Getting your book on a bestseller list can help boost your sales and profile as an author. According to Vox, earning a spot on the New York Times Bestseller List increased debut authors’ sales by 57%. Plus, people who make the cut are able to call themselves New York Times best-selling authors for life, which is a powerful marketing tagline. 

There are many bestseller lists that books can qualify for, including the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Amazon, Indiebound, and USA Today. However, you need to move a certain number of copies in a single week to qualify for one of the bestseller lists. It’s estimated that a book has to sell between 1,000 and 10,000 copies to earn this status. But even if your book falls short, you may be able to achieve a high sales rank in niche Amazon categories with fewer sales, which will still increase your book’s visibility. 

Many authors want to know what they can do to guarantee publishing success. Is there a formula that you can follow to crack the bestseller code? Bestseller lists contain a diverse range of titles in a variety of genres, from thrillers to self-help books. Although these books may appear very different at first, there are certain characteristics that the majority of them share, such as an eye-catching cover and attention-grabbing title. To help you understand how to craft a winning manuscript, here are six common traits bestselling books tend to have in common.

A Strong Cover

Research on consumer behavior has found that 95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious and emotion-based. When customers are scanning bookstore shelves or Amazon for reading material, they may only glance at your book for a few seconds. If your cover design isn’t visually impactful enough to capture their attention and interest, they’ll quickly move on to the next title. 

Good cover art should encapsulate the essence of your book, evoke emotion, and entice readers. A professional designer helps most bestselling authors employ design theory and visual hierarchy to guide the reader’s eye to important information, such as the title and blurbs. The spine is also an important element of cover design that’s often overlooked. The typography and color choices in this area are essential, as it may be the only part of your book that’s visible on crowded bookstore shelves. 

Many bestselling books also use color theory to induce certain subconscious feelings in their audience. For example, red can convey passion and intensity to readers, so it often appears on the covers of romance and thriller novels. On the other hand, green can signal harmony, prosperity, and growth. This is likely why entrepreneurship expert Noah Kagan chose it as the main color for his bestselling book, Million Dollar Weekend

Recent cover art trends have favored abstract, dynamic designs that playfully mix color and texture. These images translate well on social media and help books stand out in a crowded publishing landscape. Many bestsellers also have big, bold typography to grab readers’ attention. Overall, covers of bestselling books play to the psychology of their target readership. There may be certain cover design conventions that are specific to your book’s genre, so make sure to hire a graphic designer who understands the imagery that appeals to your ideal readers. 

An Attention-Grabbing Title 

Bestsellers all have titles that are attention-grabbing, memorable, and of course, related to the book’s topic. While the title doesn’t have to be too on the nose, it shouldn’t mislead readers about the contents inside. Bestsellers also have titles that roll off the tongue. It should be easy for people to remember your book’s name and share it with others. It’s also important to consider online searchability. Make sure that there aren’t any similar titles that could interfere with your book’s online presence and visibility. 

Tim Feriss’ bestselling book The 4-Hour Workweek is a great example to follow. The title is short and simple, yet incredibly impactful. It immediately communicates the value that the book provides and touches on a pain point we all have. After all, who doesn’t want to work less and enjoy life more? The title is also specific enough that it immediately comes up when you search for it online, which may help boost sales. 

The 4-Hour Workweek’s subtitle, an equally important aspect of book marketing, is similarly masterful. It reads, “Escape 9-5, live anywhere, and join the new rich.” This statement expands on the benefits of a brief workweek and directly appeals to readers’ desires. Coupled with the tropical palm trees on the cover, Tim’s book immediately creates vivid images and strong emotions in people’s minds, making them want to pick it up. 

No matter how well your book is written, a bad title could keep you off the bestseller list and significantly impact your sales. Studies have shown that a book’s title is the most important factor readers take into account when making purchasing decisions. So it’s a good idea to study bestselling books in your genre for inspiration and carefully craft both your title and subtitle. 

A Professional Layout

Proper book formatting is another characteristic that unites all bestsellers. Whether you choose to release hardcover or softcover editions, a professional look and feel is important. Before purchasing a book, readers will often look at the blurbs, review the author bio and book synopsis, and even flip through the text itself. Therefore, layout matters. Awkward spacing or alignment can interrupt the reading experience and distract from your message. 

Many authors believe that they can save money by formatting their book themselves. However, if you don’t have much experience with layout and design, it may be best to hire a professional to ensure high-quality results that will help drive sales. 

High-Quality Prose and Pacing

Perhaps the most important feature of bestselling books is quality prose. With the amount of content available for free online, books have to rise to a higher standard of storytelling to justify their price. But that doesn’t mean your book needs to be a classical literary masterpiece or employ flowery language. In fact, most bestsellers have clear, concise prose, making them accessible to a wide range of readers. 

However, this pared-down literary style doesn’t make bestsellers boring. They usually have a compelling narrative structure that’s designed to keep readers turning the pages. According to The Guardian, the best books on the market have an “emotional beat” of highs and lows that pull the audience in. They also lean toward showing instead of telling to create vivid scenes in readers’ minds that leave a lasting impact. 

To ensure that your book has proper pacing, it may be a good idea to recruit beta readers to critique it. Getting feedback from your target audience prior to publication will help you polish your manuscript into a strong sales contender.

A Compelling Story or Main Idea 

In addition to proper pacing, your book must have a compelling plot line or concept. No matter how adept you are at storytelling, your book may fall flat if the main idea isn’t unique and well-developed. Most bestsellers fill a gap in the market by introducing a new idea or presenting a fresh take on an established subject. They usually capture the zeitgeist by covering a topic that’s highly relevant and pressing at the time of publication. 

This is especially true of long-running bestsellers that have a lasting cultural influence. For example, Thinking Fast and Slow by Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman was on bestseller lists for nearly ten years and has sold more than two million copies. The book was regarded as ground-breaking and helped change the way people tackle problems. Kahneman’s continued success can be attributed to the fact that readers need guidelines for better decision-making in an increasingly complex world. As you begin your book-writing journey, consider how you can leverage your expertise and insights into an impactful message that the world needs to hear.

A Strong Author Platform and Marketing Strategy

The books that make it on several bestseller lists often have thousands of pre-orders even before their publication date. Authors accomplish this by developing a robust pre-launch marketing plan and building an engaged audience that’s excited to read their book. Some of the most common ways successful authors drum up buzz include: 

  • Appearing in media such as podcasts and TV shows to increase their book’s visibility. They may also try to get their writing or book excerpts placed in large publications for exposure. 
  • Releasing teasers to help get readers excited about the title, such as a book trailer, impactful quotes, or early positive reviews. 
  • Sending out advance reader copies to influencers and beta readers to increase the book’s reach and generate reviews. 
  • Running low-cost social media ads to boost sales. 
  • Hosting events such as a launch party or book tour. Authors may also make appearances at book fairs and festivals. 
  • Sending out an email newsletter to engage their fanbase. They may also use digital downloads and lead magnets to draw in potential readers and collect email addresses.

Increasingly, top authors are also experimenting with bold marketing strategies to sell their books and stand out. For instance, author Sam Conniff Allende installed giant pink advertisements on the windows of Penguin’s London offices to promote his book, Be More Pirate: Or How to Take On the World and Win. Allegedly, he didn’t even get permission from the publishing company to do so, which was a brazen move that aligned with his book’s topic. This attention-grabbing marketing display and the resulting visibility and press helped position his launch for success. 

To stay on bestseller lists, authors must also continue to build their audience and promote their book even beyond the release date. One author who does this well is Daymond John. The Shark Tank judge has written several bestselling business books, including Rise and Grind. He uses his social media to share business advice and provide a behind-the-scenes look at the entrepreneurial process. His online presence gives readers a taste of what to expect from his writing and helps him build a lasting relationship with fans that spans beyond a single book. 

Get the Support You Need to Boost Your Sales 

Creating a bestselling book takes a village. Top authors often seek assistance from editors, graphic designers, and book coaches to produce the best possible product. Self-published books rarely clinch a spot on bestseller lists, so surrounding yourself with the right team is crucial, especially if you’re a first-time author. Getting help from experienced publishing professionals who understand the key characteristics that set bestsellers apart will give you the best chance of success. 

If you’re ready to share your story with the world, contact us today. Our book coaching programs can help you break into publishing and fulfill your dream of becoming an author.