How to Get on The USA Today Bestseller List

Types of bestseller status

There are different types of bestseller status — the chief ones are USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Amazon. I’m purposely not including the New York Times list as it’s an editorial list, meaning that you can have the required sales numbers and they still won’t include your book on the list if they don’t feel like it.

It takes different strategies to hit the USA Today and Wall Street Journal lists and Amazon (I'll share the strategy we use in a future article).

The following is a very condensed strategy I used to launch, Write and Grow Rich, which became a USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller (and an Amazon bestseller as well). I first shared this strategy in my book, Outsource Your Book.

Requirements to hit the USA Today list

The first thing to do is to find out what exactly is required to hit the USA Today Bestseller list.

I read all the articles online on the subject and consulted with a USA Today bestselling author to discover that no matter how you're published (traditionally, independently or via a hybrid publisher), you need to meet the following requirements:

  • Sell 6,000 books in a single week. (I had sold 100,000+ books, but you have to sell 6,000 in one week.) 
  • Only U.S. sales count. 
  • Pre-orders count.
  • 500+ sales on a retailer other than Amazon.
  • It must be a paid book.
  • It can be a solo book or a box set.
  • Recommended to launch on a Tuesday.

Planning

My next question was how would I sell 6,000 books in a single week. Was my list big enough to be able to pull that off? (All our Amazon bestsellers are based on our active relationship with our subscribers.)

Realizing that trying to pull it off on my own would be risky, I started thinking about other authors I knew who might want to get involved. My logic was,  if we were 20 authors and we each had a list of 10,000 people, we'd have one giant list of 200,000 (okay, there would be some overlapping but not too much). Selling 6,000 books in a week would be much easier with a giant list like that than if I were rely on my own list of only tens of thousands.

The result

The result was that under my leadership 23 authors and I hit the USA Today bestseller list at No. 68 out of 150 books that made the list that week. As large publishing houses mostly take those slots, independent authors are in the minority on this list. That's just one of the reasons why our ranking was such a big deal. One byproduct was that we also hit the Wall Street Journal list in nonfiction e-books at No. 6. Another result of this launch was that I entered the Top 100 authors in business and marketing at No. 4. I'm usually at around 50, but during this launch, I was at 4, which was pretty great. All the other authors ranked in this space as well.

Getting to the result

As you know, it started with a dream; then there was a lot of preparation. As I figured out the requirements to hit the USA Today list, I put together requirements for the authors I would work with.

Each person had to create a chapter, give a bonus, contribute to ad spend, and commit that they would promote. 

Setting the launch day

The sales for the USA Today week are calculated from Monday to Sunday. By launching on a Tuesday, all the preorders are calculated on the Monday before. When we launched on a Tuesday, we had 800 sales because when we launched, people bought 800 books that Tuesday. On the Monday, we had 5,000 sales, and those 5,000 sales didn't happen on one day but during the whole preorder period. They were just calculated on the Monday.  

Promotional calendar

We created a promotional calendar, which looked like this.

  • June 2: Preorder live date with June 2 and three emails to list (two mailings for a good start). Open with a few bonuses to tease extra sales.
  • July 14: Fix algorithm and rank loss due to July 4 holiday, and new bonus introduced to keep relevance.
  • August 4: Email with a new bonus to retain relevance and to raise sales.
  • September 1: Email with another bonus
  • September 29: On social media only, start teasing now and every couple of days until launch with mention of bonuses. Share a story to get audiences excited.
  • October 2: LIVE Email and get as many book blogs, related blogs, affiliates and joint-venture friends as possible.
  • October 3: another email and every single promo we can get
  • October 4 another email and every single promo we can get

Non-Amazon sales

One problem I ran into was that Amazon only allows a three-month preorder period, so we decided to launch on iBooks and Barnes & Noble only, since we needed 500 sales on a platform other than Amazon, and we didn't want those sales to be diluted by using Kobo, for example. 

Now that I know where the sales came from, I’d launch on iBooks only because we didn't hit the 500 at Barnes & Noble. For future sales, I’d use only Amazon and iBooks. Not being able to do a three-month preorder period on Amazon was a blessing in disguise because we managed to get the 500 sales on iBooks before we ever made the book available on Amazon! It makes sense to launch on another platform before you ever do it on Amazon, if you’re going after the USA Today or Wall Street Journal bestseller lists.

Amazon pre-order date

On July 14, when we made the book available on Amazon, we used my signature launch process, which I use to launch all Leaders Press books to bestseller.

Even before Amazon sent me an email that the book was available, as soon as I saw it has been published, I mailed 8,000 of my subscribers. On July 12, I mailed another 8,000 people. On July 13, I did a Bargain Booksy feature. On July 14, all 24 authors were scheduled to mail. What I did here was build up towards this July 14 preorder launch date, which is crucial for the algorithm. The takeaway is that the Amazon algorithms immediately understood it was a popular book.

By August 7, we had 2,300 sales — 1,800 on Amazon, 526 on iBooks and 256 on Barnes & Noble. We needed 6,000 U.S. sales, and we had 60 days left. That’s 3,634 sales divided by the 60 days left, or 60 sales a day. We had 6,205 on October 1, but on October 2, we had 5,800, so 400 sales were gone. What that meant is that some 400 people, or 10 percent of the buyers, had problems with their debit card or credit card. When it was time to charge their cards, they couldn't be charged so we were minus 400 sales.

Launch week

We entered the launch week with 5,800 sales, out of which 5,250 were on the U.S. Amazon site. October 2 was the official launch day. We had 813 U.S. sales that day also because we had many substantial promotional pushes scheduled for then. We used promotional sites such as Book Gorilla, Buck Books and Ereader News Today. On October 3, we used even more promotional sites. 

I kept mailing; I couldn't not mail. For me, October 6 and 7 were the days that still counted, so in my head, I couldn't just let go. My logic was “What if I don't mail and then we don't hit the list, and if I had mailed one more time we would've made it?” So I kept mailing. What could I do during launch week when everything was already scheduled? When I do my launches or launch for clients, there's not much to do on launch week. All the work is done before the launch. All you can do in launch week is mail, and who do you mail? You mail your list, and you mail your partners, so every day I was mailing people with updates on how many books we'd sold, and tried to sound enthusiastic to get them to mail one more time, even though they'd already mailed 10 or 20 times. During the launch, what do you do? You mail, mail, mail. That's all you can do. You mail co-authors to mail with milestone sales, and you give them swipe (the exact text they can send to their subscribers). You mail partners. You ask them to mail and you keep the Facebook group active where you communicate with your partners. 

Our best recorded Amazon rank during the launch was 200. This means that Write and Grow Rich was the 200th most bought book on Amazon at that time. We hit No. 68 on the USA Today list, No. 6 on the Wall Street Journal list, and I got to No. 4 on the list of top business and money authors. Everybody who claimed the book arrived on this list. We pushed some huge authors way down.

Conclusion

What's the conclusion?

The obvious takeaway is to go after your dreams. If they seem huge, never give up; even if you've got obstacles that seem insurmountable, never give up. 

Adjust and adapt, inspire and encourage your team, because if you're going to do this, you're going to lead the team, you're going to be the leader, you have to have a strong foundation. I think you have to be a centered and balanced person to pull this off. 

Get a mentor and get a team. USA Today bestsellers don't just happen. They are always orchestrated by sharp marketing teams.

What we achieved with Write and Grow Rich required an enormous effort and I’m proud that thanks to this achievement, we can now publish authors as a USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling press.

As you see, as a publisher hitting these lists is almost like a stamp of approval that we are a top level, A-game publishing house, but in your case, if you're an entrepreneur (not a publisher), is the juice worth the squeeze? Some claim that your energy can be better spent elsewhere, rather than chasing the lists, that it's a matter of quality rather than quantity.

Now for the million dollar question - can Leaders Press guarantee that your book will be a USA Today or Wall Street Journal bestseller?

No, we cannot, but we can orchestrate your launch and pre-order period so that you have the highest probability of hitting the lists.

We do however guarantee that your book will become an Amazon bestseller, which we will focus on in our next article.

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