on that exact day that the book had hit the New York Times “Hardcover Advice” list.

    Not every goal I write down comes true, of course. But the act of writing a specific goal—with a due date—set in motion several things, especially in my own thinking and actions. Don’t overlook this step. It is essential.

  2. I assumed personal responsibility. I wasn’t expecting the publishing company to make me famous or make my book successful. I’ve been in this business a long time, and that’s not how it works. If you expect this, you will be disappointed.

    I assumed the role of Chief Marketing Officer for this project. Why? Three reasons:

    • No one knows the product better than I do.
    • No one can be a better spokesperson than I am.
    • No one has more at stake than I do.
  3. I engaged my tribe early. Most of the chapters in the book started as blog posts. (Yes, you can blog a book. See Nina Amir’s book, How to Blog a Book.) I read each of the comments on those posts and used them as an opportunity to clarify my thinking and address specific concerns.

    I then solicited their input on the subtitle and copy line and then again on the jacket cover. This was enormously helpful. Not only did it make the final product better, it created ownership in the outcome.

  4. I secured endorsements. Frankly, this was the scary part. Whenever you ask for an endorsement, it is risky. People might say “No.” I don’t like rejection any better than anyone else.

    But, despite my fear, I made a target list of thirty potential endorsers. I first went to the one I thought was most likely to endorse the book. He gave me a fabulous endorsement.

    Then I included his endorsement in my next e-mail and rolled it out to the next four prospects. Then I rolled it out to the final twenty-five people.

    I ended up getting twenty-seven of the thirty I asked, including Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, Dave Ramsey, John Maxwell, and Tim Sanders. (The list is here, on the right-hand sidebar.)

  5. I formed a launch team. Daniel Decker, who helped manage the launch, came up with this idea. About three weeks before the official pub date, I wrote an invitation on my blog. I invited people to apply to join the team. I offered them five benefits:
    • An electronic edition of the book in advance of publication.
    • Access to me—and the other team members—via a private Facebook group.
    • A free half-hour teleseminar with me prior to the launch. (It actually lasted an hour.)
    • A thank-you link (i.e., “back link”) on my blog.
    • A 25% discount on my soon-to-be-released Get Published audio course.

    I asked them for three commitments:

    • Write a short review on Amazon or another e-tailer site—good, bad, or ugly.
    • Help spread the word about the book on their existing platform, especially during the week of May 21st.
    • Share ideas and brainstorm additional ways we might further expose the message to an even greater audience.

    I ended up with seventy-six reviews on Amazon, before the pub date. They averaged 4.8 stars out of five. (That’s still the average with 197 reviews as of today.)

    This provided social proof to the thousands of prospects who visited that page during launch week. As research continues to show, people are much more likely to believe a peer recommendation over an advertisement.

    If I had to do this over again, I would have done it earlier than I did. I would recommend four weeks before the pub date.

    Regardless, 786 people applied to become members of the team. We randomly selected 100 people. Why didn’t we let everyone in? Because we wanted to create the sense that this was an elite group with special privileges—and responsibilities.

  6. I focused the promotion. The bestseller lists measure sales for a seven-day period. The book that sells the most through the channels and stores they poll, takes the number one slot. The book that sells the second most, takes the second slot, and so on. Each week, the list resets, starting from zero.

    What this means is that selling ten thousand copies in one week is very different than selling the same amount over two weeks. Assuming you sell five thousand copies in each of the first two weeks, you have essentially cut your chances of hitting the bestseller list in half.

    I literally asked people not to buy the book until the week of May 21. I promised that I would make it worth their while if they waited. (I didn’t focus on Amazon pre-orders because they release the books when they have them to ship, often well in advance of the pub date.)

    Thankfully, I only had forty-seven sales through Amazon before the pub date. This was exactly what I wanted. I didn’t want to waste those sales when they wouldn’t count toward the bestsellers list.

    I also asked bloggers and podcasters, big and small, to review the book during this first week. I had hundreds participate. Not everyone could do it that first week, but most did. Here’s a list of reviews. (We probably missed some.)

  7. I created a can’t-say-no offer. My goal was to move as many books through the cash register that first week of publication. So I created a massive incentive to get people to take action then.

    The offer was simple: Buy Platform from any retailer (online or off), e-mail me the receipt, and I’ll send you seven free bonuses worth $375.98. I teased this for several weeks before the pub date, encouraging people to wait.

    I offered seven bonuses:

    • “Platform Video Jumpstart” (a six-session video series)
    • “Why Now Is the Best Time Ever to Be an Author” (a one-session video)
    • “How to Write a Winning Book Proposal” (a two-session audio set)
    • Writing a Winning Non-Fiction Book Proposal (an e-book)
    • Writing a Winning Fiction Book Proposal (another e-book)
    • All the digital editions of Platform (including the Kindle, Nook, iPad, and PDF formats)
    • Audio edition of Platform (unabridged)

    As a result, I sold at least 11,000 books during that first week. (I may have sold more; this is just how many emailed their receipt.)

    Interestingly, we did not verify whether or not the e-mails contained a receipt. It was just too much hassle. However, in spot-checking the file after the fact, we could not find a single instance in which someone tried to cheat the system.

Some authors don’t think it is worth this kind of effort to get their book on the bestseller lists. That might be the right decision for them, but I think they are the exception.

Most authors will benefit from hitting the bestseller lists, just as I have. The issue is not whether the bestseller lists are accurate (they aren’t) or whether they are fair (they’re not). The question is whether or not the additional visibility creates sufficient value for the author.

From my perspective, hitting the bestseller lists had five benefits:

  • It credentialed me as an expert (or at least a perceived expert).
  • It raised the visibility of the book with retailers, resulting in more orders, and thus spreading the message.
  • It resulted in more media interest and more interview requests.
  • It provided more speaking inquiries and enabled me to secure higher fees.
  • It continues to open doors.

If you are writing a book or plan to write a book, it’s my hope that my launch formula will be helpful to you. I have no doubt that you can improve on it. But it at least gives you some ideas for getting started.

Questions: What would having a bestselling book make possible for you? What ideas do you have for making this launch formula even more effective? You can leave a comment by clicking here.