How Does a Book Get on the Bestseller List?

How to Get Your Book on the Bestseller List

Once upon a time there was a procedure and specific order to everything in the publishing industry. An author would obtain an agent who would shop a book around until an editor picked it up. The book would be launched with a marketing team who would arrange for a publicity tour etc. And then they’d all wait with bated breath to see if the book would sell the magical number to get on the almighty New York Times Best Seller list. But that process has massively changed in recent years. Between self-publishing and cutbacks at traditional publishing houses an author is pretty much on their own for marketing. So in this day and age- how does a book get on the bestseller list?

Note this topic is important for both authors and readers because I want readers to also know that the best seller stamp on the cover of the book you’re shopping, might not mean what you think it means. 

In the past, that New York Times best seller stamp truly meant a book was loved by the masses. It was pretty much the only list out there and was a true testament to sales in national bookstores, which were brick and mortar and the only way to get books at the time.

Today, there are obviously many more ways to purchase books, which also makes it more difficult to get an accurate count of books sold. There are also many more “best seller” lists out there. To make the NY Times Best Seller list today, a book must sell about 1,000 to 10,000 copies in a week. Big range there huh?

How Does a Book Get on the Bestseller List?

To make the USA Today Best Seller list- a book must sell about 5,000-6,000 copies in one week. Then there are the Amazon Best Seller lists which are honestly the biggest jokes of all. For one thing, they are updated every hour. So an author can take that picture and brand themselves an Amazon Best Seller after one hour of good sales. And there are a million Amazon best seller lists based on hundreds of random categorical lists. An author can winnow down an Amazon category list to the most obscure where they’re competing against only five to ten books for that bestseller status.

The other important thing to note is that all of these lists are based on a limited period of sales. Again, in the old days there was very little people could do to manipulate the sales period. We didn’t have the same newsletter lists, social media followings and book promotional tools that are available today. 

But now, all you need to do is search in Google and you’ll find tons of videos and blog posts about how to get your book on a best seller list in five easy steps etc. There is collaboration and planning that goes into throwing everything you can at getting sales for that one specific week to get your book on the lists.

That one week scope has obviously been taken advantage of over the years. But it has actually been a complaint and shortcoming stemming back to the 1930s when the best seller lists launched. The list has always favored mass sales in a short period of time rather than slower, but steadier sales over longer periods. This means there have always been books that have had long-term larger sales that have never made the list 

So are the best seller lists an accurate portrayal of a book’s quality? To me, I have to say no. Because of the above mentioned marketing angles, I do not see how these lists can really be the best judgment of quality. 

Now I do see the potential value of aiming to get on a list. There is obviously a tempting marketing angle to that title. But it just feels gimmicky. Like a smoke and mirrors stunt for a one week span. But I’m just one person, what do you think?

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