4 Lessons to Learn from Self-published Bestsellers

What follows is a guest post from Sarah Juckes at self-pub outfit Completely Novel. More on her and her company at the bottom of this post. For now, just plunge right in.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt whilst working in publishing, it’s that self-published authors know how to reach readers better than most.

There are a few reasons for this. As indies, they’re able to adapt quickly to change. They’re also in the perfect position to speak directly with their readers and build a relationship with them. Most importantly though, authors are passionate about their work and are eager to do whatever it takes to get it read.

As you might expect, there’s a lot to be learnt from them – whether you’re looking to self-publish yourself; want to work with your publisher to connect with your readers; or are even a publisher yourself.

Here are four of the best lessons I’ve come across:

1. If you want to be a writer – write. About anything. – Emily Benet

emily-benetReaching readers is Emily Benet’s main priority, and her drive to do this is the biggest catalyst for her success (apart from great writing, of course). Her first book was picked up by Salt Publishing when they discovered her weekly account of working in her mum’s chandelier shop, via her blog. Emily then used her status as a published author to be featured on Wattpad, where she released a new novel, Spray Painted Bananas, as a serial, getting over one million hits, an agent and a publishing deal with Harper Collins.

What the author says:
“If you’re passionate about writing and determined to get published, then you should open yourself up to new opportunities. Don’t waste time complaining how hard it is to get published, but spend time looking for ways to make it happen.”
Hear more from this author.

What you can learn:
Get your writing in front of readers, whether that be via a blog and a writing-sharing website like Emily, or through magazines, anthologies and competitions.

Useful resources:
If you live in the UK, subscribe to the newsletter of your regional writing hub: New Writing South, New Writing North, Spread the Word, Literature Works, Writing East Midlands, Writing West Midlands, Writers’ Centre Norwich, Scottish Book Trust or Writing.ie. They’re great resources to connect you with writing opportunities in your area.

If you’re thinking of starting a blog, Emily Benet gave some great tips when she won The Author Blog Awards in 2010, and are still relevant today.

2. Be unique with your visual brand – Tracy Bloom

tracy-bloom-book-coverBeing an author is essentially like owning your own mini-business. Like any business, it can really help to have a unique brand that your customers (in your case, your readers) will be able to recognise right away.

Tracy Bloom is a great example of an author with good branding – largely thanks to the great title and flashy cover of her book, No-one Ever has Sex on a Tuesday.

What the author says:
“The title of my book, No-one Ever has Sex on a Tuesday, was made to leap out and grab its audience, and I knew I wanted a cover that allowed the title to be the hero. I also harbour a strong dislike of the cheesy covers sported by most romcoms, so knew I would take great pleasure in developing a cover that stood out from the crowd rather than merged into it. I wrote a four-page brief and with the help of a friend, found a local design agency who had never designed a book cover before! They used it as a training brief for one of their new designers and I was delighted with his fresh approach.”
Hear more from the author.

What you can learn:
If you have an eye-catching book cover or author photo, then use this on your social media profiles, your website, any image-sharing networks you are on – basically, anywhere you are connecting with potential readers. Hopefully after they’ve seen it once, they’ll remember it when they come to buy their next lot of books.

Useful resources:
Online design platform Canva has some good advice on creating a visual brand identity on their blog. One of my all-time favourite articles on cover design is still the one my colleague Anna Lewis wrote for Publishing Talk (but don’t tell her I said that). It includes some great tips on where to start and how to keep your individuality professional.

3. Study books in the top ten and learn from them – Mark Edwards

mark-edwardsEarlier, I mentioned that independent authors are brilliant at adapting to change. Well, author Mark Edwards saw a lot of change in the twelve years it took for his books to achieve bestselling status – but by studying successful books, he was able to pinpoint the things he should be doing to increase exposure for his own book.

What the author says:
“He continually tweaked the Product Description. He studied the books in the Top 10 and tried to work out what it was about them that set them apart. He rewrote the blurb and literally sales doubled. He simplified the story and hooked people in […] They also did something controversial with the sub-titles, using ‘a gripping psychological thriller’ in the subtitle.There was a lot of controversy around using these types of keywords in the subtitle.”
Hear more from the author, via Creative Penn. And see Mark’s Amazon page.

What you can learn from it:
Take time to read articles, listen to interviews, speak to your author friends and study the books that are selling well. What are they doing to get their books in front of readers? Learning about the business of bookselling is a great way of understanding what you can be doing to sell copies of your own books.

Useful resources:
There are some great tips meant for publishers on the Digital Book World blog that I see authors using to their advantage, too. The Alliance of Independent Authors is also a goldmine of information and well-worth checking out if you’re considering self-publishing.

4. Hook your book to real-life news events – Polly Courtney

golden-handcuffsPolly Courtney built her writing career around discussing hard-hitting subjects – both in her books, and in the media. As you’d expect, she’s picked up some useful tips on getting media attention for books along the way.

What the author says:
“Start thinking about ‘angles’ that you might be able to use to promote the book. These might be themes in the book, storylines, experiences you underwent during the research for the book or a part of your own personal journey: anything that makes it interesting. You might even decide to adapt what you’re writing to make it more commercial, if selling copies is your main goal. (Not everyone wants to do that, though, so don’t feel you have to.) Ideally, you’d also have some ‘hooks’ in mind, i.e. real-world events or situations that make your book topical and relevant. For me, the two-year anniversary of the summer riots will be one of my hooks. It could be anything though, from Shakespeare’s birthday to a royal baby!”
Hear more from the author.

What you can learn from it:
You don’t need to write a book purely to get press, but do think in advance about which topics, location or people your book features that might help you when it comes to marketing.

Useful resources:
You can set up a Google search alert for any keywords you think your book falls into, which can be really useful for keeping an eye on hot topics. You can also download a copy of Polly’s marketing schedule for free here.

What’s the best advice you’ve picked up from a self-published author? Share them below.


completely-novelSarah Juckes is the Communications Manager for professional publishing platform, CompletelyNovel.com. For more advice on self-publishing your own book in print, read CompletelyNovel’s extensive advice centre or get in touch.


Our four week Self-Publishing Success course will give you all the skills and information you need go indie. The exercises and feedback will be tailored to your own book and genre, with an experienced and bestselling self-published author to guide you through the process step-by-step. Find out more here!

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