How to Market a Self-Published Book for Bestseller Status Success

POSTED ON Apr 6, 2024

Shannon Clark

Written by Shannon Clark

Home > Blog > Marketing > How to Market a Self-Published Book for Bestseller Status Success

When you’re writing a book and trying not to pull your hair out, it’s easy to think that putting pen to paper is the hardest part of authorship, but then you have to sell the book. Eep!

Self-publishing your book can be a rewarding experience because you not only have creative control but also get a larger percentage of the profits. However, success is not automatic. As with any business, you have to woo customers—get them to like you and your product. But, if you don’t know how to woo, things can get a bit complicated. 

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If you’ve ever wondered how to get noticed as a self-published author or how to market a self-published book, we’ll take a look at some of the best tips and tricks for getting your book into the hands of eager readers. 

Since we’re talking about marketing self-published books to achieve bestseller status, let’s start by defining what we mean by book marketing and bestseller status.

What is book marketing?

Book marketing includes the strategies used to promote your book. The goal of any type of marketing is to get your product in front of your ideal customer. In the case of book marketing, it's the actions you take to get potential readers interested in buying your book. Some book marketing strategies include:

  • a genre-specific book cover
  • a great blurb or recommendation
  • an active and inviting website
  • social media activity
  • email newsletters
  • book reviews
  • street team (book launch team)
  • advertising
  • book promotion sites
  • influencer marketing
  • blog tours
  • podcast interviews

What is bestseller status? 

While defining book marketing is relatively straightforward, bestseller status can depend on which circles you’re running in, where you have your book listed and the criteria that each list uses, but at its most basic level bestseller status refers to which books has the most sales. 

Let’s take Amazon for example. On their website, they define bestseller ranki (BSR) as,

Amazon Best Sellers Rank (BSR) is a metric that appears on an item’s product page and indicates how it’s selling compared to other items within the same product category in the Amazon store. Amazon’s Bestsellers list showcases the top selling products within featured categories near real-time based on BSR scores, which are updated several times a day.

And, Amazon calculates BSR by, “using data about sales volume over time. Recent sales and all-time sales factor into BSR, with recent sales counting more than older sales.”

It makes sense that since this is an Amazon list, only books listed with Amazon are considered. This includes traditional and independent works. 

On the other hand, you have organizations like the American Booksellers Association that produce a weekly list that’s divided into four categories: National, Regional, Specialty, and Indie based on bookseller results that fit into each category. 

Compared to Amazon which only focuses on its channel, the American Booksellers Association bestseller list offers a “snapshot of what’s selling in indie bookstores nationwide and showcases the strength of the indie channel within the publishing industry.”

In general, like sports bowls and teacups, there’s something for everyone. You just have to find the perfect fit for you. 

Here’s a short list of bestseller lists to consider:

The popular Wall Street Journal bestseller list stopped running theirs in 2023.

How much does it cost to market a self-published book?

This section will take a comprehensive look at all of the parts that can make up a successful marketing campaign and what you can expect to pay. In the section on “What is book marketing?” I mentioned the importance of starting with a solid foundation which means a phenomenal book that will sell.

Before we look at the finer details of book marketing, we’ll price out the foundational parts to get your book ready for market. 

The pre-marketing steps

You might notice that some of the items below are technically a part of the cost to publish a book, but I wanted to include absolutely everything in order to be as accurate as possible for you.

After you've completed your rough draft, but before you hit “publish” you'll want to make sure you give the production process all the attention it deserves. This will not only provide a better reading experience for your future readers but, if done correctly, some of these steps will also act as built in marketing your self-published book.


Depending on the type of editing you need, the Editorial Freelancer's Association gives a range of $.02/wd and $.069/wd. for editing. Not only does the type of editing affect pricing, but the genre and complexity of the book as well.

Book cover design

For a professional book cover you can expect prices to begin around $150 for a customizable pre-made template to $3,000 for a high-end cover design. Investing in your cover design can offer great returns on your investment, but before you spend tons of money, make sure that the artist you select is worth the price. Check out their portfolio and follow the books to online websites like Amazon to see the number of reviews. While the customer reviews are generally for the book's content, the number of reviews can indicate the cover's success in pulling customers in. Great marketing plays a big role in creating traffic, but a book's cover is a big part of the draw.

Book formatting

It is possible to format your book for a one-time payment for a program like ($147) or Vellum ($249). The programs are user-friendly and have good results.

Interior book designers charge around $.02/wd to $0.39/wd for interior design with ebook formatting in the upper range. Some may also charge a project rate based on page count.

Book description

If your front cover attracts the buyer, the back cover description reels them in. When writing the copy for the back of your book, think of it as a sales pitch—not like the slimy sales pitches that slide their way into your inbox unannounced. A book description should be engaging. It should invite the reader into an experience.


Don’t limit your book’s distribution. Opt for multiple channels if it’s a good fit. Set-up costs for most distributors are free, but they will get a percentage of your sale (10-65%), so read the fine print.

Your author platform

For authors, a big part of learning how to market a self-published book is learning how to market yourself. This includes a branded website, social media engagement, an email list, and audience outreach. Let's see what that might look like.


An active and updated website is not for the author as much as it is for their audience. When I read a great book, I go directly to the author's website to find out more about who they are as well as see if they have any more books that I might want to read. It's a bonus if they have an email sign-up list. Since I'm an avid book reader, I enjoy hearing from authors that I follow.

On the other hand, if I can't find an author's website or it's not active, it's easy for me to lose interest—not because their books aren't good, but because other authors on the market engage with their readers. Engagement (even if it's not direct) makes me feel like I am more than just a number or a dollar sign.

Social media

Social media is technically free, but unless your post goes viral, you have to pay to play. From boosting posts to get more visibility to taking out paid ad campaigns for your book, social media is important for building an author platform, but it takes strategic planning to keep costs low.

Email marketing

As mentioned, email marketing is a great way to engage with your readers. Creating a newsletter that you can send out to your subscribers regularly creates a dialogue. When readers feel like they are a part of something, they are more likely to support and/or buy future books.

An email list is great to help market and sell your books. But if you are trying to get your email list up off the ground for the first time, you'll have to get creative. Start by creating a reason for future readers to join your list. Most authors do this by making a lead magnet that sparks interest in their upcoming book, but there are other ways to get people excited about subscribing.


As a self-published author, it's easy to get caught up in your writing world and not actively engage with your community, whether it's other writers, readers, or industry professionals. Taking the time to support other authors by buying their books or commenting on their posts is often reciprocated. Sending out newsletters and responding to readers when possible, helps to build relationships, even if they are at a distance. Joining industry groups and associations provides professional benefits that you might not get flying solo.

Genuine outreach in any form works in your favor because it gets your name out in front of others, and that's a form of marketing. (Fees will vary)

Post-publishing marketing ideas

When sharing our favorite book marketing ideas with our soon-to-be self-published authors, our goal is to keep it simple. Start with the marketing basics and a few of these high-impact, low-cost options. Then, scale your marketing up accordingly to match your book royalty goals.

Big book launches

You only launch your book once – make the most of this time!

When it comes to publishing a book, it's not enough to get it listed on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. There are lots of books flooding the market. Creating a strategy around your book before it's published and after it launches creates a buzz and the momentum that you need to get sales moving forward.

Book trailer

Book trailers, like movie trailers, get readers excited about your book. You can hire a company to create one for you or do it yourself, but like book cover design, make sure that it looks professional and pulls potential readers in.

Book promotion sites

Book promotion sites allow you to get your book in front of a wider audience for a discounted price. Most of these are very affordable ($0 – $240) and a great way to generate more buzz and interest in your book.

Here are a few of the most popular ones:

Amazon reviews

Reviews speak for themselves and getting honest reviews for your book is a great way to show social proof (proof that other people are buying your product). It also makes the algorithms on bookseller sites take notice.

Start by having your ARC Team in place to post reviews of your book once it's launched. You can also encourage subscribers to your email list to leave an honest review. Sites like Reedsy offer reviews through their Discovery program. You can also place a note in the back of your book that encourages readers to leave an honest review.

Did you know? Our Elite authors get 100+ guaranteed Amazon reviews!

Podcast interviews

Podcasts are another great way to engage and grow your audience. Whether you decide to start a podcast yourself or appear on others' podcasts as a guest, this works great for both fiction and nonfiction authors. Whether you’re sharing a story, reading an excerpt, or just being interviewed, planning some podcast content as a part of your book marketing can offer readers a different way to get to know you and your work.

Giveaways and contests

Who doesn't love a free book? You can easily run giveaways and contests through your email newsletter by yourself, or you can partner with other authors in similar genres to do cross-promotion.

Do I need to hire a professional?

If you don’t have the time to invest in marketing but you have the budget to hire a professional, then go for it.

The book marketing learning curve can be steep, especially when it comes to ads and professional design services. Hiring a qualified professional can take some of the pressure off of you and allow you to focus on the parts of the book process that make sense to you. 

When hiring a professional consider the following:

  • What is their area of expertise? It’s not enough to say “I’m a book marketer.” Book marketers can each have a different skill set. Find out which one you need (e.g. Amazon ads) and look for that person. Some professionals will offer consulting services which are often less expensive than getting them to do the work for you. They can set up a strategy and then follow up with you as you set everything up. 
  • What is your marketing budget? It’s important to put a cap on your budget so that you can compare apples to apples when looking at different professionals. Offer them a set budget and then compare the types of services and duration that each offers to get a good feel for which one will best service your needs. 
  • What type of work have they done for other authors? What were the results and how long have they been in business?
  • Are they a member of any professional organizations? This isn’t a deal breaker, but being a member of a professional organization can be an indication of their dedication to staying dialed into their industry. 

Also, when hiring a professional, look for someone you like. If they don’t seem to “get you”, you feel rushed during conversations, or there are other red flags, move to the next person. As a self-publisher, every decision you make will impact the success of your book. You only want to work with people who are in alignment with your interests. 

Related: The 20 Best Book Marketing Services for Self-Published Authors

Are book ads worth it?

We mentioned advertising as a way to sell more books. But are ads worth it in the long run?

In self-publishing, as with other industries, you’ll often hear the phrase “pay to play”, and while this rings true on the surface (e.g. book cover, interior design, and editing), everyone doesn’t have the budget to play Whac-a-Mole when it comes to marketing. 

For this reason, if you’re going to run book ads, you’ll want to have a strong strategy in place to mitigate waste (e.g. time and money) and get the best results possible for your investment. If you don’t have time to fully research the market or hire a professional, then using your budget to market in other ways might give you better results in the long run. 


Getting on a bestseller list boils down to book sales, and book sales boil down to likeability, exposure, engagement, and a phenomenal product. There are no guarantees, but having these pieces in place is an excellent launch pad. Learn your audience, know your numbers, invest the time, and continue to wash, rinse, and repeat what’s working and trash anything that’s not. 

Bestseller’s lists will always be a numbers and timing game. Find which list is the best for your book, learn the criteria necessary to make it on the list, and then tweak your marketing strategy until you get there. If you don’t make it to the top of the list, at least you’ll be a lot closer and learn a lot in the process. 

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