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How to Write a Best Selling Book in 10 Steps

Shaun Connell
June 30, 2023

Have you always wanted to write a best selling book?

At first glance, this might sound like a pipe dream. The truth is, though, that writing a bestseller is within your grasp.

Solution In this article, we'll cover ten essential steps you'll want to take to write a best-selling book.

Though there are different elements you'll want to consider whether you're writing a fiction or non-fiction book, the general approach to creating a bestseller is quite similar.

How to Write a Best Selling Book

Thinking about writing a bestseller? Make sure you go through these essential ten steps.

1. Start With a Compelling Idea

At the core of every bestselling book is a great idea. This is true whether you're writing a novel, a nonfiction book, a memoir, or any other type of book you can think of.

woman reading a best selling book in a library

Though it can be difficult to pin a number on it, some sources say that there are nearly four million book titles published every single year when you include self-published books. For traditionally published books alone, that number is 500,000 to one million.

Your book is going to need to stand out from the crowd, and one of the ways you can accomplish that is by having a fresh and interesting idea.

This isn't a step you want to rush! Read other books, explore different genres,  take notes, write in your writer's notebook-- really dig deep to find the idea that will lie at the heart of your book.

2. Know Your Audience

Writing a great book is one thing. Writing a book that the world recognizes as great is a completely different animal.

  • In order to write a bestseller, you have to write a book that a lot of people are going actually to buy.
  • This means you need to know absolutely everything you can about your audience.

Who do you expect will want to read your book? What interests them? How should you tailor the content and style to keep them engaged?

  • There really is no limit to how far you can go when it comes to defining your target demographic.

You can take the following steps to determine who your target audience is:

  • Identify books that are similar to yours in terms of the niche, genre, or category. Understanding your competition can help you identify your target audience.
  • Search on social media for top-selling books and see who is following them. Look for demographics, trends, and other information that could be useful.
  • Look for online communities, networks, and blogs where your target audience spends time. Take a look at the writer websites for similar authors and peruse the content and the commenters.

When painting a picture of your target audience, you want to really put yourselves in their shoes. Why are they reading your book? What do they want to gain from it? The more info you collect and the more you can incorporate this understanding into your writing, the better.

3. Write an Outline

No matter what type of book you're writing, you'll definitely want to create an outline.

Having a solid outline is like having a map you can follow as you write.

Writing your first book? Make sure you check out our guide to how to create a book outline in 8 easy steps.

Writing a book outline is useful in a number of different ways.

Creating an outline will help you:

  • Save time
  • Keep you focused on your main ideas
  • Give you a means to receive feedback early on
  • Help you track your progress
  • Pitch and publish your bestseller
  • Create a smooth flow of information in your writing

4. Schedule Your Writing Time

How long it takes to write a book depends on a number of different factors. Generally, it will take anywhere from several months to a handful of years.

The elements that can influence how long it takes to write a book include:

  • The length and complexity of the book
  • The genre and the topic
  • How much research is required
  • How much experience do you have as a writer
  • How fast do you write
  • How disciplined are you in your writing practice
  • How focused are you during writing sessions
  • How much time you can commit to writing

That's right-- how long it takes you to write your bestseller is going to depend on how much time you can spend writing every day or week. Though it can feel like there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle of writing a bestselling book, it's important not to forget one of the most important parts: the actual writing!

In general, it's best to set aside writing time for yourself every day or at least every week. Find a space where you can work distraction-free and commit to meeting your writing goal no matter what else is going on. Though it's nice to imagine ourselves as chaotic geniuses that can bang out a bestseller in an evening, the truth is that most of us actually just need to practice consistency and discipline over time.

5. Refine Your Writing Skills

You can always work to improve your skills at any and all points during the book writing process.

people shopping for best selling books

There are lots of things you can do to get better at writing, including:

  • Read, read, read: One of the best ways you can improve as a writer is to read as much as possible. Don't just read books in the same genre as the one you're writing-- read articles, books, essays, poetry, and other pieces across styles and genres.
  • Make writing a habit: Start a journal, keep a writer's notebook, or practice creative writing prompts to keep your writing muscle in shape. The more you practice, the more opportunities you have to discover your voice, hone your skills, and exercise your creativity.
  • Learn the fundamentals of writing: Though there's nothing wrong with breaking the rules, it's generally a good idea to know what they are before you start rebelling against them! Studying topics like sentence structure, grammar, plot construction, storytelling, and more can help you improve your skills as a writer.
  • Experiment: Even if you know exactly what type of book you want to write, experimenting with different styles and genres can help you broaden your skills.
  • Learn from feedback: Receiving feedback from others can be incredibly useful as you work to improve your skills. Though it's hard not to take it personally when the feedback isn't stellar, try to see it as an opportunity to learn and improve!

Whether this is your first attempt at writing a book or your twentieth, there are always opportunities to hone your skills as a writer.

6. Go Over Your Manuscript

When you have finished your first draft, it's time to go back over everything.

You'll want to check for a number of different things, including:

  • Proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation
  • Proper formatting
  • Consistency in character development (for fiction and narrative nonfiction)
  • Consistency in story arcs (for fiction and narrative nonfiction)

You'll also want to take a look at the structure and see if there's anything you can tweak to improve the clarity of the structure.

  • Sometimes, it can be useful to walk away from your work for a little while before editing it. As writers, we can sometimes struggle to zoom out and look at the big picture.

If you've just written the final sentence of your book and are ready to start editing, take a break for a bit. Go for a walk, get a good night's sleep, or even set the manuscript down for a week. You'll be amazed at how different it looks when you've given it a little space!

7. Hire an Editor

Though it's good to go through your own work, writing a bestseller will likely require hiring a professional editor.

They can help you polish your manuscript and give you objective feedback. No matter how talented you are and how thorough you were in your read-through, it is ultimately difficult for an author to edit their own work entirely.

  • Professional editors will be able to help you make your book more appealing to both your audience and potential publishers.

Not sure where to find an editor for your next bestseller? Check out our guide to finding the best book editor.

8. Decide How You Want to Publish Your Book

There's a good chance you've already given this some thought. If not, though, it's time to consider how you're going to get your book in front of your audience.

You have two main options to choose from:

  • Traditional publishing
  • Self-publishing

If you want to publish your book through traditional publishing houses, you'll want to research literary agents and publishers that align with the style and genre of your book. Find out what their submission guidelines are and put together a compelling book proposal. That being said, getting an offer to publish through one of these big publishing houses is, to put it bluntly, really hard.

Though publishing through traditional publishing houses offer the highest potential for traditional media coverage and print distribution in bookstores, less than 1% of the proposals are accepted.

On the other hand, self-publishing is something that anyone can do. Of course, this means you have to deal with every aspect of publishing the book on your own or shell out cash to hire professionals to do so for you.

For more information about self-publishing your book, check out our guide to self-publishing on Amazon, the ideal length for ebooks, and how to price an ebook.

9. Build an Online Presence

If you don't have one already, it's time to start building your online presence. You can do this by creating a writer's website, a blog, social media pages, or, ideally, a combination of these.

  • It can be a good idea to start building your online following leading up to writing and publishing your book.
  • Then, when you're ready to release your book to the world, there's an audience already waiting.

You can also participate in writing communities, engage with readers, and build a network of fellow authors. The more name recognition you have and the more known you are in the right online communities, the higher the likelihood that your book will start selling right away.

10. Market Your Book

No matter how incredible your book is, no one is going to buy it if they don't know it exists!

  • Marketing is an important part of the process, and it's necessary if you want your book to be a bestseller.

If you manage to have your proposal accepted by a traditional publisher, they'll take care of a lot of the marketing for you. For the rest of us, though, we have to develop our own marketing strategy and work to create a buzz around our new book.

There are lots of promotional activities you can engage in to let people know about the best new book in town, including:

  • Scheduling speaking engagements
  • Setting up book signings
  • Going on book tours
  • Utilizing social media

On top of that, you'll want to make sure that the whole package of your book is appealing to your audience. This includes the cover graphics, the title, the general aesthetic, the vibe... you get it. Even though you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, the truth is that people really do.

Writing a Bestseller: FAQs

Before I sign off, let's take a look at some of the most common questions I receive about writing bestsellers.

What Does It Mean For a Book to Be a Bestseller?

The truth is, "bestseller" is kind of a vague term. All it means is that it's a book that is noted for its top-selling status. Lists can be broken down into specialties and classifications, such as bestselling nonfiction books, novels, cookbooks, sci-fi books, etc.

There are lots of different bestseller lists out there. In the U.S., some of the biggest ones are published by:

These lists will typically track book sales from bookstores, both independent and national brick-and-mortar stores, as well as big online retailers.

Basically, there isn't a certain number of books you need to sell in order for your book to be a bestseller. Many authors will use the term very loosely as a part of their marketing strategy.

How Many Books Do You Need To Publish To Make Money?

The answer is: it depends.

If you're signed on with a traditional publishing house, you'll often receive an advance. This helps to cover your living expenses while you're writing. However, large advances are only very rarely given out to first-time authors unless they are already well-known figures in the eyes of the general public.

Both traditionally published books and self-published books have the potential to earn royalties. This is the money that you receive through the actual sale of the book. No matter which route you go, you won't receive 100% of the profit because a cut will be taken by the publishing platform or publisher, plus your agent if you have one.

  • If you're self-publishing on Amazon in eBook format, according to one source, you'd need to sell about 6,500 books to make $20k, on average.

What Are Common Characteristics of a Bestselling Novel?

By some estimates, somewhere around five million novels have been published in English.

As you might imagine, there's going to be a ton of variety in that pot. Even though you have a lot of creative leeways when it comes to writing a great novel, there are some characteristics that you'll find shared by many bestselling novels, including:

  • Compelling premise: The premise of many bestselling novels is something that intrigues the reader and pulls them in. By piquing the reader's curiosity, they're drawn to pick up the book in the first place.
  • Engaging writing style: Bestselling novels usually have a writing style that is immersive, accessible, and engaging. The author's voice resonates with the readers, and the writing is well-crafted. The reader isn't struggling to stay engaged-- instead, they're struggling to stop turning the page.
  • Unforgettable characters: Characters in bestselling novels are usually well-developed and relatable, or at least absolutely fascinating. They will often bring up emotional connections with the audience. These characters are complex and deep and usually go through some time of personal growth in the story.
  • Incredible storytelling: The narrative is typically going to be well-structured and well-paced. The story flows naturally and smoothly. The plot never leaves the reader bored-- holding their interest with twists, turns, and surprises.
  • Universal themes: Themes that all of us can relate to-- overcoming adversity, love, loss, personal growth, and identity-- often play a big role in bestselling novels.
  • Emotional resonance: Bestselling novels will often bring up strong emotions in the audience. They'll be so engaged in the story that it will make them take a rollercoaster ride of emotions.
  • Unique perspectives: Bestselling novels will also usually give a fresh perspective on a common theme or explore unconventional ideas. With so many books on the market, bestsellers are ones that can set themselves apart in this way.
  • Word-of-mouth buzz: If a book is really a bestseller, it means people are going to be recommending it to others, talking about it on social media, and bringing it up in conversation.
  • Relatable content: When a book is a bestseller in this day and age, it usually means that the content is relatable and timely. Even if it's a piece of historical fiction, it likely touches upon ideas that are relevant to the current societal context.
  • That can't-put-them-down quality: Finally, bestselling novels just have that page-turning quality to them. You can't put them down!

What Are Common Characteristics of a Bestselling Non-Fiction Book?

Though bestselling non-fiction books can vary quite a bit when it comes to their subject matter, they also tend to share certain characteristics.

These include:

  • Compelling storytelling: Storytelling is essential, even when it comes to non-fiction books. Anecdotes, narratives, and real-life examples are often included in non-fiction books to help connect the reader with the content and keep them engaged.
  • Expertise: Authors who have unique insights, credibility, or expertise on a topic can present an authoritative overview of a topic. The appeal of a book can be enhanced by the expertise of the writer.
  • Accessible style: Bestselling nonfiction books will describe complex ideas in an accessible writing style. Writing in a clear, concise, and engaging way helps the topic and book appeal to a broader audience.
  • Timely content: Nonfiction books that sell tons of copies often touch upon topics that are relevant to a large audience at the time. Even if the subject is historical, the themes in the text might touch upon contemporary societal issues and topics.
  • Unique perspective: Just like with bestselling novels, bestselling non-fiction books often bring fresh insights to the table. They might present innovative ideas or challenge conventional thinking. This helps set them apart.
  • Practical content: Some nonfiction books are focused on actionable and practical advice for the reader. These books help the reader improve their lives by offering tangible value and solutions.
  • Evidence-based: In most cases, the bestselling nonfiction books will be backed by evidence. The author does thorough research and supports their claims using credible sources.
  • Wide appeal: A dense nonfiction book about a complex and esoteric academic topic is likely not going to appeal to a big audience. Other topics, however, can strike a balance between the depth of the subject matter and audience accessibility. This allows the book to appeal to a large audience.

Can You Really Make Money Writing?

Book publishing is a competitive market. When you publish a book-- whether through a traditional publishing house or self-publishing-- you're competing with every other book of the same type and genre.

At the same time, you can increase your chances of writing a bestseller by coming up with a compelling idea, being organized about your writing process, getting to know your audience, and taking marketing seriously.

Writing and publishing books aren't the only way to make money writing. In fact, there are other avenues that will likely create more consistent and reliable income beyond publishing books.

Are you interested in earning an income from your writing? Head over to our freelance Writing Jobs board, where you can find brand new posts every day from high-paying clients.

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Written By:
Shaun Connell
Shaun Connell has spent his entire career either working as a freelance writer or hiring freelance writers for his many successful publications. Shaun has learned the exact tricks of the trade to hire the perfect writer for almost any niche.

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