Are Bestseller Lists Worth the Hype?

It’s not enough to be a business leader; one must be a thought leader. Most corporate decision-makers—89 percent—say thought leadership enhances their perception of a brand. Entrepreneurs put their names on books to build credibility, increase speaker fees and drive sales. 

Charlie Hoehn, author of multiple titles and strategist for many others, including The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, warned these plans can get out of hand. 

“Whenever an author tells me their marketing goals are to hit number one on The New York Times bestseller list, sell a million copies and be a guest on Oprah or Ellen, my answer is always: It would be a lot easier to just do six months of therapy,” Hoehn wrote.

At MMT, we’re not qualified therapists, but we do know a lot of thought leaders—with books on topics ranging from meditation to customer retention. The MMT Community recently heard from a panel of authors and brand strategists (all MMT members) on good and bad investments, and whether bestseller lists are worth the hype. 

Elizabeth Marshall 
Publishing and thought leadership strategist and co-author of The Contrarian Effect: Why it Pays (Big) to Take Typical Sales Advice and Do the Opposite  

On good and bad investments: 

Your best investment is strategic relationships—friends and colleagues, podcast hosts, as well as industry groups and associations. Pay-to-play strategies can also work when they’re right for your audience. If you don’t have a mass market message—if you’re targeting a niche B2B segment, media might not be the best buy. 

Is being a bestseller worth the hype? 

Think of your launch as a starting point, not the finish line [bestseller lists are based on pre-sales and numbers soon after release]. Frontloading can lead to burnout. With a long-term plan, you could become a classic. Bob Burg’s The Go-Giver didn’t hit huge numbers right out of the gate but went on to sell over one million copies. There’s great advice on this slow burn strategy in Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday [MMT member since YEAR]. 

Emily Fletcher 
USA Today bestselling author
Debuted at #7 of all books on Amazon
Founder of Ziva Meditation and author of Stress Less, Accomplish More

On good and bad investments: 

Design your big picture architecture. If you’re B2C, your book can be an awesome business card, so it’s important to create an opt-in that compliments the book to collect email addresses as your book buyers will be anonymous on Amazon. When doing outreach to your colleagues and community, separate into categories—affiliates and ambassadors—with plans for each segment. When you write a book, you will call in a lot of favors. Be strategic.

Is being a bestseller worth the hype? 

I had a baby six months before my book came out, so I had to start our marketing strategy very early because I knew I’d be on maternity leave. All the podcasts I recorded the year prior, I asked hosts to save until the book release. That blitzkrieg of podcasts during launch week is what got me to number seven on all of Amazon Books. For me, the book did help increase sales significantly for Ziva.

Clay Hebert 
Brand and growth marketing expert and founder of Crowdfunding Hacks

On good and bad investments: 

Think of your reach like a series of concentric circles. Who is at the center of that bullseye? Who are your influencers? If you can sell 1,000 copies to the perfect audience, they will amplify it.

Make amplification easy by building a portable story into your book. The best example of this is, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” [from Simon Sinek’s Start With Why]. It’s advice easily offered at cocktail parties. People sound smart when they say it. You should be able to distill your book’s message into an aphorism like this. If you don’t know how your story spreads, chances are, it doesn’t. 

Is being a bestseller worth the hype?
I haven’t written a book yet. I’m working on it.

JJ Virgin 
Multiple New York Times bestselling author
Nutritionist, fitness expert and author of The Virgin Diet

On good and bad investments: 

When my book came out, I did an online promotion, PBS, The Today Show and The Dr. Oz Show in the same week. By far, online performed the best. But I want to start before you write the book—nail the proposal and the marketing plan. Agents care less about your book idea than your plan to introduce it to the world. 

Is being a bestseller worth the hype?

Your plan shouldn’t be getting on the list, it should be staying there. People have figured out how to game the system. They get on those lists for one week but then they’re gone. That’s meaningless. Target that perfect audience segment for continuous word-of-mouth growth. 

Joey Coleman 
Wall Street Journal bestselling author
Speaker, consultant, and author of Never Lose a Customer Again: Turn Any Sale into Lifelong Loyalty  

On good and bad investments: 

Hire a top team. You need an editor to read your book with a critical eye, from the development phase to the final review. You need a book marketing expert (mine helped me put together bundles that actually sold). The worst investment I made was in traditional PR/article placement—I couldn’t track a single sale to those efforts.

Is being a bestseller worth the hype? 

Many aspects of whether you make The New York Times or even Wall Street Journal lists are beyond your control. While hitting the list helps your ego and may give some credibility to your name, it doesn’t usually result in more book sales, unless you stay on the list more than four weeks. [In fact, it can be argued that “every bestseller list is a lie.”] Pick one goal: notoriety, sales, or connection to readers/other authors, and focus your energies on that.

The whole group agreed:

Be weary of flashy promotions and bestseller status without a clear idea of returns. Define your own benchmark for success. Decide how your book fits into your business, then drive promotion based on its role. 

That said, if Oprah or Ellen call, you should probably pick up. 

Members, you can find this full session featuring a live Q&A with the panel, along with other resources, in the MMT Library.  

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