Have you ever wondered how some books get that orange Amazon bestseller flag while others never seem to move up in the rankings?
On some level, the question comes down to sales—but it isn’t as simple as that.
Becoming a best-selling book on Amazon is an extremely nuanced process that depends on many different factors:
- your book’s categories and keywords
- how well the top book in each of those categories is already selling
- how quickly your book starts selling during its first week
- whether you’re looking at print or Kindle rankings
- which books are on promotion lists when, and how they’re priced
And that’s just the beginning.
But here’s the good news: to reach that #1 bestseller spot, you only have to be the first book in one category—and some categories are a lot easier than others.
If you want your book to claim that Amazon bestseller ranking, this post will tell you how to choose your best categories and rise to the top, step by step.
What Does Being an Amazon Bestselling Author Actually Get You (And What Does It Take)?
First of all, you don’t have to have to be an Amazon bestselling author to write and publish a successful book. In fact, for most nonfiction Authors, book sales are NOT the best way for your book to make money.
That said, there’s definitely some value in being an Amazon bestseller—not so much because of the bestseller status itself, but because the better your book sells, the more Amazon will do to keep showing it to new people.
Amazon isn’t just a website. It’s a powerful computer program that has one job: to sell things. And it does that job extremely well.
Day and night, the Amazon algorithm keeps selling books.
But it doesn’t sell every book equally.
Instead, the algorithm takes books that are already selling well and suggests those books to other people—on book pages, in search results, in emails, and so on.
The more Amazon’s algorithm “likes” your book, the more people it will show it to. And one of the easiest ways to get Amazon to notice your book is to sell a lot of books during the first week your book launches.
The quicker your book sells, the better.
Plus, hitting a bestseller list in your book’s first week is also great for reaching out to media:
“We launched this book last week, and it’s already a bestseller.”
Sounds impressive, right?
So becoming a bestseller isn’t the pinnacle of a book’s success. It’s really just the beginning. That bestseller list becomes a marketing tool to promote the book—and you—even further.
Print books vs Kindle
Amazon treats print & digital copies independently of each other when it comes to sales rankings. A bestselling Kindle book might be near the bottom of its print categories (and that’s okay).
That said, it is possible to become a bestseller with a print book, even as a self-published Author, if you’re in the right category.
I happen to know of at least one instance when a print book in a small category in India got that orange bestseller flag—for selling just one copy.
Fortunately, that’s pretty rare. Amazon bestseller lists wouldn’t mean anything if they were all that easy to top.
But your print book can also become a bestseller in a less-niche category if you:
- have a large, pre-existing platform, and
- you give away enough incentives to get people to buy it during that first week
But that’s unusual too.
Most people aren’t in either of these situations, which is why I usually recommend focusing your efforts on your Kindle book.
How many sales do you need?
How many ebook sales you need to hit number one depends on the category. And it can vary a lot.
For one thing, Amazon moves books up and down in its ranking algorithm based not just on sales, but on how quickly those sales happen.
Selling 25 books in an hour will usually jump your book higher than selling 80 copies in a week.
But by far the biggest factors in becoming an Amazon bestseller are:
- which categories your book is in
- how well the top book in each of those categories is already selling
Remember: to get the orange flag, you don’t have to be a bestseller in the whole Kindle store. You just have to be the best-selling book in any one category.
So if the top book in a given category is only selling around 5 copies a day, selling 10 copies in a day will get you the bestselling flag in that category.
But in a category where the top book is selling 4,000 or 5,000 copies a day, that’s going to be a lot harder to beat.
So how do you know how many copies the top book is selling? You can’t tell exactly, but you can estimate those numbers from a book’s overall rank in the Amazon Kindle store.
For example, the top book in a small, niche category might be ranked only #50,000 in the whole Kindle store. If your book can hit #49,999, you’ll be a bestselling Author.
But in a huge, general category like all self-help books, the top book can easily be ranked #20. In that category, you’d need more like 3,000 sales in a single day to beat it.
Thus, a big part of hitting bestselling status on Amazon is choosing your categories wisely.
Getting reviews can help
Technically, reviews don’t matter at all to the ranking algorithm. Your book’s Amazon rank is based purely on sales.
But reviews can improve your sales percentage among people who see your book. I like to see new books have at least 15-20 reviews by the end of the first week.
If you want to know how to do that, read our complete guide to getting Amazon reviews.
How to Become an Amazon Bestseller
Now that you know how the system works, here’s the step-by-step method for getting that bestseller status.
Step 1. Create visual assets
Do this as soon as you have your final cover, long before your actual launch.
Your book cover needs to be great, but you’ll also want:
- eye-catching graphics for social media
- a great headshot for your author bio
- a professional, visual email footer
These might use your full cover, or they might incorporate certain elements of the cover.
Video assets are also fantastic for social media, but still images are good too (as long as they’re professional and attention-grabbing).
Ask your cover artist for help with this. If they can’t help you, try Upwork.
Step 2. Reach out to centers of influence
While your launch is still a month or two away, try to come up with at least 3-5 people in your network who have a large audience.
Those centers of influence could be the head of a professional association, a podcast host, a Facebook group administrator, an influencer—just as long as their audience matches your own target audience for your book.
Send those people an early review copy, ask them to endorse it, and ask them to share it with their audience when your book comes out.
Ideally, you’ll want to coordinate a significant public endorsement on each day of your launch week for days 3-7. More is, of course, even better.
The idea is to keep your sales strong all week and thus impress the Amazon algorithm.
Day 1 and 2 have special recommendations, which I’ll describe below.
Step 3. Set up book promotion lists
There are book promotion sites with thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) of subscribers that will email your book to their list of readers.
The fees for these services vary, but the good promotional sites are worth the price.
You have to apply for these promotions ahead of time, but not every book gets in (which is just another reason your book needs a great cover design and a great description).
Apply early to have them promote your book on day 2 of your launch week.
If you can get a BookBub promotion, it’s fantastic—but that tends to be a longshot, and the timing can be tough to coordinate. It’s by far the best promotion site out there, but that also makes it the most in-demand.
Step 4. Construct your email list
While you’re preparing for your launch, set up a free MailChimp account. Load in the email addresses of everyone you know: your friends, your family, your colleagues, your clients—everyone.
The goal is to come up with a list of at least 500 contacts.
If you add everyone you can think of and your list is still under 500, check out a service called Voila Norbert. It will scrape all your LinkedIn contacts and find about 20-40% of those emails for you.
Scraping 1,000 LinkedIn contacts will get you 200-400 emails for about $100.
Once you have your list, prepare your book launch announcement in MailChimp and schedule it to go out the day your book launches. That’s your sales bump for day 1.
Remember to use at least one eye-catching graphic. Choose still images for your email (not video) and link straight to your book’s listing on Amazon.
You can even build interest by creating a short email chain leading up to the launch. Tell your contacts a story or two about the book, or promote any incentives you might be offering.
Step 5. Choose your categories
Amazon book categories tend to change a LOT, so you’ll want to choose these as close to the launch as possible.
Be sure to choose a wide range of categories for your book—you can choose up to 10. Amazon gives you a couple of default ones based on the categories you enter in your KDP dashboard.
Use your Amazon Author Page to add additional categories through tickets. We recommend 2-3 paperback categories and 7-8 ebook categories total.
For the paperback categories and for your first 2 ebook categories, just make sure they’re good matches for your book. That’s all that matters.
For the next 2 ebook categories, look for ones in which the top book in the category is ranked somewhere between #3,000 and #10,000 on the Kindle store as a whole.
For the last few ebook categories, try to find ones in which the top book is ranked at #10,000 or worse in the Kindle store. The higher that number (i.e. the worse the rank) the better.
It’s okay if these categories are only tangentially related to your book. The important thing is the ranking of the top book.
If you can find a semi-related category with a top book that’s ranked at 30,000 or worse, it’s relatively easy to hit number 1 during that first week. You could get that bestseller flag with something like 20-40 sales in a day.
Step 6. Discount your book to $0.99 for the first week
Unlike The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times bestseller lists, Amazon presales do NOT count toward sales on your first day. So selling books ahead of time doesn’t help you.
For day 1 of your book launch, set your book’s price to $0.99, and keep it there for the week. This will really help to drive early sales since anyone who might have been on the fence of buying your book will likely feel called to purchase it, knowing it’s only $0.99.
Step 7. Connect with your own network
Use that MailChimp list, and announce that your book is live in the Amazon store on day 1.
If your list is big enough and you’ve chosen your categories well, that should bump your book into the number 1 slot (or at least come close).
Step 8. Try to organize a bump each day
Ideally, your newsletter will cover your sales bump on day 1, and your promotion lists will cover day 2.
For days 3-7, try to organize daily bumps through those influencers you contacted. If you’re concerned that your email list isn’t great, you can always add an announcement from an influencer on day 1 also.
A sales bump can come from almost anything as long as the audience matches the target audience for your book.
Each Author is in a unique situation, so think creatively about your own book marketing and promotion.
What to do after your launch week is over
When your launch week is over, start by breathing a sigh of relief.
A successful book launch has a ton of moving parts, and impressing Amazon’s search engine right off the bat takes a lot of hard work.
Book marketing never really ends, but after your book launch week, the formula reverses—at least when it comes to self-publishing.
Up to and during your launch, you’re working for your book. After your launch, your book should start working for you.