How to Make Your Business Book a Bestseller

More than 1.5 million books were published last year. So how are you going to make sure yours gets noticed? Rob Eagar, author of Sell Your Book Like Wildfire: The Writer’s Guide to Marketing & Publicity, says authors today have more opportunity to drive their book’s sales than ever before. Social media and the Internet allow authors to communicate directly with their audience, creating a powerful marketing opportunity. But the responsibility is also greater: authors are increasingly under pressure from their publishers to take the lead on promotion. “Today, it’s really up to the author to market the book,” says Eagar, “and anything the publisher does is seen as gravy.”

Here are six tips from Eagar to help business authors seize the marketing initiative and sell more books.

Focus your message on results. “The biggest mistake I see business authors get caught up in,” says Eagar, “is telling people what their book is about. Never tell someone what your book is about. Tell them what’s in it for them. Business book authors often get caught up in their methodology and their principles, and they’re so excited about the process or idea they’ve come up with, they forget no one cares. They care about the results the book will produce.”

Start planning publicity up to nine months in advance. Says Eagar, “Some authors tend not to think about marketing their book until it hits the store shelves, and that’s way too late. You need to start marketing your book nine months before it’s going to be available. Speak about your book, build that awareness and excitement; you can start blogging about it or using that content for your newsletter.” Publishers appreciate your early efforts because the pre-order buzz allows them to go to retailers with evidence that your book is generating early momentum – and that can sometimes result in additional promotional support. Eagar advocates sharing sample content months in advance, and collecting testimonials and success stories from people who have used your ideas and can vouch for their results.

Come to your publisher with ideas. Don’t just sit back and assume the publisher will come up with a great marketing strategy, says Eagar: your passivity will send the wrong message. “Come to your publisher’s marketing team with 10-15 ideas already,” says Eagar. “Don’t show up and say, ‘So what are you going to do for my book? It’ll create an antagonistic relationship, and they’ll feel like you’re being lazy. You want to make it feel like a partnership.” Think through what you can bring to the table; maybe you can offer to pay your own way to attend an important conference, or send out free copies to influential contacts.

Leverage the power of free. Many authors might predict that giving away all or part of your book would cannibalize sales. Not so, says Eagar: “I’ve seen that free is an author’s best friend.” He cites the example of his client Lysa TerKeurst, who created a free resource, the “Made to Crave 21 Day Challenge,” to promote her bestselling book Made to Crave. “At first, she was concerned we were giving away the farm,” recalls Eagar. “If readers get 30% [of the book’s content for free], why would they want the rest? But we sold 225,000 copies in the first nine months. Giving resources away allows skeptical readers to get enough content to say, ‘I can see results this can bring to my life.’” The goal, says Eagar, is to give people a reason to talk about your book – and to make it easy for them to share content with their friends. Sample chapters, quizzes, special reports, and how-to articles are all good giveaway possibilities, and you can even consider giving away your entire book electronically for a limited period of time. (See my article “So You Want to Write a Business Book” for an example of successful free e-book distribution.) “I’ve had several publishers report that giving the book away for free can spike sales for 2-3 weeks afterward,” says Eagar.

Make an author video. With the rise of online video, it’s become increasingly common for authors to create “book trailer” videos, much as Hollywood promotes upcoming films. If you can afford a flashy video like Tim Ferriss’ trailer for The 4-Hour Body, by all means. But you can still create a powerful marketing tool on a budget, says Eagar: “If you have a good quality book trailer, it can go viral really fast. You don’t need a lot of fancy graphics or bells and whistles. Any smartphone these days has a built-in high definition video camera, so you don’t have to hire a professional company. You can bring in extra lights, put your smartphone on a tripod, and you can have a video up on YouTube the same day.” The secret is to engage viewers by following three steps. “You start by explaining the reason why the book is important,” says Eagar. “Then you explain why the viewer should trust you – the case for your expertise. Finally, you explain the results your book can create for the reader.” Keep it under three minutes and you’re set.

Don’t overinvest in social media. Finally, resist the urge to go crazy with social media. Though it provides a good opportunity to reach readers, Eagar considers it a “passive approach to marketing.” You never know how invested your Facebook fans or Twitter followers really are, and they can vanish at a moment’s notice if something else captures their attention. Far better, he says, is to balance social media with what he considers “proactive marketing,” including public speaking, publishing articles or being quoted in the media, or sending out regular newsletters. “You want to try to market your book in as many ways as you can where you’re the only choice available in the moment,” he says.

Have you implemented any of these strategies in the past, or do you plan to? Do you have other suggestions to add? Rob Eagar has offered a free copy of his book to one lucky reader who posts a comment by Tuesday, August 7. Check back in the comments section on Wednesday, August 8 and we’ll announce the (randomly chosen) winner.

This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on August 5, 2012.

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.