Why Are There So Many Best Selling Authors?

Barbara Grassey
7 min readJul 30, 2021

And are they? Really?

Gold trophy figure holding a star above its head surrounded by confetti and stars on a bright yellow background.
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

If you filter for authors on LinkedIn, you will be astounded to discover just how many “best-selling” authors there are. Wow! Are all these people just raking in the big author bucks?

Probably not. Maybe a few are, but most of them aren’t living on their book royalties.

Amazon Bestseller vs. NYT/WSJ/USA Today

First of all, the vast majority of these people claiming best-selling author status are Amazon best-selling authors. Do you know how I know? Because if you’re a New York Times best-selling author you’re going to say so. Same with The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Hell, if I were a New York Times bestselling author, I’d rent a plane with a big banner sign saying so and fly it over every town I ever lived in. I’d seriously consider having it tattooed on me. I would not just put “best-selling author” in my bio. No, ma’am.

You have to sell a lot of books to hit these lists. Wall Street Journal and USA Today are a little easier because they’ll use a combination of brick and mortar stores and online sales. You still need to sell over 5,000 books in your launch week to hit these lists and if you are unlucky enough to launch when other big books are launching, you might not make it.

Depending on the week, you need to sell anywhere from 8,000 to 11,000 copies of your book (sometimes more) to hit the NYT lists. They pull their data from brick and mortar book stores and it is very difficult to “game” their system. It’s been done, but people usually get caught and look like losers and cheaters. It also costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is out of most people’s budget.

Becoming an Amazon Best-Selling Author

Becoming an Amazon best-selling author is much easier. So easy in fact, that Brent Underwood of the marketing company BrassCheck tells a fantastic story of how he became an Amazon best-selling author with a total of three sales of one book. (Behind the Scam — it’s worth the read.) To get the Amazon best-seller ribbon, you need to hit #1 in a category. Amazon has over 500 categories and somewhere in the vicinity of 11,000 to 14,000 categories, subcategories, sub-subcategories, and maybe…

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Barbara Grassey

Barbara is a writer, speaker, and marketing consultant. She specializes in helping business authors leverage their books. Learn how: https://barbaragrassey.com/