Have you noticed how many authors say their book is on a book best seller list? More and more authors seem to be saying they’re a USA Today and Amazon best-selling author. But does a book being on the Amazon & USA Today best seller lists mean it’s a good book? The answer might surprise you. Which is why the information in this article and the accompanying video is important for both readers and authors.
Bt watching the video and/or reading this article, authors may find that getting those covetted titles isn’t out of their reach, and readers will find out what those labels actually mean. Hint: they might not mean what you think they do. And at the end, I reveal my best-selling secret!
Does Being on a Book Best Seller List Mean the Book is Good?
Why the best-seller label is so coveted
It’s called social proof, and it’s very powerful. Without thinking about it, people assume that if something has sold well, then it must be good. Labelling an author a best-selling author or saying that the book has made it onto a book best seller list is a sure way to get more sales, not just on the one book that made it, but on all their books.
That’s why businesses tell you which of their products are bestsellers. They know that that label will mean they sell more of that product. All businesses have products or services that sell better than others, so they all have a best seller, and they’ll tell you what it is, so they can sell more of it. But the label ‘best seller’ may not mean what we think it means.
When we see the label ‘USA Today and Amazon Best Seller’ or ‘USA Today and Amazon Best Selling Author’ we assume that the author writes good books because all those people who bought the book can’t be wrong about its value, right? Wrong.
What is the USA Today Best Seller List?
USA Today lists the 150 top sellers for the week from Monday to Sunday, from a mix of bookstores in the USA. Only sales in the United States count and it doesn’t count free books. The number of sales you need varies, because there are busy and slow periods in publishing, but the general advice is 5,000-9,000. Pre-sales count as well. The general rule is that you need at least 500 sales at Barnes & Noble and iBooks in order to make a list. There is debate about whether that 500 is combined or separate or if it is even accurate; some people say the real number is closer to 150 or 200.
That’s not a lot of books in one week compared to books that sell those kinds of numbers week after week. The next week, many books won’t be on the list because their promotions only last for one week. Remember that this is not a list of the best books or most well-written books as evaluated by editorial staff, it’s based on sales. Plenty of people may have bought an ebook at 99c, but that doesn’t mean that the book is any good or that it matches the great cover and slick description. Nor does it mean the majority of those readers enjoyed it.
What makes a book an Amazon best seller?
The Amazon best selling rank measures sales every hour, and so it can change every hour. It measures what’s selling best at that time and also takes historical sales into account to some mysterious degree.
‘Amazon Best Seller’ status has come to be synonymous with being an actual best seller, but this is not true because a book could be a best seller in a small category with few competitors for an hour and the author could still claim that status.
If a book is the best seller in a category that has hundreds of thousands of books in it, like ‘Romance,’ ‘Fantasy’ or ‘Thrillers and Suspense’, that’s harder to achieve than best seller in a category with few books, but either way, the author can claim best seller status for that book.
Given how books get that ranking through cut-price promotions, it may not actually mean a great deal. So readers should always rely on their own evaluation when choosing books and not make assumptions based on ‘best-seller’ labels.
See here for how easy getting best-selling status on Amazon can be: https://qz.com/902504/how-to-become-a-best-selling-author-on-amazon-in-five-minutes-with-three-dollars/
How authors get their books on a book best seller list
In a nutshell, they cut the price of their book and pay to have it promoted. They may even pay more for the promotion than what they get back in sales during the promotion, but an author with a lot of books might consider that worth it for the long-term profitability of being able to claim that label.
1. With an individual book.
In order to hit either the Amazon or USA Today book best seller list with an individual book, authors cut the price of their ebook (usually to 99c of which they get 30c) run paid ads and team up with promotional partners. A sizable email list and social media followers who they can convince to buy the book during the promotion week also helps a lot. Authors run adverts in various places over the Mon to Friday time frame for USA Today and focus their most effective paid promotions on a single day in order to hit number one on the Amazon sales rank.
A long pre-order period for a new release so sales accumulate in the months before the launch date helps for the USA Today list, but not for Amazon as they don’t count pre-orders.
A leading promotional partner for many authors attempting to get their book onto a book best seller list is BookBub, which has millions of readers on its email lists. But it’s very selective, and they reject most books submitted, especially new books without reviews. So it doesn’t work for books on preorder. If an author does get a BookBub advert (which are quite expensive but usually pay off) then the smart ones also take out adverts elsewhere over the week following the Bookbub advert to maximise their chances of gaining a book best seller list on both USA Today and Amazon
Paid advertising in places like Facebook can be quite expensive, however, so it’s cheaper to hit best-seller ranks with a co-written book.
2. With co-written book or anthology
If many authors promote the same book, they’ll get a lot more sales than one author promoting one book, and the authors share the cost of advertising. Authors with their books in anthologies will find new readers if it sells well, so that’s another good reason to team up with others. And if the book hits the USA Today Best Seller List or becomes and Amazon best seller (even for an hour), then all those authors can claim that title, even if their part of the anthology was the worst written and weakest story.
For Amazon, the book just needs to fit in a category for which it’s easy to hit top ranking, and taking out Amazon adverts will be a part of the strategy, especially if you’re aiming for overall Amazon best-selling status.
Here’s the strategy for hitting the USA Today Best Seller List:
- Come up with a new book idea that you will have a long preorder period for.
- Aim to find 30 or so co-authors, each with a subscriber list of at least 10,000 (that’s more than a quarter of a million subscribers in total).
- Have them commit to mailing about your anthology multiple times throughout the preorder period.
- Launch on a Tuesday because the preorder sales will kick in on Monday.
- Take out adverts in a variety of places over the launch week.
My best-seller secret
My book Lethal Inheritance was number one on Amazon in the (relatively small) Metaphysical and Visionary Fiction category for roughly a day. I could call it an Amazon best seller, or call myself an Amazon best-selling author, but I don’t. Why? Because it might mislead readers. The truth is that the book only ranks like that if I promote it solidly for a month. It doesn’t sell that well all the time. It hit number one several years ago now, and I no longer promote it, so is that label even relevant anymore?
Had the book been number one in Fantasy (a large category) and stayed there for at least a week, that would be different. I would most certainly crow about that.
Did any book you bought labelled a best seller not live up to your expectations?
Hi. I love your videos. I tried to replay, at one point you mentioned a book poorly written because they did “that thing” and I don’t know what you were talking about. Can you reply and tell me what it was?
Tahlia Newland says
Hi Sandee. Thanks for the feedback. And that’s a good question, the info you want is here: https://www.tahlianewland.com/3-writing-mistakes-to-avoid-for-better-writing/