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5 Things You Need To Know To Write A Bestselling Book, with Michael S. Sorensen and Chaya Weiner

The biggest challenge I faced was that of not being an “expert” in my field. Despite feeling strongly inspired — compelled, even — to write the book, I delayed for months because I was convinced nobody would listen to what I had to say. As part of my series on the “5 Things You Need To Know To Write A […]


The biggest challenge I faced was that of not being an “expert” in my field. Despite feeling strongly inspired — compelled, even — to write the book, I delayed for months because I was convinced nobody would listen to what I had to say.

As part of my series on the “5 Things You Need To Know To Write A Bestselling Book” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael S. Sorensen, a marketer by day and an award-winning, bestselling author by night. His passion for helping others, fueled by his entrepreneurial spirit, led him to publish the #1 best-selling book I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships. The book teaches the technique of validation — a simple yet powerful communication skill for transforming personal and professional relationships. Sorensen now shares the power of validation through speaking engagements, podcasts, and online instruction.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

It’s actually a funny story, because I didn’t set out to become a bestselling author. In fact, writing and publishing a book was never on my bucket list.

Several years ago, I started seeing a therapist to get help working through a number of things in my life. Through the course of meeting with her, I stumbled across an incredibly powerful relationship and communication skill that changed my life. I sought to share that skill with others, but struggled to find books and articles that taught it in the manner I felt was most effective.

Despite being a “nobody” as far as credentials or public acclaim were concerned, I decided to write a book on the topic to share my experience with the world.

That book, self-published a little more than a year ago, has since won multiple awards, is consistently the #1 best seller on Amazon across multiple categories, and is being translated into six additional languages. I’ve been invited to speak about the topic at businesses across the nation, I’ve been a guest on numerous podcasts and radio shows, and I could now comfortably retire off book royalties alone. It’s been incredible — and incredibly unexpected.

What was (so far) the most exhilarating or fulfilling experience you’ve had as an author? Can you share a story?

Without question, it has been reading the positive reader reviews and many heartfelt emails I receive. I did not expect to make much money from the book (I always heard that authors make mere pennies per sale via traditional publishing), so my motivation to publish was a sincere hope that it would help others.

The most memorable compliment I received was from a military veteran who had struggled with connection for most of his life. “Having spent the majority of my life in the hyper-masculine world of the military,” he said, “I have been taught to suppress feeling and emotions to the point where I can literally turn them off like you would a light switch. I identify as emotionally retarded.”

The man went on to explain how he found my book because he was “losing the fight” with his personal relationships. He decided to give it a read and practice the techniques therein. By the time he had finished the book, he had already seen improvement and received a heartfelt note from his significant other.

He concluded by saying, “I am older and set in my ways. But it has already helped this old dog learn a new trick that could save me from being an old, grumpy and lonely man down the road.”

I can think of no sweeter, more fulfilling experience than that.

What was the craziest, weirdest, wildest experience you’ve had as a bestselling author? Can you share a story?

I can’t say that I’ve had any terribly wild or weird experiences, but I will say that it has been quite thrilling to go from being a “nobody” as far as the publishing world is concerned, to suddenly being contacted by individuals and companies from around the globe. The fact that I might receive a speaking request from a global corporation one day, then discover a thank-you email from a reader in a tiny village in Russia the next, still just blows my mind.

What is the greatest part about being a successful, bestselling author? What is the worst (if anything) part? Can you share a story or example?

Aside from hearing from readers and recognizing that your work is making a positive impact in the lives of others, I would say the next-best part of being a successful author is the [somewhat] passive income.

As I mentioned earlier, I did not expect to make much money from writing. A little more than a year after publishing my book, I now make a comfortable six-figure income off book royalties alone. I invested significant time and effort into the launch of the book, and I continue to invest time and money in ad spend and marketing, but the income is largely passive. I can literally spend a week on vacation doing *nothing* related to my book and make thousands of dollars. It’s mind-blowing. And therein lies a critical bit of advice for aspiring authors: you do not need (and may not want) to use a traditional publishing house. The fact that I self-published means I receive a significantly larger portion of each sale than I would have, had I gone with a traditional publisher.

The worst — or more accurately, the most challenging — part of being a best-selling author is that it regularly pushes me outside my comfort zone. I don’t necessarily enjoy traveling and speaking, yet more and more requests to do so are coming in. I don’t necessarily enjoy talking about or marketing myself, yet I understand that people want to know more about the author, so I feel the need to make myself a little more publicly available. This isn’t a *bad* thing, per se, but the whole process has definitely opened up a world of opportunities that I’d never before considered.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

No question: consistency. When I first decided to write this book, I committed to spend at least 15 minutes writing every morning — before doing anything else. Now that may not sound like a lot of time, but what it did was keep me moving. Some days (particularly on weekends), that 15 minutes would turn into 15 hours. Other days, I’d close the laptop the moment the 15-minute timer went off and move on with my day. What was important was that I was working on it every single day. With that simple commitment, I had my first draft completed in six months, despite working a full-time job, maintaining a healthy social life, offering weekly community service, etc.

The other item that I believe contributed by my success (sorry — more than one — I’m cheating) is that I had a strong belief that I was “meant” to write this book. I had a feeling — greater than myself — that told me people needed what I had to share. I remember many evenings, coming home after a long day at work and wanting nothing more than to plop down on the couch and watch Netflix all night. I’d turn on the TV and…the next thing I knew, I would have logged several hours working on the book instead. The fact that I was guided and driven by something bigger than myself was instrumental in pushing me through the doubt, discouragement, burnout, and frustration that is part of any author’s journey.

Which writer or leader has had the biggest impact on you as a writer? Why?

I can’t point to one individual writer who has had the biggest impact. Instead, I’ve been shaped and molded by dozens. I took inspiration — both in what to do and in what not to do — from authors in the same personal-development space that helped shape my direct, conversational, relatable voice.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

The biggest challenge I faced was that of not being an “expert” in my field. Despite feeling strongly inspired — compelled, even — to write the book, I delayed for months because I was convinced nobody would listen to what I had to say.

Eventually, the feeling became so strong that I couldn’t shake it, and I began to write. To overcome the fear of being seen as an impostor, I decided to be direct and upfront with my readers. I didn’t claim to be an expert. Instead, I made it clear that I was simply an ordinary guy who stumbled across some extraordinary principles and wanted to share them with the world. I took care to remain true to my intention throughout the book and it paid off. Readers appreciated the straightforward, conversational delivery and found great value in the content. It’s tough to go wrong with authenticity.

What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career? What lesson(s) did you learn?

All through the process of writing, editing, recording, and publishing, I made the mistake of thinking I’d be finished once the book launched. I told myself that I just wanted to catapult the book to the top of the best-seller list for one hour on launch day, and I’d be satisfied — and done.

My father called me up, weeks after the launch, and said, “I actually think you have something here. You need to keep fueling this fire, Michael. You have to push and push and push until this reaches a tipping point. You can’t let up now!”

I was not happy to hear that — the very process of writing and publishing the book was difficult enough! Yet, deep down, I knew he was right. I took his advice and fired up the marketing engines once more, and that has made all of the difference. That lesson is one all aspiring authors need to understand: publication isn’t the end of the process; it’s simply the end of a chapter. You must market aggressively and push your book from every angle, or you risk letting all of your hard work collect dust on a shelf.

What are the 5 things a writer needs to know if he/she wants to become a bestselling author? (please include a story or example for each)

  1. Your writing must add value to people’s lives.

A book is a product. And like any product, it needs to bring something of value to other people’s lives or it will not be purchased, read, talked about, or shared. The more value it brings, the greater chance it will have of being successful. While I credit some of my success to my writing style and marketing efforts, I believe the majority of it stems from the simple reality that the content solves a problem many people in our world face: that of feeling disconnected in or unhappy with their relationships.

  1. You can’t let the fear of rejection stop you.

I know many writers who are sitting on 10+ years of writing and several complete novels who are so afraid of failure or rejection that they refuse to publish. I relate with the fear well, but it’s simple logic that you can’t even hope to become a bestselling author if you never take the leap and publish. Your writing needs to be valuable, polished, and well-organized, but it does not need to be perfect. I have a long list of changes I’d make to my book, and an even longer list of things I’ve learned since publishing that I wish I had known and/or included — but the book continues to sell. And, more importantly, it continues to change lives. Your work does not need to be perfect to bring enjoyment, support, or knowledge to others.

  1. You don’t need (and might not want) a traditional publisher.

We live in an incredible time where the “old” ways of doing things are challenged on every front. Publishing is no exception. I decided early on to self-publish (which included creating a publishing company; hiring a freelance editor; producing, recording, and publishing my own audiobook; creating the e-book files; and more) and learned how to do it all with Google. The beautiful benefits of self-publishing are that I didn’t need to pitch a single publishing house, I retain all rights to and complete control of my work, and I make *far* more profit on each sale than I ever could have imagined had I gone the “traditional” route.

Now, as in anything, there are tradeoffs. I still recommend the traditional publishing route if an author’s primary goal is getting wide and rapid exposure and/or they aren’t willing to put in the time to market their own books. Traditional publishers have vast networks and deep pockets and — if they see potential in your work — can catapult you into stardom. The major trade-off, though, is royalties. You will take home a tiny fraction of book sales compared to what you can earn if you successfully publish yourself.

  1. You *must* invest in marketing.

This is non-negotiable. Many authors think that, once they throw their book onto Amazon, people will magically discover and purchase it. Not so. Learn how to use Amazon, Facebook, and Google ad platforms (though the latter two get expensive quickly if you’re not careful in how you use them). Give your book away like candy. Hire a PR specialist (or even a sharp college student) to pitch you to podcasts and radio shows. Develop your social channels with valuable, consistent content. It’s a long, ever-evolving road, but critical to achieving true best-seller status.

  1. You need a website.

This should include — at a minimum — a blog, an “about me” section, and a way for readers/visitors to contact you. You’ll want to post new content on a regular basis to increase your SEO and bring new traffic to the site. Initially, I figured it was a good idea to have an author website, but didn’t put much time or effort into designing it. I figured it wouldn’t see much traffic. As contact-form submissions began rolling in, however, I was quite embarrassed that all of these people had found me and contacted me via my lackluster site. You don’t have to hire a pricey web design firm, but do spend some time browsing through WordPress, Squarespace, or Wix templates and learning DIY site design. Use quality photography and put some effort into making your site respectable.

What are you most excited to work on next? Most excited to read next?

In keeping with my personal theme of helping others become more fulfilled and connected, my next project is a system designed to help people envision, plan for, and create their dream lives. Keep your eyes peeled (and/or check my website: http://michaelssorensen.com) for a launch early this summer. I’m pretty excited about it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it would be to bring greater awareness of and discussion around emotional validation (the topic of my book). We humans are social creatures, and often want nothing more than to feel heard, understood, and appreciated. Most people are starved for this, yet aren’t even aware that they’re looking for it. I sincerely believe that if we all understood how and when to effectively validate others, the world would be a significantly happier place.

Anything else you’d like to add? We would love to hear whatever you feel inspired to include.

Nothing else here — thank you for the opportunity!

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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