This blog post has been a long time coming. Unfortunately or otherwise, some readers and authors put a lot of stock in books being labeled as “bestsellers.” Please don’t get me wrong; I think there’s still value in it too. However, it’s a topic that has become more and more confusing over the years, and in some respects a little watered down in what it truly means given all the ways one can go about accomplishing this (not to mention how many are doing it now).

The purpose of our blog is always about educating to the best of our ability, and encouraging our clients and colleagues to do what they do with meaning and understanding. If you want to help the promotion of your book along and get it in front of more people in a short amount of time, initiating a Bestseller Campaign around the time of your book launch with this focus makes perfect sense. In a way, it’s a form of advertising. Authors: just don’t equate the bestseller label or a single campaign to the quality of your work and the difference it can make to your intended audience and beyond.

I have invited my colleague, Leigh Fowler of Rise Media + Design, to share some of her insights, considerations, and strategies behind Bestseller list attempts. We both agree that writing a book, even a great book, is one thing. Achieving Bestseller status is a strategy onto itself, which doesn’t happen by accident.

The Differences Between Lists and Campaigns 

Before I turn it over to Leigh, here’s a very brief explanation of lists and campaigns in lay person’s terms:

Lists: The National (Canadian) Bestseller List, New York Times List, and the like have typically reflected physical units/books sales during the book’s lifetime; to me, acknowledging the potential quality, longevity, and true success of the book, and the committed efforts of the author (and their team).

Campaigns: Amazon Bestseller campaigns are designed to increase audience awareness. They recognize the electronic sales activity and potential success of a book during a very specific time period, from as little as a day, to a week, or month. Some of the success in running campaigns depends on the current competition in the genre categories of a particular book. Another key factor in achieving an author’s goals here has to do with the strength of their online presence, including their social media following.

Now, I’ll hand it over to Leigh.

Writing a Bestseller Isn’t What it Used to Be

As an industry insider, even making it to the New York Times Bestseller list may not be as romantic a notion as we used to think.

Hitting the Bestseller List is all about timing, strategy, planning, and execution. Certain things have to happen, in the right order, at the right time, in order to make your book a bestseller. Can it be manipulated? It seems to be so.

Every Bestseller List has a variety of factors that contribute to the bestseller status. The basic equation looks at the number of books sold in a certain time period. Some lists look at wholesale versus retail sales or bookstore sales versus online sales.

To be a Canadian Bestseller seems to be the least complicated one of them all—sell 5,000 copies. This could be over weeks, months or even years!

What Exactly Does It Take to Be a Bestseller?

The exact details of what it takes to make a Bestseller List always seem to be hard to access, and it’s forever changing. Nailing down the exact formula is an ongoing challenge for writers and publishers alike.

With that said, below are some of the elements that contribute to a successful Bestseller Campaign and some of the differences between those initiatives.

Keep in mind that these factors evolve, shift, and change depending on the owner of the list, their data collection process and terms. There are also a variety of lists within a particular Bestseller List that will encompass specific categories or sales distribution channels inclusions and exclusions. Popular exclusions include reporting certain sales data from audio books or books sold via 99 cents or FREE promos. All-time best-selling books like the Bible are often excluded from reporting.

1. National Amazon Bestseller Campaign

Amazon National Bestseller Campaigns look at the number of downloads and/or sales in a given time period compared against the sales of other books during that same time period. Each book is given an Amazon Bestsellers Rank which is calculated based on the entire history of the book, but can also changes hourly depending on a variety of factors. Rankings can be connected to FREE and PAID lists. Because of the 14,000 categories on Amazon, it is a strategy to simply select the categories for launch (a book can only be submitted in two categories at a time). There are other factors that will contribute to visibility and more sales like keywords, reviews, pricing, and the actual descriptions.

2. International Amazon Bestseller Campaign

Similar to a National Amazon Bestseller Campaign, an Amazon book can become an International Amazon Bestseller if it hits the rankings in more than three separate countries and meets the other qualifications of the rankings at the time of launch or point of sale.

3. New York Times Bestseller List

The sales numbers and criteria for a New York Times Bestseller List is reported between Friday nights at 5pm and cut-off at 11:59am EST on Tuesday mornings. Compiled and announced on a weekly and monthly basis, certain categories are not actively tracked, including but not limited to workbooks, textbooks, shopping guides, perennial sellers, and comics.

Whether a book is mass-market produced or trade (or paperback) will also affect the list it appears on. Advance orders and pre-sales are not included in the data collected. These sales are reported to, and tracked by, the Best Seller List Desk of the News Department of the New York Times.

4. Other Popular Lists

The Globe and Mail Bestseller List compiles information from BookNet Canada’s BNC SalesData which is a national sales tracking service. USA Today‘s Best-Selling Books List reportedly tracks the top 150 top-selling titles on a weekly basis from a variety of sources both online and in actual stores. The Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists gather their data from Neilsen Book Scan that compiles sales results from over 16,000 locations.

For additional reference, go here, here and/or here.

Leigh Fowler FB pic for blog post 8.6.15Leigh Fowler strategically helps authors break their books into the Top 100 on Amazon to get onto the Amazon Bestseller’s list, often hitting the #1 spot in multiple categories while assisting them in setting their books up for future success. With over fifteen years in the marketing and publishing industries, Leigh is a content marketing strategist who also assists her clients in achieving more visibility online so they can ultimately attract and further grow their business. (

As is often the case, I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface, although I trust it’s plenty to digest for now, and stirred your thinking to do your own research and follow what makes sense for you, your book, and your goals.

If you’d like to catch up more with us, and/or enjoy some great summer reading, be sure to check out the latest issue of our newsletter, I C News. I think it’s one of our best yet.

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Last but not least, feel free to contact us, ask us questions, or offer a meaningful contribution to our post via our Let’s Talk box, comment section below, or email.

Have a great rest of the summer!

Warmest regards and appreciation for your time,

Sheri and the I C Publishing Team

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