So You Want To Write A Bestseller?

So You Want To Write A Bestseller?

Social Studies | Posted by - January 8, 2014 at 12:00 am

Kate Cassaday, Senior Editor at HarperCollins, Offers an Insider’s Guide to Writing a Bestselling Business Book

Adding “Bestselling Author” to your LinkedIn profile might be a goal you share with many entrepreneurs. And why wouldn’t it be? You’ve worked incredibly hard and incredibly smart to get where you are, and it’s only right that you’d want to tell your story. But what does it take to turn a great story into a book deal? If you want to be incredibly simplistic, it takes two things: a strong platform and an even stronger idea.

When my colleagues and I talk about platform, what we really mean is an author’s visibility to potential readers—in your field, and in traditional and social media. Are you a visionary whose ideas are sought after? Are you a trendsetter? Does your story get held up as an example of the kind of success others want to emulate? Are readers (not counting your mother and best friend) already asking for a book from you? If you answer yes to all of these, fantastic (and please call me!), but if you still have a few steps to go, there are many ways you can spread your message and become a better-known voice. Acting as a face for your brand is one method, building an active relationship with an engaged audience on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn is another, as is building your profile as a public speaker. The great bonus is that all of these things will be helpful to your business in both the short and long term, because after all, you are the heart of your company.

A great idea is a bit trickier. We all think our own ideas are great. You may pitch your idea to your partner or to your barber, and then they say, “That’s fantastic, I want to know more!” You’ll know you’ve hit on the right idea, though, when you reply by saying, “Perfect. Just give me $25 and I’ll fill you in,” and they start reaching for their wallet. A truly great idea is one that immediately clicks with readers and instantly feels necessary to them—it makes a promise to change the way they work and live in a tangible way (see: Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… And Others Don’t); it is at first entirely new and revolutionary, but quickly redefines the area it discusses (see: Freakonomics); it identifies a hole in a discussion, and fills it in a meaningful way (see: Arlene Dickinson’s new book, All In). A great idea is one that you can easily summarize for your partner or for your barber, but also has enough substance and depth to sustain an 80,000 word book (no typo there!).   

In the right combination, platform and a dazzling idea can be the ticket to publishing the next Power of Why—but don’t be in a rush. As any of the authors of the books I’ve mentioned will tell you, the journey from that initial spark to the bestseller list is a long and often exhausting one, and contains many more all-nighters with your laptop than glitzy book launches. But when it works, there’s nothing more satisfying than watching emails titled “Congratulations, Bestselling Author!” roll into your inbox.

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Tags: all-in, audience, bestselling author, idea, platform, story, blog

Kate Cassaday
Kate Cassaday, Senior Editor at HarperCollins Canada, commissions, acquires and edits a wide-ranging non-fiction list. Her authors include Bryan Baeumler, Arlene Dickinson, Frankie Flowers, Silken Laumann, Karen Le Billon, Kelly Oxford, Amy Poehler and Gail Vaz-Oxlade. You can find her on Twitter @katecassaday.
Suzanne Paschall
January 10, 2014 at 5:11 pm
Bingo, Kate! Those are the reasons why we decided at our little publishing house to do more than publish books. We've developed a full range of services to help develop our emerging thought-leader non-fiction expert authors--everything from representing them with our own branded speaker bureau agency, and a crowdfunding portal to help them kick-start the marketing and social media buzz (not to mention sales) for their upcoming projects. We start with defining and building their personal brands with them, so that it all makes sense. We tell most of our authors that THAT work has to start a few years before the book hits the shelves. We don't work with many, but the few we do take on, we take on wholeheartedly, and with a passion to help them be successful in making deeper impacts with their fresh ideas, voices and perspectives! (Is it surprising that FRESH is the name of our brand? :) Thanks for sharing the great (and TOTALLY right on!) thoughts...
Bina Sharma (Sasi Kala)
January 10, 2014 at 7:50 pm
Dear Kate,

I'm an MBA graduate and an author of the self-published book, Longing to Belong: An Immigrant Woman's Story. I'm with my second book, now, and looking for a publisher that appreciates the contents in a manuscript, rather than the fame of the author.
I was born in Nepal but have been living in North America (Canada) for the last 35 years. My second book is about cross-cultural cuisines and cultures, most probably the first book of its kind written by a Canadian author. I'm seeking financial as well as publishing help. Who should I contact, could you please suggest me?

Bina Sharma (Sasi Kala)
Julie Blais Comeau * Etiquette Julie
January 18, 2014 at 6:05 am
Hi Kate! Your recommendations are energizing and inspiring visions of "Bestselling Author" are dancing in my head. Have you ever been in a sticky business situation, afraid to do or say something wrong? Have you had e-remorse? Do you ever feel awkward in a corporate setting? If you answered yes, to any of the above, then my book is for you and your HarperCollins Canada readers! Etiquette: Confidence & Credibility (ECC) cracks the code to the contemporary workplace. Like your own mentor, it gives you the rules but more importantly the confidence to be credible in the career of your dreams. ECC is the best ROI for every modern day employee. It is self-published. For book number two; which is almost ready to print, I would love to experience traditional publishing. What is your best advice for an author, that has speaking engagements in front of 2000 participants a year, a solid platform including media collaborations and a story; "gauche-girl turns gaffe-proof teacher", to get a publishing contract? Thank you and I'm off to add a "Congratulations, Best-Selling Author" email picture to my vision board.
T Carey
January 24, 2014 at 7:52 pm
For those wanting to sell their new book, as a potential reader, I would be interested in reading an excerpt to help me decide if the approach/tone is right for me. Anyone offering a glimpse into their book?
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