What does it take to be a best-selling author?

In the last of the ‘What does it take…?’ series of blog posts (although I’ve enjoyed it so much, I might do it again!) I’m thrilled to be joined by successful author, Joanne Phillips. Author of Can’t Live Without and Family Trap, Jo has recently published her third novel Murder at the Maples, which like the other two, is enjoying the life of Reilly at the top of the Kindle charts in their category!

I first came across Jo at the beginning of this year when I started to research self-publishing and quickly became hooked on her blog, which is incredibly informative. I love the way she intersperses her posts about self-publishing, which I pore over and her more personal posts, where we learn what she is up to and how she is coping with life as a busy working mum.
Despite being self-published, Jo has managed to keep her books in the best sellers list and I am delighted that she is now here to pass on the magic formula to the rest of us!

I was hugely flattered when Cathy asked me to write this post for her blog, but also a little concerned about how qualified I am to write it! After all, I’m not a bestselling author myself, only a moderately-selling author with three books published. Although one of these did spend some time in the Amazon top 100 bestseller list … 

But Cathy has faith in me, and her faith isn’t entirely misplaced. I spend a lot of time observing what bestselling authors are up to – particularly indie ones – so I do have some top tips to share.

#1 – Write the best book you possibly can! Don’t skip over this tip and think ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever.’ Really, write the best book you can. Spend time making it brilliant, not merely good. Get it edited, or beta-read, or critiqued – do something to insert a few steps between you writing it and deciding it’s finished and readers being able to buy and read it. Bestselling authors have this in common: their readers rave about their books and don’t, in the main, leave bad reviews or feel let down by poor characterisation or lazy plotting.

#2 – Act like a bestselling author even before you are one. This means be professional, have great quality books, a website, ways for readers to connect with you, and start working on your next book as soon as your last one is published. Imagine you had a publishing contract with a big six publisher – imagine what they would be asking of you and expecting you to produce in return for that big advance. And then do it anyway, but do it for yourself and your readers.
#3 – Be visible. Bestselling authors are everywhere when they put out a new book. They are being talked about on Facebook and Twitter; their new book is being reviewed on blogs and posted out to print reviewers; newspapers – national or local – are writing about them. Readers browsing Amazon come face-to-face with their new titles. None of this is closed off to new or indie authors, it just takes a little work to make it happen for you. (Okay, a lot of work!) Even if you get visibility for just one afternoon in the category for your title, this will have a knock on effect on sales. Keep reminding yourself that no one can buy your book if they don’t know it exists, and keep thinking of ways to get in front of readers.

#4 – Be knowable. These days, bestselling authors are the ones with the huge following, the true fans who act as a promotion and marketing department by spreading news of a book by word of mouth. Readers won’t want to share you unless they know you; it’s not just about the body of work anymore. Of course it doesn’t have to be the real you – the ‘you’ you are with your family and closest friends. But you do need to have some kind of likeable or engaging online persona, and you do need to respond to and engage with readers to build a following.

#5 – Understand what ‘bestselling’ means. It is a label, a term that means something along the lines of ‘at some point in time topped, or appeared in, a recognised list of books which were all selling more copies at that point in time than all the other books which were also for sale’. It’s about sales, numbers, not necessarily merit or literary recognition. It’s also not usually a continuous thing – ‘bestsold’ might be more accurate – as bestselling authors are not all at the top of the charts all the time at the same time. That would be impossible!


Joanne Phillips lives in rural Shropshire with her husband and young daughter. She’s the author of romantic comedies Can’t Live Without and The Family Trap, and the Flora Lively series of cosy mysteries. Can’t Live Without was an Amazon top 100 bestseller in 2012 and her books regularly appear on category bestseller lists. Before becoming a writer Joanne had jobs as diverse as hairdresser, air hostess and librarian, but now divides her time between writing, freelance indexing and finding creative ways to avoid housework. She’s also a big fan of super-dark chocolate, iced coffee and Masterchef. Joanne blogs about writing and publishing at

Connect with her on:

Cathy: Thank you Jo, for taking the time to share your experience with us and thank you for those top tips. Congratulations on all that you’ve achieved in the last eighteen months, I can’t wait to find out more about the next Flora Lively mystery!

Other posts in the ‘What does it take …’ series
What does it take to run a successful book tour? by Sharon Goodwin
What does it take to proofread your manuscript? with Jude White
What does it take to design an award winning book cover? interview with Design For Writers
What does it take to self-edit your manuscript? Interview with Debi Alper
Cathy Bramley
By Cathy Bramley

Cathy is the author of the best-selling romantic comedies Ivy Lane, Appleby farm, The Lemon Tree Cafe and A Vintage Summer. She lives in a Nottinghamshire village with her family and Pearl, the Cockerpoo. Her recent career as a full-time writer of light-hearted romantic fiction has come as somewhat of a lovely surprise after spending eighteen years running her own marketing agency. However, she has always been an avid reader, hiding her book under the duvet and reading by torchlight. Now she thinks she may have found her dream job.

Comments (3)

  1. Avatar

    Joanne Phillips 11 October 2013 at 12:56 pm

    Hi Cathy,
    Thanks for having me on the blog today – I hope readers find this helpful, but I maintain that I’m not really a ‘bestselling’ author in the strict definition of the word ;) Maybe one day … I’ve really enjoyed your series and yes, you should do it again.
    Jo x

  2. Avatar

    Cathy Bramley 11 October 2013 at 1:34 pm

    Thanks Jo, you’re still the best-selling author I know and I think you are well-placed to give us beginners some tips. Thanks again for coming on the blog today!
    Cathy x

  3. Avatar

    FrankieV 11 October 2013 at 1:34 pm


    It shows just how professional you are. I have read your books and did not even realise you were self-published. Kudos!
    Frankie Valente (also self-published)