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The Secret World of Getting on the Bestseller Lists

Since finishing my book, I have become fascinated with the various bestseller lists.  Being an author is a feat unto itself, but there is a big difference between being an author and being a bestselling author.  And once you have the title, it is yours to use forever.

To be considered a bestselling author, your title must appear on one of the various bestseller lists.  There are many of these lists, but some are more prestigious than others.  The more prestigious lists include The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Amazon.com, Boston Globe, and The Los Angeles Times.  The most coveted of them all, often referred to as the holy grail of bestseller lists, is the New York Times.  Getting on any of these lists can have a great impact in an author’s credibility and bank account.  For example, NYT bestsellers often get paid more to speak at events and find it easier to get nationally broadcasted interviews.

Most of the lists take sales data from the previous week to compile their lists.  However, the Amazon list is different.  Amazon continuously updates its bestseller list hourly.  Amazon has nearly two million titles in their online inventory.  Making the Amazon Top 100 Books Sold list is quite an accomplishment, but the title of “Amazon Bestseller” just doesn’t hold the prestige that it should.  The term has been watered down due to many marketing gurus teaching people a way of calling themselves an Amazon Bestseller simply by topping the ranks in an obscure category.  I recently heard one so called expert explain how he became a “bestselling author” by moving only nine copies of his book at two in the morning.  While tricks like this might impress friends and family, the media and the general public know the difference.  There is a big distinction between selling the most books in the category of basket weaving and selling enough books to make Amazon’s overall Top 100 list.

Just about every author dreams of legitimately making one of the big bestseller lists, but how legitimate are these lists?  If you want to get the coveted title of New York Times Bestseller, you have to sell a lot of books, however merely selling a lot of books is not enough.  A well-executed Internet marketing campaign could lead to 20,000 online sales.  While this might outsell all of the books on the New York Times list, your book will not be one of them.  The acclaimed lists get their book data from a sampling of scattered bookstores throughout the country.  The exact location of those stores is a mystery to most, but some companies claim to have cracked the code.

A San Diego based company called ResultSource is one of those companies that claims to have the knowledge.  In early 2013, the company was subject to a couple of nationally published articles that outed the practice of “gaming” the bestseller lists.  An article appearing in Forbes was where I first found out about the company.  But despite that unflattering press the company received, many well known figures are quick to give positive testimonials.  Their list of clientele includes Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.  The company boasts they helped land Tony the number one spot on many of the bigger bestseller lists.

According to their website, ResultSource creates “campaigns that reach a specific goal, like: ‘On the bestsellers list,’ or ’100,000 copies sold.’”

I spoke to Mat Miller of ResultSource and he told me 11,000 seems to be the magic number for making the New York Times list.  Prior to the book’s release date, Mat and his team would need to have a check equivalent to the price of 11,000 books.  They would then use the funds to order books from a sampling of bookstores across the country.  With the average soft cover book going for around $14.95, this meant I would have to come up with a check for $152,359.  And this does not include the $30,000 ResultSource charges for their services.

Some people may be fortunate enough to have an extra $180,000 laying around.  Those people could easily write a check and be done with it.  Other clients would need to get creative.  One of the tactics used by their clients is what is called a “pre-order launch funnel”.  This is where you pre-sell copies of your book to the public, with the promise of the book being shipped to them on the day of publication.  On launch day, ResultSource would have their team make the purchases at bookstores throughout the country.  Many of these pre-order campaigns start months in advance of this date.

A “free book” promotion also works.  This is where the author offers their book for free if you pre-order and agree to pay the shipping costs.  Brendon Bruchard makes good use of this tactic with a website promoting his latest book, The Charge.  A hardcover copy of The Charge retails for $26, but at TheChargeBook.com, Brendon offers the book for free plus a shipping fee of $6.97.  He makes up for the difference in pricing by counting on a backend sales funnel.  Immediately after entering shipping and credit card information, the visitor is brought to a page with a video of Brendon offering advanced training in the form of pre-recorded videos.  The cost of this training is $197.

A similar campaign was recently launched by well known marketing expert Frank Kern.  After paying the shipping fee for his free book, you are taken through a series of video advertisements for high priced coaching courses.  It is unlikely that Kern is attempting to get a bestseller status with this campaign, as the book is only 68 pages long, but it is further testimony that the “free book” promotion works when you want to generate a good chunk of change.

Folks using this method would not have to necessarily sell 11,000 “free” copies of the book, as long as enough money is generated in the entire sales funnel to cover the cost of those 11,000 books.

This seems like an awful lot of work just to get your name on some list, but the benefits of being called a New York Times Bestseller can far outweigh the efforts of getting there.  It is a title you hold forever and one that can lead to very lucrative speaking engagements, national interviews, and high paying consulting gigs.

Some say these systems of are nothing more than schemes designed to game the system.  Others say these systems are a way to even the playing field, allowing lessor known authors the chance to compete with famous ones who have unlimited marketing budgets.  Another way of looking at it is to say the list compiling process itself is not fair.  If you sell 20,000 copies of a book online, shouldn’t that count towards some of these more prestigious lists?  Perhaps the best way of looking at it is to become a bestseller, it is easier to use a system to manipulate an already unfair system.

NOTE: I’d like to add that not all new authors use a system to achieve bestseller status.  Many authors simply sell enough books (in the right places) naturally or with the help of traditional advertising to land on the lists.

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17 Responses to "The Secret World of Getting on the Bestseller Lists"

  1. E Brian Rose says:

    What are your thoughts on this practice?

  2. Great article, thanks for the insider info!

  3. Robert Antwi says:

    This is interesting, shoemoney shared a killer tactic – basically send a copy of your book to every library in specific countries. Whats happens is they scan it into their system and it flags up of getting indexed quicker into the right book directories – something like doing good SEO.

  4. Robert Antwi says:

    Also I believe there to be nothing wrong with this practice, if you have something of massive transformational value, you have done the homework and structured what you desire people to engage in and know it will bring the shortest space of returned results to the highest majority of all types of people that would come into contact with your book – then I'm all for it!

  5. Always good to read from EBR. I think this one particularly is the most comprehensive article I've ever read on best seller secret world.

  6. Wow, I heard about gaming the system, but I didn't think there was a real company that publicly offered that type of service. What do they do with all those unsold books? As a NY Times Best Selling Author who earned it the hard way, I'm surely not in favor of gaming the system to cheat your way to perceived public credibility. I don't think the list compiling process is unfair because it's the same consistent process for every author. If you took just a fraction of the budget you'd spend with ResultSource and apply it to marketing and publicity, you'd easily attain best seller status. That assumes that you have a book that people actually want to read.

  7. Peter Drew says:

    2 Points, 1. Beautifully constructed Article. 2. I've heard of tactics like this before, but never so concise. Great article. My thoughts? Sharing information is never a bad thing, levels the playing field.
    I've been meaning to write a couple of books, I've found books on amazon in my niches, with less words than my support documents for my software products in same niche.. Go Figure.

  8. E Brian Rose says:

    The books must be shipped to individuals. So, you have to provide them with a list of names and addresses. Ever get a book in the mail that you didn't order? It's probably because you were a member of a website where the author "donated" some books.

  9. Di Heuser says:

    It's a real shame that these kind of tactics are being used. As usual, the shady practices will ultimately result in Amazon tightening up their TOUs and making it more difficult to publish a book.

    The current trend of publishing is the next IM Gold Rush. The upside to that is that when Amazon does crack down, those that have built their publishing business on solid business principles will be still be around, after all those other accounts have been banned. Let them burn their bridges. It leaves more space for us ;)

    I would be really interested to see what happens if Amazon ever decided to make us pay a once off fee for publishing. That would get rid of 'get-rich-quick' practices because only serious business people or authors are prepared to actually invest money in expanding their business/publishing career.

  10. E Brian Rose says:

    I can't find any reason why what I wrote about would cause Amazon to make it more difficult to publish a book.

  11. Di Heuser says:

    E Brian Rose I was not talking about your book Brian. I was referring to the hordes of books that are being published using the latest hot button tactics e.g. writing purely for keyword searches, hot topics etc instead of publishing based on your story or something that you are passionate about. It's no longer about the writing and telling your story. It's just about making money.

  12. E Brian Rose says:

    Oh, so you were commenting on a different article ;)

  13. Di Heuser says:

    E Brian Rose No I was referring to the tactics you mentioned above and just expanded it a little further about the entire mentality of self-publishing at the moment.

  14. Brad Reed says:

    I've asked my local library system (Vancouver, WA, USA) and they will not even accept NEW books that are donated for addition to their catalog. The donated books are simply sold in their "friends of the library" store in order to raise money for the library to buy books through "their normal purchasing channels." I was shocked to say the least!

  15. Robert Antwi says:

    Brad Reed here: https://www.facebook.com/internetmarketer/posts/10153189875305615 I found the post shoemoney shared!

  16. Hi E Brian, I liked your article really much. It shows a lot of “behind the curtain” information on how to become a bestseller, and now I comprehend many other things.
    It’s good to know that even with the system used by Brendon Burchard and Frank Kern is possible to get a good success and a good book distribution without throwing away so many dollars for getting into bestseller’s lists.

    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge on the topic, it’s much appreciated!

    See you soon,
    Alessandro Zamboni

  17. I did know that this was the practice with Brendan Burchard and Frank Kern. Although I like both of these guys, it feels like buying the designation of "Best Seller". I am not all the comfortable with that.

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