How to Get on a Bestseller List: A Guide for Self-Published Authors

how to get on a bestseller list

Writing a bestseller might be a goal in every author's career. Once a book hits the list, you know many people bought and read it. This interest in your writing validates your skills and efforts.

You most likely know more than one bestseller list. Among the most popular ones are the Wall Street Journal Bestselling Books, The New York Times Best Seller list, USA Today's Best-Selling Books, and even Amazon's top charts.

Some of them are easier to reach than others. The New York Times Best Seller list seems like the promised land for authors, but it shouldn't be your instrument for measuring success (as we'll see later). 

Let's see a few bestseller lists and how each one works.

Table of Contents

But First, FAQs

What makes a book a bestseller?

Each bestseller list has its rules, but you'll have to sell between 5,000 and 10,000 books/ week as general criteria. To be sure of the rules, you'll have to check all the requirements depending on the list you want to get on.

Different lists don't use the same book sales data because they don't have access to all the sales made online or in all the bookstores during a specific period.

That's why each list has its methodology to gather this data and compile a bestseller list. And once they have it, they break it down into categories. 

Can a self-published book become a bestseller?

Truth be told, it's easier to get your book on a NY Times bestseller list (this being the ultimate list an author can get on) if you choose traditional publishing. I say this because they have the most challenging entry barrier. 

If you've self-published and your book sells like crazy, you'll probably get on the NYT bestseller list only after an agent picks it up.

The good news is there are other lists besides this one that favors self-published authors.

So the answer is yes, your book can become a bestseller even if you choose the self-publishing option. But for this, you'll have to ensure it's very well edited, has an eye-catching cover, and also, you must invest in a good book promotion strategy.

Let's take a look at how major lists work so that you can decide which one is worthy of your time.


For self-published authors that choose to stay independent, Amazon is the best option if their goal is to sell thousands of books and get on a bestseller list. It's the easiest platform to get listed as a bestseller author.

Here’s why.

Amazon offers two different bestseller lists: 

Amazon Charts

Charts appear once a week after they track the books with the most sold copies, in any format (on Amazon and in its Kindle store, Audible store, and brick-and-mortar storefronts), and the most read or listened-to books on Kindle and Audible.

They are divided into two sections, each with 20 top titles: most read and most sold Fiction and Nonfiction books.

On the most read list will get featured titles according to the average number of daily Kindle reads and Audible listens. So, for this section, it can be any book, regardless of when it was published. 

The most sold list is defined by copies sold and pre-ordered across Amazon, Audible, and related Amazon bookstores.

Amazon Best Sellers

Amazon Best Seller list is updated hourly and broken down by (currently) 36 categories of bestseller books.

amazon best seller

Your book can get faster on this list with the right book promotion strategy that includes well-crafter Amazon ads.

To get the orange flag, you don’t have to be a bestseller in the whole Kindle store. The number of sold ebooks to get on an Amazon bestseller list may vary, depending on your book's category.

First of all, Amazon changes the book ranking based not just on sales but on how quickly those sales happen. This is why selling fewer books in an hour can weigh heavier than selling more books in a week.

But even so, this depends greatly on the book category and on how well the top book in each of those categories is already selling.

So, if the top book in a given category sells five copies a day, selling ten copies in a day will get your book on the Amazon bestseller list in that category.

This method may become challenging if you’re competing with a book that sells 5,000 copies a day.

In a small category, a book may be ranked only #50,000 in the whole Kindle store. If your book gets on the #49,999 spot, you’ll be a bestselling author.

But in a general category, the top book can easily be ranked #20. In that category, you’d need around 3,000 sales in a single day to beat it.


Indiebound creates its bestseller list using sales data drawn from independent bookstores. But what's interesting about their bestseller book list is that it doesn't rank titles by overall sales volume but according to the sales each title reaches at each individual store.  

Independent bookstores report their bestsellers directly to the Indie Bestseller List. 

If you wish to get on this list, you have to distribute your book to a specific store (find one here) that reports its sales to Indiebound. 

Here are the bestsellers categories:

  • Hardcover Bestsellers (Fiction & Nonfiction)
  • Trade Paperback Bestsellers (Fiction & Nonfiction)
  • Mass Market Bestsellers
  • Children's Illustrated Bestsellers
  • Children's Interest Bestsellers
indiebound bestsellers

USA Today

Another bestseller list is USA Today, which gathers book sales data from bookstore chains, independent bookstores, mass merchandisers, and online retailers. They can't track sales outside a store—online or physical, so if your book is being sold at a book fair, for example, it won't be counted.

But with the data they have, they're determining a weekly 150 top-selling titles (Monday-Sunday). The first 50 titles are also published in the print version of USA Today each Thursday. 

This data reflects combined sales of titles in print and electronic format if a book has both versions. In the final list, the title of the book will come together with an indicator of the format that was sold the most: hardcover (H), paperback (P), and ebook (E).

You need a minimum of 5,000 copies sold in one week to make the list, and only US sales are taken into consideration.

usa today bestsellers

Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly uses Nielsen's BookScan service to track printed book sales in the US. 

BookScan draws its data from major sellers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart, and independent bookstores. 

However, BookScan doesn't track books sold at independent bookstores that don't use a tracking system compatible with BookScan or those sold at conferences or gift shops. 

What's more, is that it also doesn't track ebook sales. So, it may be difficult to get into this list if you're a self-published author, especially if you choose the print-on-demand service.

Publishers Weekly divides the bestseller book categories by format (hardcover, trade paper, and mass-market paperback), age category (adult and children), and genre. 

Publishers Weekly's week goes from Monday to Sunday. Here's how many books were sold in the week of 4-11 September, published on September 12. 

publishers weekly bestsellers

Wall Street Journal Bestselling Books

Each week, The WSJ publishes their bestselling books, but to see them, you’ll have to get a paid subscription or read it in their newspaper.

The Wall Street Journal, too, compiles its list with data from Nielsen's BookScan, meaning sales from stores like Walmart, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.

If you wish to get your book on this list, you’ll have to sell between 4,000 and 10,000 copies of the book in one week. To make sure you’re actually going to sell this many, you’ll have to launch a pre-order strategy to create interest around your upcoming book.

The New York Times Best Seller list

Launched in 1931, the NY Times best seller list is probably the most popular one. But it's also the most difficult to get into. Here are a few reasons why:

  • You have to come through a traditional publisher to get accepted and featured on the list.
  • You should sell around 10,000 books in one week to be considered.
  • Book sales have to come from one of their chosen bookstores and online shops in the US.
  • They sometimes don't even take into consideration the number of sales, and the reason behind it is the type of editorial content (see the widely discussed case of William Blatty and his book Legion) 

The New York Times Best Seller list is divided into a few categories (hardcover fiction/nonfiction, paperback trade fiction/nonfiction, etc.). This is a weekly list.

nyt bestsellers

There's also a list of monthly bestsellers (audio fiction/nonfiction, business, graphic, books and manga, mass market, middle-grade paperback, young adult paperback)

Remember that this is a challenging place to reach that doesn't help you measure your success as an author or of bestselling status precisely because of their mysterious ways of getting on the list.

But, it's true, it may give you a confidence boost.

Before thinking about submitting your book to the list, check out their entire methodology.

How to Get a Book Closer to Being a Best Seller

We should also go through a few general guidelines that will help you turn your book into a potential bestseller novel.

Write and edit your book to be in top shape

Once you finish writing your book, you must consider self-editing it to be in excellent condition. After that, ask a professional editor to give their opinion on it and help you with the things you may have missed. 

Besides editing, you need to choose a title (if you haven't already) that is catchy enough to get attention. Stir everyone's interest with a title that announces a great topic ahead.

Design an eye-catching book cover

Never, ever underestimate your book cover. I recently talked with a friend who works at a prestigious bookstore. She told me that, as far as she noticed, well-designed covers with a minimalist approach (meaning they're not cluttered with design elements) are sold way better.

Moreover, if a book is part of a series with similar cover designs, making a homogeneous look when placed together, they are sold really well. That's because people want to have the entire collection.

So, by all means, put your effort into your book cover design if you wish to see your work on the Amazon best seller list or any other.

Write a book description like it's a sales pitch

Your book description is used for your book marketing, book discovery, and for sales purposes, which means it has to be well-written to get your audience's interest.

Think about your book description as a sales pitch. You can't be there where the reader is considering it, but the description is.

Build a strong author brand

Building an author brand and website can and should start before launching a book. A professionally created website will help your audience trust you and see you as an authoritative figure among other authors.

Besides, the website can set the visual tone for all your future creatives for social media, email, etc.

Here are a few ways to get you and your books noticed:

  • Be active on social media. It's always a good idea to be where your audience is, and social media is one of the places you'll find them. Besides your readers, you'll find collaborators, industry leaders, publishers, and others you can learn from and build connections with.
  • Show your expertise in your particular genre. Writing a blog is an excellent idea to reach potential readers. It can also help you gather strong leads to build an email list, which you can use whenever you want to get in touch with them, but it also helps you show everyone your writing style and voice. 
  • Engage with your audience/followers. Having a social media account may not be enough sometimes. Engage with your followers and ask them questions to see their interests. This will help you create future materials that speak to them, which ultimately is a way of getting noticed.

Create buzz and have a pre-order list before the book launch

Major stores like Amazon KDP (the #1 bookstore for self-published content) count sales on the first day of release. 

This means you can start generating buzz among your followers before the book launch.

And this is not a difficult thing to do.

You can simply take quotes from your book and create visuals for social media or include them in your emails.

Or, show your book cover together with a short description of your work.

Authors can boost their sales count on launch day and increase the chances of landing on bestseller lists.

Final Thoughts

Writing a bestseller fiction novel, a self-help book, or any other genre is not that difficult. The tricky part is to comply with all the requirements to get bestseller status.

Since traditional publishing is not that approachable, this road can be easier if you choose self-publishing. Then, you can create a great marketing promotion for your book to have enough sales to get you noticed by big names. Or, you can continue to self-publish and keep more royalties to yourself.

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