5 Reasons Why Authors Miss Bestseller Lists

For authors, reaching the bestseller lists of esteemed publications like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal marks a significant achievement. 

However, this endeavor often seems like an elusive goal, with many authors missing the mark.

Drawing on my experience at Brand Builders Group, where we’ve successfully guided 14 authors to becoming New York Times or Wall Street Journal bestsellers, I’ll break down the five obstacles standing between authors and their bestseller dreams.

1. Volume Risk

The journey to bestseller status involves numerous hurdles, with the first one being volume risk. 

In other words, most authors fail to hit the major bestseller lists simply because they aren’t selling enough books. 

The significance of sheer volume is often underestimated, and authors are caught off guard by the high quantity required.

The two major bestseller lists, New York Times and Wall Street Journal, along with others like USA Today, Amazon, the Washington Post, and Publishers Weekly, all rely heavily on volume. 

Each of these lists generally operates weekly, meaning authors must sell a significant number of books through reporting retailers within a one-week window to stand a chance.

To give a rough idea, making a run at a New York Times bestseller requires approximately 15,000 units sold in a week, while a Wall Street Journal non-fiction bestseller demands around 10,000 units. 

If aiming for the Wall Street Journal business list, you would typically need to sell about 3,000 units in a week.

However, volume isn’t the only factor at play. 

Not all sales count towards these lists; only those made through reporting retailers are considered. 

Therefore, while selling a large number of books is necessary, it’s equally critical to sell them in the right places.

The volume risk is even more pronounced for authors who lack strategic guidance in their book launches. 

With the right strategy, you can ensure your sales count while maximizing volume. 

Unfortunately, many authors miss the mark, not for lack of effort, but due to a lack of strategy.

2. Technicality Risk

If volume risk is the first hurdle, technicality risk is the trap lying in wait for authors who manage to clear it. 

Many authors who achieve the required volume still fail to hit the bestseller lists due to various technicalities.

My second book, ‘Procrastinate On Purpose,’ serves as a prime example of this phenomenon. 

Despite selling enough copies to potentially reach number one on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list, we missed the list entirely. 

It wasn’t due to lack of sales, but rather an oversight of certain technicalities, a mistake that sent me on a journey of discovery.

There are numerous technicalities that authors need to consider when aiming for a bestseller list. One example is the BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) code. 

Most authors don’t even know about this code, yet it plays a significant role in determining whether a book hits a bestseller list.

3. Overestimation Risk

There’s no denying the potential power of PR and social media in the book promotion landscape. 

However, one of the frequent reasons why authors miss out on the bestseller list is overestimation risk, a mistaken belief in the omnipotence of PR and social media. 

It might seem counterintuitive, but many authors overestimate the impact of these channels on their book sales.

Sure, PR and social media are critical elements of any successful book launch strategy. 

But it’s essential to understand that they don’t always translate to skyrocketing book sales. 

Our team estimates that only 0.001% of your social media following will likely convert into book buyers.

In the case of one author that we worked with who had in approximately 5 million social media followers, we estimated that approximately 5,000 of his book sales came from social media. 

We deduced this number by tracking the origin of all the sales.

Even appearances on major podcasts or national television don’t guarantee massive book sales. 

An author may sell a few hundred to a thousand units from such appearances. 

While this can contribute to your sales numbers and help spread your message, it’s nowhere near enough to land a spot on a bestseller list, especially the revered New York Times.

This overestimation risk points out the need for a more holistic and grounded book launch strategy that encompasses more than just social media and PR.

4. Inventory Risk

Inventory risk is another devastating and heartbreaking reason why authors miss the bestseller list. 

Imagine the scenario: you’ve worked tirelessly to drive sales, your audience is eager to buy, but your publisher hasn’t produced or shipped enough copies to meet demand.

A shortage of books at retailers can cause your book to show as “sold out,” preventing people from buying. 

Alternatively, they may still take orders and collect money, but they won’t ship the books until they have sufficient inventory. 

The problem is, book sales are reported when the books are shipped. 

Therefore, even if you’ve sold a significant number of books within a certain week, the reporting of these sales could be spread out over subsequent weeks. 

This dilution can drastically affect your chances of hitting a bestseller list in your launch week.

This problem often affects newer authors, smaller publishing companies, and smaller print runs. 

These parties may underestimate the author’s selling potential or the logistics involved in printing, shipping, and inventory management. 

To avoid this risk, it’s crucial to ensure that your publisher understands the importance of having enough inventory ready and shipped on time.

5. Planning Risk

The final risk, and perhaps the most controllable, is planning risk.

Many authors don’t start planning their book launch until after they’ve finished their manuscript.

However, the few months between manuscript completion and the book’s release are often not enough to plan and execute a successful launch strategy.

To orchestrate a bestseller launch, you need plenty of time to plan. 

It’s best to start discussions about a year before the book’s publication date if you’re aiming for a bestseller status.

Even if you’re an up-and-coming author without a massive audience or access to national media platforms, early planning is critical.

Consider the case of Tom and Lisa Bilyeu, who hired us just 13 days before their book launch.

Despite the time constraint, we helped grow their total sales by over 30%, which contributed greatly to Lisa hitting the USA Today bestseller list. 

But not every author will have the resources the Bilyeus had, which underscores the importance of early planning.

If you’re an author with a book coming out within the next year, don’t delay the planning process. 

The earlier you start, the better your chances of avoiding these risks and increasing your chances of hitting a bestseller list.

There’s a lot more to becoming a bestselling author than just selling a lot of books. 

By understanding these risks and how to mitigate them, you’re better equipped to navigate your path towards bestseller status. 

If you’re unsure how to proceed, I highly recommend scheduling a Free Brand Call at freebrandcall.com/rv! We have helped over 14 authors hit bestseller lists, and you could be next!

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