Run for the Letters: Author Tips to Make the NYT & USAT Bestseller Lists

Posted by Arthur Gutch
Published On May 10, 2017

Imagine being able to add NYT Bestseller or USAToday Bestselling Author to your website banner. Having that elusive title of "bestseller" is on the bucket list for a number of authors. For many, it's a huge dream that they have no idea how to attain, but hundreds set out to attain that goal each year using a systematic campaign. It can take months of work and a serious cash investment, but the payoff in sales and prestige can affect your career for years. NY_Times_USA_Bestsellers_Self_publishing.jpg

What Qualifies as a Bestseller?

Each publication has its own set of criteria, with the New York Times being stricter than USAToday. Neither publication will consider your book if you only publish on Amazon; you have to publish wide for them to even consider you. The NYT recently redid their rules, making it impossible for ebook-only authors to make the lists. You have to have at least paperback versions available to think of getting on their top chart. Neither paper will publish exact numbers, but anecdotal evidence suggests that you need to hit the minimum to succeed:

  • At least 500 Nook sales
  • Around 500 on iBooks
  • Around 500 on Kobo
  • At least 4K-5K on Amazon
  • Total sales of at least 6K copies

These are bare minimum numbers, and can change as the seasons do, as well as when large groups of traditional bestselling authors publish their works.

The Basic Foundation

1. Making a bestseller list is like a political campaign: you make a long-term plan, then work the plan daily and weekly until you hit your goal. You won't make any list the first few weeks your book comes out. This is a goal for months after your book's debut, and you have to create your plan months before you plan to publish. Build your foundation first, then add the details that will put your book on the lists.

2. Start with your book itself, if course. It's got to be on-point in your genre. Make sure it hits all the tropes while telling a fantastic, hook-filled story that readers can't put down. That's the very beginning. Get professional editing to craft your book into its best final shape. Find a cover artist that does incredible work in your genre, and make sure the finished product fits exactly with the rest of the bestsellers like your book. Create a blurb that pulls in readers without giving away any surprises. After this is all finished, set the book aside while you plan the rest of your campaign.

3. Timing is everything. It's easiest to hit the bestseller lists in the summer when the big dogs of publishing are taking a break. Check the preorder list at Amazon to see what's coming up, and avoid weeks where your direct competition will be making a debut. If you write romance, avoid any week that Nora Roberts drops a book; likewise, skip Stephen King's debut weeks if you write horror. Look for weeks with nothing special going on. This is your target space in the calendar. Choose a date at least three months away.

4. Other authors are key in getting to the top. Join author groups on social media aimed toward others writing in your niche. Look for writing groups, not those dedicated to selling books. Contribute intelligently and without looking for payback for at least a month. Make yourself well-known by posting something useful every single day.

5. Work on your mailing list at the same time. If you already have a list, all the better. It's rare for a first-time author to hit the bestseller lists, partly because a ready audience is a stepping stone to solid sales. Write a short story or novella in your book's world and post it on InstaFreebie, requiring email addresses in return. This can give you a few thousand new addresses in just a few weeks.

Your Sales Campaign 

1. Create an ARC team from your newsletter subscribers. Pick at least 50 people who will promise to give you an honest review in return for a free copy of your book. Send them the book two weeks before your chosen publication date. Once your book is published, email your ARC list to ask them to post their reviews. Send another email five days later to remind those who haven't gotten around to posting yet. This should give you a good number of reviews in your first week, which will spur sales.

2. Everyone agrees that the big dog in book marketing right now is BookBub. As soon as you hit two dozen reviews or more, apply for a BookBub ad in your genre, offering your book for $.99. With the bestseller lists, it's the number of books you sell, not the amount of money made, that count. If you've done everything you'd normally do to spur sales, these numbers combined with a large number of reviews should sway the review committee at BookBub. It's tough to get in, but when you finally do, that's the time to spring into action to make the bestseller list.

3. Once you have your BookBub date, tie every other effort you make to this week. Speak with every author in your social media groups and offer to trade promotions in your newsletters. Sign up for book review tours during the week of your BookBub ad. Order Facebook and Amazon ads for the days directly after your BookBub ad. 

4. Do as much ad stacking as you possibly can. Search for lists of smaller promotion sites that advertise discount books, and spend an hour a day filling out forms on these sites. It may seem like a lot of work for little return, but for every tiny site that gives you 25 sales, you're that much closer to your magic number. Plus, there's a mysterious thing that happens in book sales: once a reader sees a book on seven or eight different spots, it's generally stuck in his head as something important and worth investigating. Seven tiny free spots can equal any number of sales. Stack those tiny ads, a hundred or more, and spread them out over the week. Add in some of the more well-known ad sites to sweeten the pot, then cross your fingers. 

Authors are never overnight sensations, no matter how much they might seem to be. Is it worth months of work to get that Bestseller title connected to your name? The return in money and prestige can come in for years, building on future books to give your career a giant step up.

Keep the Faith and May the Force be with You!

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