How to Become a New York Times Bestseller

Landing on the New York Times bestseller list is a dream for many authors. Doing so guarantees industry recognition, boosts sales, helps land contracts and offers serious bragging rights.

But what makes a book a New York Times bestseller, and what are the specific New York Times bestseller requirements? The answers are somewhat murky because the New York Times won’t disclose its sales data analysis process.

Still, there’s plenty of concrete information regarding sales figures and channels and marketing techniques that can show you how to become a New York Times bestseller.

How Many Books Need to Be Sold to Be a Bestseller?

An author must sell at least 5,000 copies of their book in one week to become a bestseller. Books compete for a finite number of positions. What makes a book a New York Times bestseller is beating the sales of other books.

Your book might need to sell 8,000 copies, 11,000 copies or 15,000 copies, depending on how its sales stack up against other books on the list.

What Are the New York Times Bestseller Requirements?

Books must have diverse sales, meaning they must sell from various outlets. If all sales are from one source, such as Walmart, they won’t count. Also, your book can’t be exclusively digital — it must have a physical release.

The New York Times bestseller criteria require your book to be in an approved genre, with the categories split between different types of binding.

For example, if you publish an adult fiction book, the hardcover and paperback sales are counted separately rather than together. If your book were to sell 4,500 paperback copies and 4,500 hardcover copies, it wouldn’t count as 9,000 total copies.

8 Tips to Become a New York Times Bestseller

If getting on the New York Times Bestseller list is one of your ambitions, you should know it’s entirely possible. Here’s how.

1. Build a Strong Author Platform

Essentially, an author platform is your ability to sell books. Think of it as your influence and visibility with publishers and the public.

While your author platform isn’t a marketing strategy in itself, it is part of one. Create a website and social media pages for yourself and your work. You need avenues to sell books and interact with potential readers.

2. Identify Your Target Audience

Knowing who your audience is, where to find them and what they like allows you to tailor your advertising to them. Social media ads and email campaigns can take into account characteristics like age, income, geographic location and hobbies.

If you decide to advertise on traditional mediums like radio, TV, newspaper or magazines, choose ones with audiences similar to that of your book.

3. Build Relationships with Book Reviewers

Reach out to book bloggers and reviewers and give copies to readers likely to post reviews of your work or recommend it to friends, family and fellow readers. The more reviews you get, the more readers you’ll gain who will then recommend your book to others.

4. Partner with Influencers

Social media influencers with large audiences can be fantastic for exposing your work to wider audiences. You can offer a free copy for a review or partner with an influencer for a giveaway or discount code.

5. Get Professional Editing and Cover Design

Have a professional design your book cover, and pay someone experienced to edit and proofread your book. Readers expect a polished product. A sloppy, amateur presentation can turn them away.

6. Create a Killer Book Launch Plan

Here’s where a loophole in sales figure calculations can be pivotal for landing on the New York Times bestseller list.

Pre-orders, no matter when they begin, count toward first-week sales. Even if you achieve 5,000 pre-orders over months, they’ll all be tallied in that first week.

With this in mind, start generating buzz for your book early. You might offer giveaways, set up speaking engagements, hold book signings and live readings, attend conferences or participate in networking meetings. Make your book feel exciting to get readers excited.

7. Leverage Book Marketing Tools

Marketing your self-published book is key. BookBub offers paid promotions through its Featured Deals. The cost can range from a little over $100 to several thousand, depending on the cost of your book or how many subscribers follow your book’s genre.

Similarly, Goodreads ads begin at 50 cents and can increase exponentially. However, if you have 300 or more reviews, Goodreads will start promoting your book anyway.

Amazon KDP Select’s Free Book Promotion is a program in which Amazon offers your e-book for free for up to five days. This is a quick way to share your work with a wide audience and begin generating reviews.

8. Stay Engaged with Your Audience

Authors must engage with their fan bases if they want them to grow. Make it a point to respond to messages, whether through email, social media or good old-fashioned physical letters.

It’s also a good idea to hold Reddit Ask Me Anythings (AMAs) and stay active on other forums that allow Q&A. Doing so will keep you top-of-mind with your readers.

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How much do New York Times Best Sellers make?

If an author has a 10% royalty rate and achieves the minimum sales figure of 5,000 copies of a book priced at $10, they would make $5,000.

What does it mean to be a New York Times Best Seller?

For a book to become a New York Times bestseller, it must have a physical release, sell at least 5,000 copies within one week on a diverse set of sales channels, and be in one of the approved genres.

Is it necessary to have a literary agent to become a New York Times bestseller?

Not necessarily. Self-published books can and have made it to the list. A great example is Colleen Hoover’s self-published book “Slammed,” which peaked at eighth place.