I probably don’t need to tell you this, but if you want to get better at a skill, you should read books about that skill. You got better at writing by reading well-written books, and books about writing well. Whatever you went to school for, whether that was an academic topic or a practical trade, you read textbooks and manuals. It’s part of the way human beings know more on one day than they did the day before.
The same is true about learning how to market your books. You should take courses like ours, and read plenty of marketing books and books about success as an author. These will give you lots of tips, techniques, context, and skills to help sell more books, more often. But you shouldn’t stop there.
Some of the best books about success as a marketer, author, or both, aren’t about either of those subjects. Or maybe they’re about exactly those things, only it's disguised as being about something else. Here are our twelve favorites. Consider reading one a month in 2021, and see what it does to your book sales!
By Daniel Kahneman
Dr. Kahneman won a Nobel Prize in economics and is one of the world’s experts on how people are incentivized to do things and make decisions. In this book, he explains the differences between intuitive decision making and logical decisions, how these impact biases and presumptions, and what we can all do to become more thoughtful and open-minded in our daily lives.
While doing so, he also maps out a great understanding of the triggers that help people sell ideas, processes, and books. You’ll finish the book knowing more about what makes people want to read different titles and support different authors, and how you can build a publicity engine using that fuel to drive people toward your work.
By Dale Carnegie
This classic of success, networking, and business excellence remains on the top of successful peoples’ reading lists for good reason. It outlines the timeless, evergreen principles of building a tribe of supportive friends and contacts not just willing, but eager to help you succeed.
One of the best examples is his simple observation that many people strive in social settings to be seen as the most interesting human being in the room. Carnegie points out that this is a mistake. To win real admiration and loyalty, you instead strive to make each person you talk with feel like they are the most interesting person in the room.
Apply these concepts to your social media and in-person networking, and you will see almost immediately why this 90-year-old book has never gone out of style.
If you’re not already familiar with this book of the Bible, it’s a real downer. The titular main character suffers defeat after defeat, hardship after hardship, crushing misadventure after crushing misadventure, without ever losing his faith. He rejects despair in the face of everything, and thanks God for his life, his challenges, and his ultimate success.
Even if you aren’t religious, this is a great story to read if you want to remind yourself of the importance of resilience. Selling books is a lifelong adventure, exploring new and unique ways of being told no. The better we hold up under that onslaught of negativity, the better our lives as writers will be. This book gives us a look at one of the old masters of the topic.
By Daniel Pink
Pink has made his career out of exploring what motivates people to make decisions, especially when those decisions help somebody else more than it helps themselves. The book explores specific case studies, ranging from homework to organ donorship to big tech recruiting, and wraps them together in a handful of key points and takeaways you can use immediately.
As a writer selling your books, this kind of understanding is invaluable. Apply it in your social media, your newsletter, your loss-leaders, and your in-person conference networking. You’ll be glad you did.
By Jocko Willink
Jocko Willink is a retired Navy SEAL commander who led his troops through some of the hardest fighting the Gulf War, with success and honor. Since then, he took the leadership lessons of that experience and applied them to the business world with his company Echelon Front. Extreme Ownership combines stories from his time at war with the specific lessons those experiences taught him, and which he teaches to businesses worldwide.
Those same lessons can help you motivate yourself better, work with your resources better, envision your higher purpose, and generally “get after it” harder and more aggressively than you have so far. It’s a wake-up call to excellence, which we all need at one time or another.
By Tom Rath
Subtitled How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes, this followup to StrengthsFinder 2.0, presents practical, data-driven advice for how to change the small details of your life including how to eat, how to exercise, and how to rest. It details how those details influence the length and quality of your life and your work, and what you can do today to make those changes happen.
This approach to lifestyle will impact your writing because healthy writers are better, more productive writers. Beyond that, you can look at the habits of your writing through the same lens. What small changes to your work habits, working hours, workspace, and time away from writing might super-charge your success?
By Stephen Covey
If this is the first time you’re hearing about this self-improvement classic, you’re in for a treat. If you already know about it, you’re about due for a review. Stephen Covey outlines five key habits — agreements to make with yourself — common to the lifestyles of the most successful, happy, and effective people across all disciplines and walks of life.
You can apply these habits immediately to your writing and marketing efforts, and to your life in general. One or the other can have profound impacts, but doing both will be fundamentally life-altering.
By Malcolm Gladwell
Journalist Gladwell has made a cottage industry of writing books about how discrete instances wreak large effects. In his book Outliers, he first outlined the 10,000 hours rule. The Tipping Point explores when things go very right, or very wrong, for businesses, celebrities, and movements. Though it’s mostly a set of examples and ideas, the reader walks away with a firm understanding of what controllable aspects underlie massive success.
Some of the most important aspects will be out of our reach, either because of the typical resources of an aspiring author or because they’re matters of luck or circumstance. The others, though, you can start work today on recreating and applying to your writing empire. (Well, not today since you haven’t read the book yet…but soon.)
By Tim Ferriss
This manifesto blew up the internet in the mid 2000s with its promising headlines and unique, lifestyle-design approach to making money and living life. He outlines both strategic and tactical considerations for taking control of your timeflow and workflow, so you get more done in less time and make more money in ways you like better.
As a writer, you will pay the closest attention to the sections on goal-driven lifestyle design. He walks you through the process of figuring out how much money you need to do what you want, then how to make that much money doing what you like.
By Atul Gawande
Although aimed mostly at the medical industry, and how systematization and the use of literal checklists can save thousands of lives each year, this book both explicitly and implicitly points out that the core points are applicable to almost any endeavor. It presents a solid argument for using checklists at each level of planning and execution for any project. Gawande never mentions professional writing, but it definitely applies.
If you need help with organizing your writing or marketing, or getting more control of your non-writing life so you have more time and energy for writing, this book can help you make that happen. It begins by demonstrating how checklists can help, and gives solid advice about how to build your own.
11. The E-Myth
By Michael Gerber
The thesis of the “entrepreneurial myth” is simple. Success in running your own business relies on being detail oriented, happy handling the smallest aspects of the enterprise, and specialized knowledge in several fields. Unfortunately, the kinds of people who want to be their own boss are often constitutionally not the kinds of people who succeed at those things.
The E-Myth walks through specific steps and practices to create systems for businesses to make up for any business-critical skills or traits you might lack. Since most writers suffer from a lack of necessary cross-training, it’s a must-read and a must-apply for ongoing success.
By Gretchen Rubin
Think of this book as a less vulgar, more approachable version of the iconoclastic The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k. In it, Rubin offers a happiness-based approach to work, play, family, and health and chronicles her own journey of living by this new metric of success. It’s motivating and encouraging, and shows us how easily we can set the wrong goals, or set great goals with bad metrics.
As writers, we often feel pulled in multiple directions. You might not agree with the solutions Rubin outlines in this book, but vicariously living her experience and process might help you find your own.