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How Does a Self-Published Book Get On a Bestseller List?

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How does a self-published book get on the bestseller list of a major newspaper? Here’s how we did it. We chose a subject suitable to our thirty years of experience in the field of problem solving. We were successful in showing people in the private and public sector how to resolve problems related to work. We had a commitment to our ideas and objective methods to help people learn to take the guesswork out of problem solving. The participants in our workshops began to ask for a book on how they and others could apply the process (operational analysis) to their day-to-day problems. The timing was right. We had a different approach and could meet the current need for a self-help book that would show people how to solve everyday dilemmas that proved to be a challenge.

Now what? We selected certain problems that people faced today that we believed would have an appeal to a wide audience. We created six stories that would illustrate how different people applied the process of operational analysis (as outlined in a ten-step guide) to solve various problems: pets in condos or apartments; retirement decisions; single people looking for a relationship; career decisions; parent/child communication and suddenly becoming a widow. We had a passion for and commitment to the process and experience with the subject matter – ingredients helpful in bringing ideas alive to the reader and therefore making a salable product.

What about a title? We searched for a phrase that people used in their everyday language when they had problems. We didn’t have to go to far to find the title. It came to us when faced with a series of minor problems. We heard ourselves saying, “oh no, not another problem.” We had the title of the book. The titles for the six vignettes came together very quickly; certainly faster than the two and one-half years to write the book.

Marketing and the Physical Dimensions of the book. From the outset, we were very aware of the vital role physical dimension plays in the successful marketing of a book. We wanted our readers to be able to use the book for easy reference. A 5″ by 8″ size would be small enough to fit into a briefcase and/or a planner. We determined the book should be no longer than 100 to 150 pages in length. Again, the mobility factor. These dimensions also helped determine the length of the six stories. The print needed to be of a size and style that was standard and easy on the eyes when read, whether, with or without glasses.

The quality of the paper needed to be substantial enough to withstand what we anticipated would be constant page turning. We chose to print six times more paperbacks than hardcovers because past experience with a previous book of the same genre showed us our readers were more likely to buy a paperback than a hardcover edition. So far, sales indicate we made the right decision. The hardbacks were printed primarily for sales to libraries.

How to jump-start book sales! Taking advantage of traditional marketing techniques such as print and on-line ads, press releases, speaking engagements, radio and television interviews helps to sell books in large quantities but these various methods take time to develop. Instead, we contacted local independent bookstore owners and found two stores who reported their sales to a major newspaper. We then did a signing and a reading of the book at one of the stores. We got the word out! Contacted everyone we knew, threw a party at the bookstore, and invited people who wanted to buy the book. Enough books were sold and to our surprise the following week our self-published book became Number One on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list. We then directed our marketing plan to PMA, an on-line bookseller and through television interviews and other media.

Now how to stay on the bestseller list? We contacted everyone we knew and sent them a copy of the bestseller list and an order form. Nothing like seeing success in print! In our case, we had ties with people in companies who bought ten or fifteen books at a time to test the effectiveness of the book with their employees. We found we could speed up sales by offering added customer service. We took the book directly to the consumer. We signed books and distributed to people who wanted to purchase the book but didn’t have time to buy a copy from the bookstore. Books were delivered by the authors to people who worked in the local stores, markets, banks. Once people read the book, they realized it was a book they wanted to keep as a reference and they bought books for others.

Staying on the bestseller list for over five months at various ratings put the book in the forefront and enhanced the book’s creditability – it wasn’t just a one-time event in which all of our friends bought the books. We are now expanding our marketing and sales efforts throughout the country.

Jeanette A. Griver is C.E.O. of Compsych Systems, Inc. a human factors corporation in Pacific Palisades, California and President of the Publication Division. She is also the primary author of Oh No! Not Another Problem and Applied Problem Analysis Plus.
Visit Griver’s website at www.jeanettegriver.com or E-mail res0wq4@gte.net. Michele W. Vodrey is a writer and consultant for Compsych Systems, Inc.

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