Becoming a Working Author

Making A Best Seller List

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There are several Best Seller lists, like USA TodayWall Street Week and Barnes and Noble, but the one most everyone knows is The New York Times Best Sellers list. To somehow crack the code to the list is a once-in-a-lifetime dream for most authors. For Savant types like John Grisham, Stephen King, and Nicholas Sparks, the code seems to work for all their books.

Today, making the New York Times Best Sellers list is easier than ever, with a total of 40 categories a book can land in from Hard Cover fiction and nonfiction to PaperbackEbooksGraphicChildren’s books, and Young Adult. In addition, there are 22 monthly lists with sub-categories like Games, Family, Sports, and Travel.

Since each category has 10 to 15 books, there might be 800 different books listed at one time and most of the authors are represented by mainstream publishers. To sell a minimum of about 5,000 copies per week to make the lists, the books must be in retail outlets. What’s the methodology used? According to the New York Times:

“Rankings reflect sales reported by vendors offering a wide range of general interest titles. The sales venues for print books include independent book retailers; national, regional and local chains; online and multimedia entertainment retailers; supermarkets, university, gift and discount department stores; and newsstands. E-book rankings reflect sales from leading online vendors of e-books in a variety of popular e-reader formats.”

How Many Books to Make the List?

The number of book sales to make any list varies greatly by time of year and by category. The 5,000 copy per week benchmark is a relative number that easily represents all major categories for the weekly lists. Even a book listed at #15 on the Hard Cover Fiction list is likely to be a major author whose books are found in bookstores, gift shops, Walmart, Costco, and the ever-popular airport lounge. If you want to be impressed by a book’s sales, look at the number of weeks it has been on the list. A one-week blip is just that, one big week of sales. A book that hangs in the top ten for 20-weeks is a new lifestyle with all the perks……………

However, small categories in the monthly listings might surprise you. For instance, Tracey Stewarts Do Unto Animals was listed at number 10 in the monthly listing for Animals. It’s a very good book and congratulations to the author for making the New York Times Best Seller list. It also made the USA Today list.

It also makes the Amazon Best Seller list by being #1 in the Animal Husbandry category. Again, well done. The book hovered at #3500 in paperback books and #50,000 in the paid Kindle store. The author sold lots of books, but not a clip that self-published authors can’t also shoot for with their Kindle books.

For lack of a better way of putting it, the New York Times Best Sellers list is the Major Leagues. Amazon’s #1 Best Seller ranking is the minor leagues. Sure, if you get that ranking in “Fiction” you will be very, very rich. But Amazon has a whole lot more than 62 total categories.

The #3500 Amazon ranking in paperbacks (or just non-Kindle) is quite good; selling perhaps 30 copies or more per day. With bookstores and other outlets considered, that could be more than 100 copies per day. And, a book like Animal Husbandry is more likely to sell in paperback than on Kindle. And, the shelf life is likely to be good.

The Kindle numbers are a bit different.

For Kindle sales, the ranking of #50,000 is mediocre. Sales-wise that’s 1 or 2 book sales per day. Everyone has a chance to do that if they produce a decent read for Kindle buyers. The overall ranking includes Kindle Unlimited (you must be exclusive to Amazon for Kindle Unlimited and KDP), where readers opt-in to read all the Kindle eBooks they can for $9.95 per month and authors get paid by page views. Those page views run about a half-cent per page, so a 300-page novel garners $1.50 for the author.

A Kindle book selling for $4.95 pays the author 70% in most markets or $3.47 per sale. At the same time, a KDP (Amazon paperback copy) book listed at $14.95 nets $5.16 for the author.

If you want to be in the Top 10 of common categories on Amazon Kindle, choose a more obscure one than “crime” or “romance.” Obviously, if you choose correctly, you can make an Amazon Best Seller list with fewer sales.

How few? Well, right now the #1 book under “blackjack” is selling at #23,500 which is about 5 books per day! That’s very nice for the author, and in a year, they might reach 2,500 sales. That’s about half of what a New York Times Best Seller does in a week.

I’m not disparaging the Amazon Bestseller’s listings. Not at all. I  love ’em. Just keep in mind you’ll need to keep producing quality work to get to the New York Times list!

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