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5 Steps to Writing a Best-Selling Book

Author of book on inventing shares his secrets that landed his book near the top of an Amazon chart.
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Never in a million years did I think I would become an author. Doing well in school did not come easily. I struggled to pronounce certain words. At times, it felt like I could barely string two sentences together. As an adult, I was finally diagnosed with dyslexia.

Which is all to say -- I was astounded, and very flattered, when the publishing company McGraw-Hill called me a few years ago and asked if I would like to write a book. I was also scared. I knew I had a message that was worth telling, but actually writing a book was another thing. I didn’t want to fail. There are tens of thousands of books published every year. Very few are bestsellers. Would anyone even read my book?

Related: Want to Write a Book? Consider These 3 Self-Publishing Options.

To get started, I asked my friends who are writers for their advice. They were extremely helpful. To my surprise, One Simple Idea:Turn Your Dreams into a Licensing Goldmine While Letting Others Do the Work, has been a top-seller in Amazon’s Small Business Marketing category since it was released in 2011. My strategy worked, and now I’m going to share it with you.

1. Know your audience. Ask yourself what they need to be successful. It’s not about what you need. You must put yourself in their shoes. If you have to, ask them. What are their fears? What are their desires?

After years of hosting seminars and giving lectures, I knew my audience responded best to storytelling. I kept it simple by weaving in lessons, tips and strategies as I told my own story. Be willing to expose your flaws. People will more easily relate to you. When your audience can see part of themselves in you, they’ll remember your message.

2. Don’t hold back. Tim Ferriss, a former student of mine who is the best-selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek, gave me great advice. He said, “Steve, if you’re going to write a book, write it as if it’s your last. Don’t hold back. Give it all you’ve got.” That’s what I did.

My first book, which was about licensing, included all of the information I sell in an online course I developed 10 years ago. Some colleagues thought I was crazy. Why would I give away $1,000 worth of information for $14.95? But that’s why One Simple Idea continues to be a bestseller and has been translated into five different languages: I didn’t hold back. Thanks Tim!

Related: Want Clients to Know You Before a Pitch? Write a Book.

3. Know your competition. What has already been written about your topic? In the words of Seth Godin, you must be a purple cow -- essentially, you must stand out. If you’re going to write a book, make sure you feel strongly about what you’re saying. This is not the time to straddle the road.

4. Develop a marketing strategy long before your book launches. My strategy was to presell the book on Amazon and in Barnes & Noble two months before it became available. I sold thousands of books this way. As a result, Barnes & Noble gave my book prime placement in their stores. Having my book out on their tables was priceless.

Because the book was selling, Amazon sent out ads about it. I enticed readers to pre-order the book by offering them a database that we had created of more than 1,400 companies that were actively looking for product ideas.

Once the book was released, we used another promotion to boost sales. If a reader took a picture of himself with the book, we sent him a copy of a free software program about how to write a provisional patent application. It added great value to the book, and we used those pictures to keep marketing it.

5. Send advance copies to bloggers who have a large audience. It’s a great and easy way to quickly grow your exposure. Tim Ferriss helped me out by tweeting about the book. If other authors ask you to promote their book on your network, do it. You’ll need all of the help you can get when it’s time to get the word out about your book. Facebook is another great tool.   

Because the book sold so well when it launched, our publisher was persuaded to help market the book and do more PR than they might have otherwise. There’s no way MSNBC and ABC would have invited me to talk if the book hadn’t been selling. So, what’s the story you want to tell?

Related: 8 Things Startup Founders Should Know Before Writing a Book