If you’re interested in getting your book on The Wall Street Journal Bestseller List, let me show you how. My latest book, Buy This, Not That, became an instant Wall Street Journal bestseller.
Since BTNT became a bestseller, a number of Financial Samurai readers and authors have asked how this was possible. After all, I’m a stay-at-home dad who doesn’t work at a major media publication. I’ve got no fame and a small social media presence.
To top it off, Asian people are hardly ever represented in nonfiction. See the Wall Street Journal bestseller list for yourself. I’m the only author with black hair on the list and the only new entrant as well.
Once you get on The Wall Street Journal Bestseller List, you will develop more credibility, visibility, and more opportunity. You might even make more money as well!
But I’ll be honest, becoming a professional writer is very hard. Instead, it’s more likely you’ll have a day job and treat writing as a side hustle instead. There’s no shame in that. If you can write because you enjoy writing and make extra money on the side, that’s great!
However, to get on the WSJ bestseller list, you need to publish a book that follows its rules. Otherwise, no matter how great your book is, it will never get on the list.
How To Get Your Book On The Wall Street Journal Bestseller List
Here are the main strategies for getting your book on the WSJ Bestseller list.
1) Publish your book in the proper format.
Below is a picture of the Bestselling Books section in the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal on July 30/31, 2022. Notice the categories: Hardcover Nonfiction, Nonfiction Ebooks, Nonfiction Combined, Hardcover Fiction, Fiction Ebooks, Fiction Combined, Hardcover Business. If you want to make the Wall Street Journal bestseller list, your book needs to be one of those categories.
In other words, if you write a paperback book or have an audio book only, it has zero chance of making it on The Wall Street Journal Bestseller list! I don’t know why The Wall Street Journal doesn’t want to expand to paperback editions and audiobooks, but its their decision.
Traditionally published hardcover books is traditionally how books were sold and consumed. But curiously, Ebooks count on its list! And getting ranked as a bestselling Ebook is the wild Wild West because pricing is all over the place. Ebooks can be priced as low as $1, so of course, it will sell more copies than books priced above $20.
Getting on the Hardcover Business bestseller list is what matters most for finance and business writers. After all, The Wall Street Journal is a business and finance newspaper. The retail pricing of hardcover nonfiction books are all between $25 – $29, so it’s a level playing field.
Choose which category of the bestseller list you want to compete in and market accordingly. Make sure your marketing copy links back to appropriate version of your book. Also be explicit about encouraging your readers, listeners, or viewers to purchase the appropriate version as well.
With Buy This, Not That, I received over 700 audio preorders and 500 Kindle preorders. They are great numbers and they work to pay down my book advance. I’m also happy to have more people read and listen to my book. Too bad none of the sales counted towards my book making The Wall Street Journal Bestseller List.
2) Sell at least 3,000 single-copy retail order books in one week.
A single-copy order is a retail order purchased online or at a bookstore. It is different from a bulk order, whose count varies by retailer. Think about a corporate buying 200 books versus you buying two books online.
Depending on the time of the year, you will need to sell between 3,000 – 4,000 single-copy retail order books in one week to get on the bottom of the WSJ Bestseller List. Getting on a bestseller list is about how many books you can sell in a week, not in a month, or in a year.
In other words, even if you sell 52,000 copies in one year, if the sales were “only” 1,000 a week, you will unlikely make any notable bestseller lists.
Selling 3,000 hardcopies is the minimum threshold to get ranked #10 on The Wall Street Journal Bestseller List. #10 is at the bottom of the list for most bestseller lists. That said, you can still call yourself a Wall Street Journal bestseller author even at #10!
The summers are slower, so the threshold is usually closer to 3,000, sometimes even as low as 2,000. The spring and fall are busier, which means a higher minimum threshold closer to 4,000 or more.
Therefore, strategically, you may want to launch your book in the summer if you already have a large installed base of fans. However, you never know how strong the competition is at any time of year.
My recommendation is to shoot for 5,000 preorders and first week of sales. If you fall short by 1,000 – 2,000, you still have a chance of making the WSJ bestseller list.
3) Keep your bulk orders under a certain threshold
Bulk orders will count towards book sales and against your book advance as well. However, you can’t have bulk orders count for greater than ~40% of total sales. In other words, if you sell a total of 3,000 books, no more than 1,200 of those books should be bulk orders. The reason why is the Wall Street Journal and other bestseller lists don’t want authors to buy their way onto the lists.
At the same time, a certain level of bulk orders is considered legitimate. You might sell bulk orders of your book at a conference, at a speaking event, to a client for their employees, or to a book club. These orders should count since people are reading them. Buyers also get a 20% – 40% bulk order discount. Why does ordering 100 books not count as sales when 100 people from a client’s company will be reading them? They should.
So what’s the order count threshold to be considered a bulk order? It is all over the place. One publisher told me a bulk order under 100 will count as single sales. Another publisher told me any orders over 300 is considered a bulk order. A book marketing agency told me book sales don’t count if an individual orders more than 14. While Books A Million defines a bulk order as 25 copies or more.
The reality is, nobody really knows what is the exact threshold where an order is considered a bulk order and doesn’t count. Hence, the more you can spread out your bulk orders, the better. For example, instead of having 300 books get sent to one address, have 300 books sent to 15 different addresses.
Sounds a little ridiculous right? But that’s what’s needed to try and get on a bestseller list today. You can’t help it if you have corporate clients who want to bulk order lots of your book for their employees or clients. To decline their offer would also be ridiculous.
4) Start marketing your book about three-to-four months before launch.
If you need to build momentum and interest for your book. Bring your potential readers along for the ride. Starting your book marketing campaign three months is the perfect amount of time. You could start four months ahead, but you may lose steam. Further, people generally don’t like to purchase that far in advance. People like to buy when the book is available as it will come quicker!
Hit social media, write guest posts, get on podcasts, do YouTube interviews, contact people in the media directly, and publish your own newsletter and posts every week about your book. The more your book’s name is out there, the more awareness and sales. If you sign up with a large publisher, it will assign a PR person on your book campaign.
The first two weeks of your book’s launch is also crucial to generate buzz. You want to “seed the market” with as many books as possible so word of mouth can help sell your book. If your content is good, your book will continue to sell. But if your content is average, it is unlikely your book will continue to sell after the initial launch. The Amazon algorithm also looks kindly to stronger book sales and more reviews.
Your goal is to build momentum until the book launch and get everybody pumped up! After all, you can only do so much as an author to promote the book. Further, you likely don’t have endless funds to pay a PR and/or marketing agency to help promote your book. I know I don’t.
Your focus should be on the first week of the book launch if you want to get on The Wall Street Journal Bestseller list. All preorders count towards the first week of sales. After that, your book needs to take on a life of its own if you want it to be a perennial bestseller.
5) Have an established platform and raving fans.
Having an established platform, such as a blog, a YouTube channel, a TikTok channel, a podcast, or a newsletter are important. The longer your platform has been around, the better. It signifies endurance, credibility, and trust.
Although I don’t have much of anything, I do have this website. Financial Samurai is the platform I started in 2009. It receives over 1 million organic pageviews a month, but that’s across over 2,500 articles. I also have a free weekly newsletter with over 50,000 subscribers. You should sign up if you want to improve your finances.
I recommend building your platform for at least three years and amassing at least 10,000 newsletter subscribers before looking for a book deal. It is very hard to get a book deal, let alone make it on a bestseller list without an established platform.
Unfortunately, only between 2% – 4% of your newsletter subscribers, blog subscribers, and video subscribers will ever buy anything off you. Hence, if you have 10,000 subscribers, expect about 200 – 400 in sales. In other words, you really need to reach out to other platforms to market.
Brutal Competition For Finance Books
Here is a snapshot of business books on two shelving units at Barnes & Noble. There are literally over 500 titles on these two shelves alone. The competition is fierce! And these are the 10% of authors who made it through the gauntlet!
6) Accept all PR requests, no matter how small.
20% of your marketing efforts will account for 80% of your marketing results. However, don’t reject smaller media interview opportunities. You never know who is listening or watching. And you never know which of these media opportunities might get big one day.
Further, the results of your interview or guest post will show up in the search engines. Speaking to a highly focused audience your book targets is the key. Many authors have gone on big national media, such as CNN, and sold little-to-no books. Finally, when the marketing process is done, you won’t look back with regret because you left no stone unturned!
Your intense marketing to get on the Wall Street Journal Bestseller List won’t last forever. You will spend three-to-four months marketing your book for pre-orders and then a month after the book is launched marketing for regular orders. After that, you will have either made the list or not.
It takes too much effort, time, and maybe money to continue marketing after the first month. If you don’t make the Wall Street Journal Bestseller list in the first two weeks, your chances go down until about the fourth month.
After about four months after launch, your chances of making the list may go up again if your content is terrific. Hopefully, you’ve seeded the market with enough people who can spread your book through word-of-mouth. Terrific content that is better than your competitors will get spread organically. Although, it takes a lot for people to become an evangelist.
If anybody ever asks me what my favorite book is besides Buy This, Not That, I will tell them Healing Back Pain by Dr. Sarno. Why? Because the book rid me of my chronic back pain and sciatica that plagued me for years. Healing Back Pain also helped me manage my frustrations and anger.
7) Don’t go with a foreign publisher if you want to become a Wall Street Journal Bestseller
If you are a U.S.-based author, you should go with a U.S.-based publisher. Going with a foreign publish will hurt your chances of becoming a WSJ bestseller or any U.S.-based bestseller because all book sales outside of the U.S. don’t count toward U.S. bestseller lists!
Even if you sell 10,000 copies of your book in The United Kingdom or Australia, they won’t count towards The WSJ Bestseller List. Only book sales in the USA count. This is a mistake I see some U.S. authors make when they are trying to gain credibility in America. If you get an offer from a foreign publisher, congrats! Now use that offer as leverage to get a domestic American book deal.
U.S. publishers have great relationships and knowledge to navigate the bestseller list system. Foreign publishers do not. Sign with a U.S. publisher and farm out foreign rights.
The only reason why you’d go with a foreign publisher is if you want to do business in the country where the publisher is headquartered. Or, you simply can’t land with an American publisher. If that’s the case, go for the foreign publisher.
Can You Buy Your Way Onto The Wall Street Journal Bestseller List?
Technically, you can. You could hire a book marketing company to buy books all around the country. You will have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to the book marketing company and pay for all your books. Or, you could be a very popular person and ask all your friends from around the country to buy multiple books each.
Six months before book launch, I spoke to a woman of a book marketing company to find out what she could do for Buy This, Not That. She said for $10,000 a month, she’d likely make Buy This, Not That a bestseller. Besides helping with marketing and PR, she had people all around the country who would buy my book and promote it.
If I wanted her book marketing company to buy 1,500 of my books, I would have to spend $45,000. Therefore, the total cost for her services would be $100,000! Forget it. I wanted Buy This, Not That to do well. But I didn’t want to game the system to win. That doesn’t feel good.
Getting into a great university because your parents bought your way in stinks. So is recruiting ringers for your USTA tennis league team and offering to pay their club dues. At the end of the day, you want to win based on your own effort. Otherwise, you won’t feel content.
The Wall Street Journal and other bestseller lists know that some authors will game the system. Therefore, they have systems in place to check for shenanigans. And the biggest shenanigan is identifying too many bulk orders.
Rich Authors And Veteran Authors Have Advantages
From an insider, I know one billionaire author spent $1 million marketing and buying his bestselling book. To the billionaire, $1 million is nothing. But deep down inside, I’m sure the billionaire doesn’t feel great about his decision.
By all means ask as many friends and relatives to buy copies of your book. That’s a given. If you have the resources, you should probably hire a publicist or a book marketing agency to help you as well. This will give you an unfair advantage that first-time authors or poorer authors don’t have.
It’s kind of like being a rich kid with parents who pay $5,000 for you to attend SAT prep courses. The act is not illegal. It’s just an example of how the rich have more advantages than others.
I have enough money to buy my way onto a bestseller list. But I wanted to do so the honorable way. I knew it was a long shot to get on the list on my own, but I wanted to try. Therefore, I didn’t hire a publicist or a book marketing agency. I just worked with what Portfolio Penguin gave me, which was a great publicist.
My publisher did not spend any marketing dollars promoting my book. But all the more reason to feel proud of getting on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list!
Why The Wall Street Journal Bestseller List Great
The Wall Street Journal Bestseller List is a premier bestseller list due to the following reasons:
- The Wall Street Journal is the best newspaper covering finance, business, and economics
- It has over 3.2 million subscribers
- The list is objective and based on the number of book sales, and not subjective where an editorial committee picks and chooses who gets on the list
- The Wall Street Journal was founded on July 8, 1889, therefore, it has tremendous credibility and longevity
Once you get on The Wall Street Journal Bestsellers List, you will likely get on other bestsellers lists including: USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly, and Amazon.
The New York Times Bestsellers List is also a great list to be on. However, it is editorial where a committee at The NY Times chooses which books are most deserved. If you are an author who does not write for The NY Times, has no connections with people at The NY Times, or is not writing on a topic that The NY Times prefers, it will be harder to make the list even if you qualify.
Shoot to get on the much more objective Wall Street Journal Bestseller List instead, especially if you have a business or finance book.
Benefits Of Making The Wall Street Journal Bestseller List
1) Increased visibility. You will be able to better stand out from a hyper-competitive crowd. With over 3.2 million subscribers of the WSJ, more people will read your work.
2) More media opportunities. You will be flooded with media requests. They range from YouTube interviews, to podcast interviews, to TV interviews. You will get on this PR “bestsellers list,” and will get more e-mails than you will like.
3) More new business opportunities. As a bestseller, you’ll have more speaking gigs, brand ambassadorship opportunities, and more income and sales to your own business.
4) More credibility, status, and prestige. If people didn’t believe you before, they will now. Less than 10% of authors ever get signed with a publisher. And less than 1% of authors ever get on The Wall Street Journal Bestsellers List.
6) Owning your ideas. When it comes to writing, people will steal or “borrow” your ideas. Then unassuming readers will they other people came up with your idea. But once you become a bestseller, more people will recognize where the idea came from. For example, after publishing my bestseller, more people realized I helped kickstart the FIRE movement in 2009.
7) More book deals. Finally, if you become a bestselling author, you will likely have at least another book deals in the future. Agents will return your calls and editors at major publishing houses will happily hear your pitches. They may even pitch you!
Enjoy Your Book Launch Journey!
Now that you know what it takes to make The Wall Street Journal Bestsellers List, please do your best to enjoy the journey. The book writing and marketing process is hard. You will feel anxious and insecure during the entire marketing process. However, this experience won’t last forever. Therefore, do your best to soak it all in!
If you don’t make The Wall Street Journal Bestseller List or another other bestseller list, that’s OK! You still survived the gauntlet of getting a literary agent, signing a book deal, creating a book, helping people, and learning so much.
One top 10 finance literary agent, Howard Yoon, said he only accepts between 1-3% of all pitches. He also said less than 50% of all literary agents get their clients a book deal. Hence, be proud if you got one! You will feel at peace knowing you did your very best!
If you do become a bestselling author you will feel an immense satisfaction, especially if you didn’t game the system. It’s like a badge of honor that nobody can ever take away from you. You will make your family members proud as well. You can forever put on your resume you are a Wall Street Journal bestselling author.
However, like with all things, the glow of become a bestselling author will fade. Within several months, you will then find yourself wondering what’s the next challenge.
Whatever happens, congratulations! You will have completed one of the hardest things you will ever do in your life.
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