What Makes a Book a Bestseller?

Becoming a bestselling author is a dream of many aspiring writers. A bestseller instantly increases one’s credibility, can have a huge impact on a book’s marketability, and may even open up new avenues to share one’s story with an even bigger audience. (Just think about how many movies are adapted from bestselling book titles each year!)

The fantasy is certainly appealing, but both readers and authors may be surprised to learn that attaining bestseller status may not be as lofty a goal as one might think. With this in mind, let’s take a look at what makes a book a “bestseller” today.

Not just numbers

To get on a Bestseller list, you don’t necessarily need to sell a huge amount of books. There are three main factors that can make becoming a bestseller seem that much more attainable:

  • Genre. The two predominant categories that can be found on most bestseller lists are Fiction and Nonfiction, but some list makers (like the New York Times or Amazon) feature more niche categories like Young Adult, Manga, and Celebrities.
  • Population. The number of units a book needs to sell to be considered a bestseller can fluctuate depending on the population of the country in which it's sold. Those compiling national lists will take the population of a country or territory into account. For example, a book that sells around 5,000 copies in Canada should qualify for bestseller status, whereas an author may need to sell several times that to achieve the same feat in the U.S.
  • Format. Hardcover, paperback, eBook; depending on the format(s) in which your book was published, there’s a bestseller list for it. (i.e. Hardcover Fiction, Paperback Trade Nonfiction, etc.)

The prestige of the list

Certain list makers are some of the most powerful gatekeepers in the publishing industry. However, in the digital age, their power is somewhat diminished.

If a retailer sells books, they probably have a bestselling book list as well. Amazon, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and countless other book retailers each feature bestseller lists for various genres, formats and even timeframes. Barnes & Noble has a Bestseller list for books hot that hour.

Getting one’s book into Amazon’s overall top-selling books list is no small feat; however, for authors with more clearly defined niches, they very well be able to break into one of the more specialized book categories on the site. A key benefit of these types of lists is that authors and readers alike can gain exposure to a niche that who wouldn’t know about their book otherwise - all at a point of purchase!

Separate from book retailers, several periodicals have some of the highest-profile bestselling book lists - with The New York Times being perhaps the most well-known. Others include Publishers Weekly, MacLeans, The Boston Globe, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. Each publication generally uses different metrics - relating to genre, country, and format - to come up with their bestseller lists. Continuing to use The NYT as an example, they are notoriously secretive about the metrics that are used to build their list, but brick and mortar bookstore orders and sales for that week have been said to be a large part of how it is determined. It is also thought that mentions on social media contribute to books rankings on The New York Times bestseller list.

Finding your niche

There are many ways to become a “bestseller”, from an online book retailer’s list that refreshes every hour to a printed monthly periodical. Authors can feel empowered, knowing that if they aim get their book on the right lists, it will help them achieve their goals and reach a wider audience. Finding your niche means that you may only need to sell a small nuumber of units to give your book more exposure and share your story with the world.

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