The Million-Dollar Check List

While writing one of my books, I googled, “how to sell a million copies.” The only person that had any meaningful, been-there-done-that advice was Charlie Hoehn, who worked with several multi-million-copy bestseller authors.

I liked Charlie’s post. He made it clear that selling a million copies was neither a good nor a feasible goal, but he also offered a list of interesting questions to ask yourself to maximize your book’s potential.

When I recently came back to the piece, however, Charlie’s website had transformed. It looked more professional. Business-y. The personal blog flair had gone, and the article, too, had changed. While still adding his original disclaimer down further in the piece, Charlie now claimed that “Selling a million copies is not luck. It’s a science.” He also suggested the authors were 100% responsible for their success.

It was still a good piece with even more resources than before, but it felt like the role of luck was somewhat diminished compared to how much Charlie had emphasized it previously. Most notably, instead of 7 stress tests with around ten questions each to ask yourself about your book, there were now 12 tests with more than a hundred prompts.

Once again, they were all good questions, but as I was browsing them, I wondered: “How many of the bestselling authors Charlie has worked with went through this list before they wrote their books? How many of them made sure they complied with every single one of them?” I think the answer is zero. For one, the list seems to be constantly evolving. And for another, if any writer tried to satisfy all these questions, they’d never get their book done.

There’s no such thing as a million-dollar check list, and even if there was, it wouldn’t help you do the actual work required to make a million bucks. If you’re an author, write books, publish them, and try to make each next one a little better than the last. If you’re a restaurant owner, make good food, and treat your guests with kindness. And if you’re an athlete, train hard, and do your best on competition day.

The only million-dollar check list that works is the one someone else sells you: It will satisfy your FOMO, but it will make them rich, not you.

Take all the useful advice you can get, reflect on your endeavors regularly, and try to incorporate good feedback when you receive it — but in the end, success of any kind only requires one item on your to-do list: hard, honest work — and that’s a box you can check every day, even if you don’t google any business advice at all.