How to Become a Bestselling Author

I thought that title might get some attention. But seriously, a client sent me a link a few days ago to an article titled How I Became a Best-Selling Author, posted on Yahoo Finance.

Here are some of the highlights from the article, which follows one woman’s “unlikely road to a hit novel.”

  • Five years ago, Darcie Chan submitted her novel, The Mill River Recluse,” to multiple publishers and agents. It tells the story of a wealthy Vermont widow who bestows her fortune on town residents who barely knew her. It was rejected by … get this … a dozen publishers and more than 100 literary agents. Whew!
  • Dejected, Darcie stashed the manuscript in a drawer, and buried herself in her legislative work.
  • Then, this past spring, Darcie started reading about the rise of e-book sales and authors who had successfully self published, and decided to give it a shot. She published the book electronically, through Amazon’s Kindle self-publishing program.
  • A few weeks later, she also started selling it on Barnes & Noble’s Nook and through SmashWords, who distributed it to major e-book retailers including Apple’s iBookstore, Sony and Kobo. By this point, she had sold 100 copies.
  • Darcie made every effort to get the book out there to the general public. She decided to drop the price from price from $2.99 to 99 cents (a great benefit of electronic publishing — you can do that and not take a loss). Several reviewers on Amazon said they bought the book because it was 99 cents, then ended up liking it. Number of copies sold to this point: 700
  • Then, at the end of June, the book was mentioned on a site called Ereader News Today, which posts tips for Kindle readers.
  • Encouraged by the increase in publicity and sales, Darcie decided to do some marketing for herself. She bought banner ads on websites and blogs devoted to Kindle readers and a promotional spot on, a book-recommendation site with more than six million members.
  • Darcie then decided that it would be helpful to get her book reviewed, even if she had to pay for those reviews. She paid $35 for a review from (IndieReader no longer offers paid reviews) and $575 for a review from Kirkus. She also started using blurbs from these reviews as marketing material on her site and in ads. By now, Darcie had sold 14,000 copies.
  • In July, the book was featured on two of the biggest sites for e-book readers, generating even more sales. By August, Darcie had sold more than 77,000 copies and hit the New York Times and USA Today e-book best-seller lists, alongside brand-name authors like Michael Connelly, James Patterson and Kathryn Stockett. It later landed on the Wall Street Journal list, too.
  • To date, Darcie has sold more than 400,000 copies of her e-book. A few major publishers have made offers to her, but none matched the digital royalty rates of 35% to 40% that Ms. Chan makes now. To date, she’s madeĀ  around $130,000 on her book, and that number is only destined to rise.

Basically, Darcie took control of her own destiny, made some good strategic decisions and is reaping the rewards. And her story just goes to show you: authors are now in control of their own destiny. Just like musicians can get around the record companies by selling their music through iTunes, authors can completely subvert publishing companies (and print books altogether) and sell their book digitally.

As the article points out, though, there are some drawbacks to following in Darcie’s footprints. They include….

  • Ebooks still make up less than 10% of overall trade book sales.
  • It’s hard to get a self-published book reviewed
  • Without a print book, you’re not likely to be carried in brick-and-mortar bookstores
  • Very few authors have a marketing and advertising budget equal to a publisher’s

All of that said, I hope that Darcie’s story can be an inspiring one to authors like you. I know I’ll steal a few of these ideas….