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How to Get Your Book on the New York Times Bestseller List

book New York Times bestseller

For many authors, a primary career goal is to make it onto the New York Times bestseller list. There are a number of different such lists out there, but the NYT’s is easily the most prestigious and well-known, and it’s a goal many authors aspire to with good reason. 

At Izzard Ink, our self-publishing services have assisted authors in numerous ways, from helping them get their work on the page through services like book printing to many cases where their work has gone on to receive significant recognition, including presence on various bestseller lists. What is the New York Times bestseller list, why is it such a universal goal for so many writers, and can you achieve it as a self-published author? Here’s everything you need to know.

How One Gets on the New York Times Bestseller List

There are a few general requirements that you must meet to have a chance at getting on the NYT bestseller list, and the first involves the number of copies you sell in a week. The absolute minimum number here is 5,000 copies in a week, though there are many cases where your number will need to be closer to 10,000.

In addition, your book sales cannot all come from one single entity — they must be distributed more or less evenly across different retailers. This helps to ensure that your book is being read and purchased by a wide range of people, as opposed to just one specific group or demographic.

Sales data for the New York Times list is collected across thousands of book stores, large and small, over the course of a single week. Once they have all their numbers in, they aggregate them, weighting certain stores more heavily for various reasons, and end up with an overall number that represents what they believe is real consumer interest.

General Rules for The Bestseller List

There are just two major rules that are typically stated for making it onto the NYT bestseller list:

  • The book must be traditionally published (more on this in a moment)
  • Minimum distributed sales must be over 5,000

There are other factors at play as well, including your category — fiction, nonfiction and monthly lists are the three standard templates here.

Can Self-Published Authors Get on the List?

If you were reading the above section regarding traditional publishing as a requirement for making the New York Times bestseller list, you may be wondering if it’s even possible for a self-published author to make the list. The answer is yes — but there’s no question it can be a bit tougher.

When we talk about “traditional” publishing, this refers to an author who has their book in various brick-and-mortar and online book stores. Most self-published authors have to distribute their work themselves, and thus have a far more limited pool of resources for getting the word out about their book. 

That said, there are strategies you can employ if you’re interested in learning how to put your self-published book on the NYT’s bestseller list. These include:

  • Getting featured on Amazon or GoodReads: The more people that see your book, the better. Get named as a “daily deal” on Amazon, or get selected as a “best of” for GoodReads — both have been known to help self-published authors crack the bestseller list.
  • Paying for advertising: There is a strong contingent of people who believe you can simply pay your way onto the bestseller list. While this may be true to some extent, it’s important to note that the New York Times takes various measures to ensure that books on their list are there because of genuine reader interest, not because of paid advertising.
  • Creating a marketing campaign: This is likely your best bet if you want to see real, sustained success with your self-published book. A well-thought-out and executed marketing campaign can get your book in front of the right people, and help to generate those all-important sales numbers.
  • Working with a publicist: In many cases, those creating any kind of marketing campaign will work with a professional publicist. They can help you to get exposure and raise your profile — both of which are critical components in the push toward making it onto the bestseller list.

Does Getting on the New York Times Bestseller List Mean You’re a Good Writer?

The answer here honestly depends on how you define the term “good writer.” Do you think good writing is simply about generating a lot of sales? Or do you believe that good writing speaks to a broader audience, and resonates with people on a deeper level?

There’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s important to keep in mind that the New York Times bestseller list is often seen as a barometer for success — and sometimes, this success can be misinterpreted as an indicator of a book’s quality. Just because a given book doesn’t make it onto the bestseller list, doesn’t mean it isn’t a good book. Conversely, just because a book is on the list doesn’t mean it’s automatically worth reading.

At the end of the day, making it onto the New York Times bestseller list is an accomplishment that should be celebrated by any author. It’s not easy to get there, but if you follow the correct marketing and promotional strategies, you may find yourself listed on this highly competitive list.

For more on the NYT bestseller list and how you might be able to get there, or to learn about any of our self-publishing processes or services, speak to the staff at Izzard Ink today.

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