Getting Your Book on the Bestseller Lists

In last week’s issue of PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, there’s a hilarious, semi-tongue-in-cheek article about the lengths some authors will go to to hit the bestseller list:——————————————–

“Re: Getting your book on the bestseller lists

Here’s what you need to do to make your autobiography I, Me, Mine! a bestseller. No one told you that was your responsibility? Well, we’re planning to print 100,000 copies, so consider this a reality check.

Your first step, buy the book at retail. When you signed the contract, you promised to buy 25,000 copies direct at $10 each or $250,000 total (coincidentally, the exact amount of your advance). But if you invest a little more and buy those copies at retail, it could get you on the lists. Yes, at $25 each, that could cost $625,000. But think of that extra $375,000 as a bet that you’ll land in the top 15.

It’s simple to do: the first week the book goes on sale, have your employees across the country buy those 25,000 copies at their local chain or independent bookstores (they can put it on their expense accounts). Buying so many books in such a short time should get you on some of the niche lists, such as Business Week’s. It will also guarantee that the book will often be out of stock, driving up demand as reorders pile up…”


I say this article is “semi-tongue-in-cheek” because the strategy they talk about — buying a ton of your OWN books so that it will hit the bestseller lists — has actually been done. And has worked. A few years ago, an author of a business book did just that. He bought a thousand copies of his own book and managed to hit the list. The only reason he was caught was that, stupidly, he then tried to return the books.

Barnes and Noble was not happy that a thousand books they’d just shipped to this guy were bouncing right back to them. So they investigated, and eventually the whole sordid affair became public.

Said author, I assume, slunk away into the shadows, and the chances are, he will never be heard from again.

But the point is, the strategy DID work. He DID hit the list.

I have it on good authority that a certain bestselling male novelist propelled his first book onto the list by buying a thousand copies of his own book through the online Barnes and Noble site. But he was smarter than the business writer; he didn’t try to return those copies, and his subsequent books have been perennials on the bestseller list ever since. All for the initial modest investment of around $25,000.

But egads. Money aside, I’m just trying to imagine a thousand books in my garage. How much space would they take? What would I do with them all? I don’t even know what to do with the dozens of foreign editions I’ve got stacked up here in my office. I can’t read Polish or Croatian or Latvian. My husband tells me it’s time to just bite the bullet and throw them away. But I just. Can’t. Do. That.

(By the way, if any of you need any Finnish, Danish, or Polish editions, just send me the postage and I will mail them to you. I am absolutely serious.)

The PW article goes on (again, semi-tongue-in-cheek) to discuss some of the complexities of this strategy:

————————– “Keep in mind that the better lists take pride in their formulas for determining what qualifies as a bestseller. They don’t count bulk orderswhich is why you want to buy one copy at a timeand they get suspicious if a bunch of orders come from only a few retailers during a short period of time.

So you have to make sure the books are selling in a lot of stores, specifically ones that report their sales to the major newspapers and magazines whose lists you want to appear on. We’ll give you a list of which stores report to the Times. (Believe me, we know which ones they are).”


You betcha they do. The so-called “secret list of Times-reporting stores” is probably the worst-kept secret in the world. It’s one of the reasons authors on book tours all seem to hit the same stores, sometimes in obscure towns. I recall being on tour the same two weeks that another mystery author was on the road. I was always one step behind him, signing at the exact same stores he did, but a day later. I began to feel like his stalker. At every stop, I’d be greeted by piles and piles of his freshly autographed copies.

By the end of the tour, I could forge his signature.

Of course, there was probably some other author making the same bookstore circuit, but one day after me. We’re like a string of show ponies, trotted around the ring to be petted and hopefully admired.

The goal, of course, is that all-important bestseller list, which I’ve talked about before on this blog. Yes, we all know strategies to improve our chances. We all know the reporting-store circuit. We all know that it’s important that your book goes on sale on the same day across the country.

But, as PW points out, there’s one last strategy worth mentioning. The strategy of last resort:


“We can even discuss getting on the lists by creating a book that gives readers what they want. But that’s a lot harder.”

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply