Highlights from Smith Publicity’s Behind the Bestseller Webinar

We were thrilled to see such an incredible interest in our first webinar of 2024, Behind the Bestseller: A Look at the Inner Workings and Evolving Nature of Bestseller Lists, so we’ve rounded up some of the most salient point for your perusal! 

You can learn more about our panelist, Andrea Jo DeWerd, at ajdewerd.com and connect on LinkedInInstagram, and Facebook. Follow our host and President of Smith Publicity Marissa Eigenbrood on LinkedIn for more tips, insights, and news on future webinars!


What does the current bestseller landscape look like?

For anyone who is unfamiliar, the New York Times bestseller list comes out online every Wednesday and it runs in print every Sunday. Sales are reported on Tuesday and the sales you’re seeing reflected on the New York Times list are happening almost two weeks before the list actually runs. A lot of folks don’t realize that it’s not up to the minute. The Amazon bestseller list, by contrast, is hourly. 

The New York Times list is broken down by format. There are hardcover and paperback lists and a combined list that does take into account eBook and audiobook sales. This is in contrast to places like the Publishers Weekly list, which breaks down some of the genres, like fiction, even further into fantasy, romance, and mystery, which helps highlight additional authors. Every list is a little bit different. Another list worth looking at is the regional independent booksellers list from the ABA. There are nine different regional lists which, like Amazon, are a true reflection of sales at the independent bookstores that report. 

USA Today, New York Times, and formerly the Wall Street Journal are more sales driven, but they’re run by media outlets, and we never quite know exactly what algorithm they’re looking at and how those decisions are made. The Wall Street Journal has disbanded their bestseller list as of November, so there’s a little bit of a gap in the marketplace. The C Suite Network launched their bestseller list recently, so that’ll be something really interesting to see over time. 

How are bestseller lists determined?

BookScan is a sales reporting platform that consolidates book sales from most retailers. Overall, it is a pretty true picture of actual book sales out in the industry. We know the New York Times and USA Today lists consider book scan sales. Wall Street Journal depended on that as well. What we don’t know is what else they take into consideration when they’re looking at reporting bestseller sales. Amazon obviously is only looking at their own sales, so it’s not reflective of the whole industry. 

Consumers have maybe a little bit of mistrust, especially those who are avid readers and are maybe following the list or following authors who are talking about the bestseller list. There’s not a lot of transparency here—the New York Times in particular really has a closed-door policy.

How do the bestseller lists help authors?

The bestseller term can have very broad meaning, which again, comes back to the discussion about value and how truly valuable it is today. We’ve talked to a lot of authors, especially our speakers, who say that adding that title into speaking materials, pitch decks, etc. carries weight in being able to elevate fees and attract new opportunities. We certainly see value from the speaker positioning opportunity and from others who have other business-centric goals.

The bestseller term also carries some weight with media outlets. For some authors, the title of bestseller doesn’t matter, but the positioning on platforms can be more important. There can be a bit of a bestseller glow. You might get additional promotion out of having that bestseller label, maybe having a presence on a list. It might help in pitching. You get one hit, that helps us get additional press, that helps us get additional marketing buzz, etc. It’s not the be all, end all, though. 

What are some strategies to help reach bestseller status?

Let’s say you want to take a run at the list. The number one thing to consider is momentum. Focus on weeks that will garner the most sales all at once, like pub week. If you have friends or say your mom’s book club is going to buy copies of your book one day, make sure they all do it in the same week. If you have any other companies or potential speaking engagements that might consider buying 150 copies of the book in exchange for you to come and speak, try to have them actually place those orders in a concentrated period as much as possible. So all of that is front loading your sales to have your highest potential sales week. Any preorders that you have gotten before the book goes on sale count towards pub week sales. So week one, you have more than one week’s worth of sales. 

How should authors promote bestseller status?

Let’s wrap us up with one last beautiful glass half full question. When it comes to book publicity, we’re shouting it from the rooftops. We’re sharing it in our pitches that we continue to work on post publication. We’re making sure that everyone knows that wonderful moment has been achieved for this particular title. There are those great little emblems you get to add to the front cover of the book and such, too. Update your book description right away. It should be the first word: “Bestseller.” Add it to your website. It should be probably three pieces of content on social media. Make it a video. Make it a graphic. Send an author newsletter. Use it, reuse it in as many ways as possible. 


More About Smith Publicity Webinars

Smith Publicity webinars are led by veteran book marketing professionals and other book publicists on our team.

All sessions are offered live one time and recorded for future on-demand viewing. The webinars support our commitment to providing book marketing and publicity information online free of charge for authors, publishers, and others connected to the book industry.