How an Author Gets on the “New York Times Bestseller” List

When I learned my book made the New York Times Bestseller list, I just about cried, and to this day it’s been my biggest accomplishment. But since then, one of the most common questions I get is what does it take to make the bestseller list?

I’ve talked to my publisher about this, observed factors surrounding my book and what might have influenced making the list, and engaged in various discussions on author forums and such to formulate this answer below.

Ultimately, it’s a combination of sales and personal opinion from the people at New York Times, and there is no hard-and-fast formula that can be repeated to land one on the list. There are a few things that can influence your chances though:

  • Firstly, when you or your publisher submits your book for review by the New York Times, you can select a “category” for your book. If not, you are going for the main New York Times list which is exceptionally hard to land on. But if you select a niche category list, you increase your chances. My book made the 9th spot of the “Animal” list.
  • Focus on pre-orders of your book. It will often be your first week after book launch that will determine if you make the list or not. The more sales you have in the first week, the better chance you have (of at least being more noticed by the New York Times reviewers, let’s say). The reason is that all pre-orders count towards your first week sales. For me, we had been working on pre-order sales for months, so that really boosted our first week sales numbers.
  • Obviously, whatever your book is it also has to be good, and this will come down to the personal opinion of the reviewers. Hopefully they’ll like it enough to add it to the list. So this is the wildcard factor, and I’m not really in the position to recommend what makes a great book or not.

So if I Make the New York Times Bestseller List, Does That Mean I’ll Be Rich?

This is another question I often get, people say “wow you must have sold like a million copies then?

Not even close lol.

Making the list in no way guarantees more sales. It might make some more retailers more inclined to re-order your book (since any retailer who would pick it up would have already decided this long before it was labeled a bestseller), but that’s about it.

So keep that in mind. Different types of books also have different standards of what is a good number of sales. Since I fall in the hardcover photo book category (even though there’s hundreds of pages of writing), selling 100,000 copies would be named a huge success. As a novel, you need millions to be labeled a huge success.

Our book did pretty well.

Just making the list has been an achievement enough for me. And our book has done well enough that we now have a second one planned for 2018.

I wish all the aspiring authors out there the best of luck. Hope this provides a bit of insight.

Cheers,

Ryan