Monday, December 3, 2012

How I Became a Bestselling Author... by Rachel Van Dyken

My friend Rachel Van Dyken, author extraordinaire, has done what we all dream of doing...she has broken the top bestseller lists on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, USA Today, and the New York Times.  I know, right?  I'm so proud of her, too.  
When I ask her (constantly) what her secret is, she claims not to have one.  I didn't believe her until I read this blog.  Her tips and tricks make perfect sense and carry all that much more credibility given her new pedigree.  See if they don't help you.  And look out for Rachel's new books, coming to...well, coming everywhere, and soon!  The girl writes FAST!

How I became a bestselling author... by Rachel Van Dyken

I wish there was a formula.

See, I'm already disappointing people everywhere..."Wait? There isn't a formula? No magic words?"

Sadly, no. If there was a way to become a bestseller every time you published a book, believe me, I would be all over it.

I remember when my first book hit the USA Today Bestseller list. I was like okay, so what I need to do is market a lot, pray that both Barnes and Amazon numbers match up and then market my butt off.

When the second book in the series came out, the highest it got on Amazon was  44 on the regency bestseller list, which yes of course that’s great, but I felt it was a huge let down to my readers. And then of course insecurity sets in and I think, “So it was a fluke then?”

I mean, any authors going to think that right? I was already doubting myself….and then all of a sudden that same book went to #2 on Barnes and Noble.

You can imagine my surprise! It outsold Ugly Duckling, but didn’t make the lists, HUH?!?

See, no formula.

“Okay,” I told myself, “So now I know what the formula is!” You can shake your head now as you read this.

The next book came out, The Redemption of Lord Rawlings. I was SURE and I mean SURE it was going to hit a bestseller list. After all, it was my favorite of the three.

What happened? We released Wallflower at the same time and Wallflower jumped over Rawlings (probably hitting him in the face in the process because Rawlings is a deserving rake and all that), and hit the bestseller list.

Rawlings still did great, but again no USA TODAY.

Do you see where I am going with this? There is no formula, there is nothing you can measure against to try to figure out how to make one of those lists.

You will stress yourself out needlessly trying to figure things like this out. I mean it’s like watching paint dry. You’ve all done it. Watched your numbers on Amazon and Barnes, am I right? I mean I do it all the time. Seriously, I could make a killing on group therapy for watching book rankings.

“Hi, my name is Rachel and I’m a ranking addict. I hit refresh every five minutes and sometimes I read bad reviews of famous authors I look up to, to feel better.”

So….back to the original question, how did I do it?

Easy. I didn’t.

Whenever people ask me this question I have to laugh because the answer is really that simple. I did nothing. I wrote a book. A book I really believed in and sent it out into the world.

And prayed my socks off.

Like literally got down on my hands and knees and prayed. Not the prayer of “GIVE ME NEW YORK TIMES.” Though, it was tempting. But the prayer of, “Expand my territory, help me to reach out to people, and do what you will with what I’ve given.”

Let me explain this, as an author it’s so easy to get wrapped up in marketing, promo, reviews, etc. Yes, these things are important but when your focus turns to sales, you lose your original purpose for writing in the first place.

I write to share my stories. I write to make people laugh. I write because I’m pretty sure I would die if I couldn’t. I write because I want to cause change.

When I'm focused on me and not on the craft, things go awry. For the last thirty days I’ve had to get up in the morning and again relinquish control of the things I cannot help or influence. I can’t call up USA Today, I can’t email New York Times, but I can keep writing and I can keep connecting with my readers, and I can offer everything that I am every single chance I am given.

So in a nutshell, here is my formula…I know, I know, I said there wasn’t one…so maybe we should call it, a day in the life of Rachel.

1.    Pray. Start your morning right. Get the focus off of you and onto others. There will always be someone who’s more successful than you, has more money, is prettier, has a cooler house, dog, clothes. Etc. You get what I mean. Take the focus off of you and push it onto Him. You are here for a reason, you have a purpose beyond stalking Amazon. You were gifted with the ability to write in the first place, now honor Him with that gift.

2.    Connect. I spend a lot of time on Facebook. It’s like a black hole for me. But most of the time I’m not stalking people (I did say MOST of the time..I’m not a saint, geez). Readers love to hear from the author. I always say I’m as much a reader as I am an author. I can still remember meeting Julia Quinn for the first time or Talking with Julie Lessman…you get the picture. Your readers are your voice, get to know them so you know how to build your product.

3 .  Invest. Not money, but time. Invest in your writing and especially in your readers. You want more reviews? Give away free books. You want more followers on Facebook? Make it worth their while. You can’t just sit at home on your hands and hope people notice you.

  4. Support other authors. Seriously. This is a big one. I would not be where I am today without the support of others. I’ve shared this with a few authors before, but I am firm believer that if you invest in others, if you give of yourself then God will bless you. That’s not WHY you do it, but the fact remains. What do you lose by supporting someone else? Um, nothing. People seem to think that if they pimp other authors that they somehow lose their fans? Weird. If anything you gain more fans because you’ve just expanded your readership. The most successful people you see in this world, the ones who are the happiest, are the ones who use their own gifts, to bless others.

That’s it! In a nutshell! I love to hear from readers and of course if any of you have questions, leave a comment! 

You know you want to, right?  Reach and connect with Rachel here:

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  1. Rachel, you truly are an inspiration! And if you start that support group for Amazon rank-watchers, I will definitely sign up :D Seriously, thanks so much for sharing your tips!

    1. LOL!!! That support group seriously needs to happen! I drive myself crazy! And you are totally welcome ;)

  2. Great tips, Rachel! I've been failing at all these points lately. I've been letting life get in the way of praying, writing, connecting...everything. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Yes, great tips. I know I've got to do more of #1. I've found tweeting reaches a different group of people that Facebook which I use sparingly.
    With my regency, as you told me, I have to develop a fan base which won't happen overnight.

  4. Great post! I'll be awaiting your next set of tips on time management. ;-) Congratulations on your success, Rachel. I love your writing!

  5. Great post Rachel! Thanks for sharing your tips with us!

  6. Always great reminders to have. :) Keep doing what you'er doing. God is using you in great ways. :)

  7. Rachel, you are such an amazing person! This just proves it. Not only are you so talented and successful as a writer, but you also are so nice and down to earth too. I hope all your next titles make the top of the list again. You deserve it. And as for your tips, I am going to use them. They are amazing. Even if you don't reach the top of the list by following them, you will get closer to God and help others. There's nothing more important than that.

  8. Great post. There are no magic bullets. Good, old-fashioned hard work is the best routine...

  9. Rach, I am SO proud of you, girl, and LOVED this blog!! And now you have two of us ready to join the support group -- Jen and me!!


  10. Rachel, thanks for this post :). I know you and I have emailed about all of this, but I enjoyed reading this, too :). And praying about it IS the best thing!!!