How to Sell a Million Books: Step 1

Photocredit: Alexis OToole

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I try to share everything I’ve found of value whether it’s a guest blog from an expert (or a newcomer who has learned something valuable along the way) or a link to a business or psychology or marketing or even science article that might help you with your journey to becoming a ProWriter.


(Heck, JoAnna Penn and I have even spent dozens of hours putting together four ProWriter classes to help you with the nitty gritty details)


But the question I’m most often asked is “How do YOU do it, CJ?”


So here I am, squirming in the spotlight, sharing my process. I’ll break it down into several steps. Remember the No Rules, Just WRITE! motto: it’s not about right or wrong, it’s about what’s right for you.


(I’m going to try to keep things general enough to help everyone, but if you have specific questions, please feel free to post them in the comments.)


Okay. Step 1 to selling a million books: Write a damn good book.


This is the hardest part but also the most fun. I honestly can’t give you any secret recipe to writing your book because even though I’ll be publishing my seventeenth book next week, every single book has been written in a totally different way.


What can I say, I bore easily. Some books just flow onto the page. Some books I have to wrestle with every word. Some I write linearly (actually I think it’s been two out of the seventeen), one I wrote literally backwards scene by scene.


The point is: know what works for you and for this story. No one can tell you the right way to write, but you do need to be open to trying new approaches.


The only secret I have is as simple as ABC: Apply Butt to Chair.


My first draft is where I have fun. It’s for me, me, me–I’m very selfish with it, willing to indulge any flight of fancy, write the most purplest of prose, go over the top and run wild.
The first draft is where anything is possible, so try to explore it all, without limitations.


For me, the real work comes with the second draft. This is where I take my story and turn it into entertainment.


Why is that work? Because it means it’s no longer about me. It’s ALL about my audience.


This second draft, I call it my re-visioning draft, is where I slice and dice, reining in places where I pushed too far, kicking it up a notch when I played it too safe, anything that will give my readers a better story.


If the first draft is about you discovering the story, then this second draft is about connecting your audience to your story.


This draft is where beta readers and critique partners and a developmental editor are helpful. Anyone who can give me an objective opinion as a reader about what works and what doesn’t.


Here is where you will kill your darlings–those scenes or passages that are beautifully crafted but don’t serve the story. No worries, save them in a special folder as you will probably find another story in the future where they can find a home.


Concentrate on the three R’s: Revise, Rework, and Rewrite.


The third draft is the polish draft. Once you have the story where you want it, it’s time to hand the manuscript off to copyeditors.


Don’t skimp here. Hire professionals. I use editors who work for NYC publishers and also freelance. Each of my books goes through two copyeditors and two proofreaders (and often one professional developmental editor) and I still get notes from readers on things we’ve all missed.


Your readers are paying for the privilege of reading your story. You owe it to them to give them the most professional product possible.


There you have it. Step #1 of How to Sell a Million Books: Write a Damn Good Book.


Stay tuned for Step #2, coming in a few days. In the meantime, happy writing!

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  1. An excellent article which could not have been more timely. I recently began the 1st edit of my 2nd novel and had reached the stage where I realised the whole story needed to be executed in a different way. I could not continue with it in its present format, so reading this has given me all the encouragement I needed to try a different tack. Thank you!

    • Helen, I’m so glad this resonated with you! Sometimes I feel like we’re in such a rush to get a book done (especially when you’re juggling deadlines) that we forget to step back and re-envision it, see if there’s a different, better way to tell the story. Good for you for taking the time!
      Happy writing,

  2. Great article. I’ve never thought of the various drafts in that way before. I think it will help me to focus on the purpose of each one.

  3. I am currently revising my fourth book. I never enjoyed it but now I do because there is a definite purpose other than fixing it. You are right. Writing is committing to a concept, a place and a chair!

  4. Where can I find the best online creative writing courses? I live in NYC so which colleges offer the best online creative writing course? If not in a college than where else?.

    • Zara, “creative writing course” is a very broad topic–and almost every college offers them, so you need to do a lot of research to decide which is “best” for you and your type of writing. It depends on what you want/need: a basic intro course? are you looking to get a MFA? a class that’s genre specific (mystery, romance, etc)? Something in between?

      I’ve found some of the best online writing courses aren’t through colleges at all, but through organizations and other writers. RWA (Romance Writers of America) often sponsors online classes that you don’t need to be a member to take, also many authors teach online as well…I’d start with your local writers’ groups and talk with them, then check out your genre–but don’t limit yourself to just your genre. Some of the best classes I’ve taken have been from writers in other genres and even writers in other fields, like screenwriters.

      Thanks to the Internet, the resources are endless, it’s just a question of finding the right one for your needs right now. Two groups I’ve taught for are Margie Lawson’s Writing Academy and Mary Buckham’s Writers University, if that helps.

      Taking classes can be addictive–but also a lot of fun and a great way to meet other writers!

  5. Great advice, CJ, and so very true. It all goes back to the book(s). Congrats on no. 17!


  1. […] (Note from CJ: This is an ongoing series examining my personal process. You can find Step #1 HERE) […]

  2. […] CJ: this is an ongoing series on my process in launching and selling books. You can find StepĀ  #1 HERE and Step #2 […]

  3. […] (Note from CJ: this is an ongoing series on my own launch and sales process. You can find the first post HERE) […]