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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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