How I Hit The USA TODAY Bestseller List

by CJ McDaniel // January 2  
This guest post was written by Jeff Gunhus.  Jeff is a USA TODAY bestselling author of thriller and horror novels for adults and fantasy books for middle graders. He enjoys helping new authors succeed in today’s competitive marketplace. Visit him at or follow him at on Facebook and Twitter for writing tips.

In the hyper-competitive book world, authors need to find ways to stand out in a crowd. Even if you write a book better than that international bestseller in your genre category, it will languish in the Kindle store and on the bookshelf unless you convince readers to take a risk and invest time in reading it.

Having USA TODAY BESTSELLER splashed on the cover and on your product page gives book browsers an extra reason to feel you will be able to deliver the goods on the page.

Many of the pieces of the puzzle essential to hitting the list are the same rules for attracting readers in general. Here’s how I hit the USA TODAY list with my thriller Killer Pursuit and how you can do the same with your book.

5 Things to do before your campaign:

  1. Great cover. You’ve heard this a thousand times, but have you really followed the advice you’ve heard on this subject? Did you use a professional designer? Did you A/B test until you found the cover that jumped off the page? My cover for Killer Pursuit took a month of back and forth with my designer, six different designs, and endless tweaks until we got it right.
  2. Open strong. If you watch buyers in a bookstore, you see them pull books from the shelf, read the first page, and then either put the book back or add it to their cart. Ebook buyers do the same. Relook at your first two pages and make sure they are not only compelling but irresistible.
  3. Perfect editing. Use a professional. If your opening or your reviews talk about typos and grammar errors, you won’t make it.
  4. Prior to launching your USA TODAY campaign, you need substantial reviews. We can argue whether its fair or not, but the number of reviews has become a shorthand for the popularity of a book. A novel with 25 reviews and a rating of 4.9 shows you have 25 friends who wrote a review for you. Try your best to get over 100 actual reviews prior to your campaign. How to get 100+ reviews? First, never pay for them. You don’t need to and they aren’t real. Try reaching out to your mailing list, to your Facebook network, writers groups, run a Facebook ad giving out review copies, etc.
  5. Go wide. To hit the USA TODAY list, you can not be an Amazon-only author. After your promotion, you can go back to KDP Select if you want, but you need to go wide for your campaign… and for when you apply to Bookbub.

5 Things to do before your campaign:

  1. Bookbub promotion. This is the tent pole in the strategy and the one that gives authors the most heartburn. For those who are unfamiliar with Bookbub, it is an email promotion company that is hands down the most effective bookselling promo in the market. However, only 10% of books submitted for consideration are accepted for promotion. Following the steps above will also help you increase your chances of getting a thumbs up. Once you’re accepted, get to work.
  2. Think Monday-Sunday. This is the time frame for the USA TODAY bestseller list. Most of your Bookbub sales will happen on the day of the promotion and then trail off. If your Bookbub promo is on Saturday, it’s not going to work. Once you’re accepted, Bookbub gives you a date. If it’s Thurs-Sat, you can ask whether a Mon-Tues is available in the future. You might get a no, but it doesn’t hurt to try. If you are on a Saturday, it’s worth still doing the promotion, but it may not be in the stars for you to hit a list.
  3. Layer promotions around Bookbub. I focus on email-based promotions as I want my book in as many inboxes during that week as possible. I schedule these in the days after my Bookbub because my book will be (hopefully) on the top of my category on Amazon and hopefully in the Amazon Top 100. This increases the effectiveness of the other promotions.
  4. Gather your army. I reach out to my mailing list a month early to let them know about my big promotion. Many of them are book bloggers who I’ve come to know very well. They start to suggest ways they might help. Everyone likes to be part of a winning team and to have a specific goal. My army of readers and friends all knew I was shooting to make the list and were ready to help me do it.
  5. Leverage the promotion to get more reviews. Send a follow-up email to anyone who received a review copy and let them know your plan. Gently suggest it would be helpful to have their honest review up in time for the promotion. Many people (like me) have towering lists, but I’ll jump to a book when someone makes such a request to me.

5 Things to do during your campaign:

  1. Discount your book in plenty of time. My discount on Barnes and Noble got held up for some reason and it came down to the last hours prior to the Bookbub deadline before it finally hit.
  2. Send out (limited) updates to your peeps on social media as your book climbs the charts once the Bookbub promo hits. Avoid the temptation to send an update every time your book move up a notch. Include buy link and ask for them to share.
  3. Take screenshots of your book high on the list, especially if you end up next to some of your favorite authors. You’ll use these later… and it’s cool.
  4. Run Facebook ads. Use your new awesome ranking in your ad and target people in your genre.
  5. I found that a glass (or two) of wine was helpful as I watched the sales come in.

3 Things to do after your campaign:

  1. Celebrate! Even if you don’t hit the list, you will have likely achieved great visibility in the market, sold a ton of books, and earned new readers. If you hit the list, celebrate even more!
  2. Thank your supporters for their help. Reward them with the coolest screenshot of your book on a list… hopefully as a USA TODAY bestseller.
  3. Change your profiles, email tag, book covers, and promotional materials. Your Name USA TODAY Bestselling Author

How many sales does it take to hit the USA TODAY bestseller list?

It depends. The list extends to the top 150 in book sales in that one-week period, both in print and ebook. The sales of book #150 on the list varies from week-to-week. However, 7-9000 books is a safe range to get on the list.

This might seem out of reach, but don’t underestimate the power of the steps I listed above. Bookbub is the center of the strategy, but the first five steps are essential to get that Bookbub acceptance. And Bookbub alone is not enough. Follow all 18 steps and you’ll give yourself a great shot at hitting the list.

And think about this: You only need to hit the list once and you’ll be a USA TODAY Bestselling author for the rest of your life.

Good Luck!

Jeff Gunhus is the USA TODAY bestselling author of thriller and horror novels for adults and the award-winning middle-grade fantasy series, The Templar Chronicles. The first book, Jack Templar Monster Hunter, was written in an effort to get his reluctant reader eleven-year-old son excited about reading. It worked and a new series was born. His books for adults have reached the Top 30 on Amazon, have been recognized as Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Finalists and reached the USA TODAY bestseller list.

usa today bestsellerHis experience with his son sparked a passion to help parents reach young reluctant readers and he remains active in child literacy issues. As a father of five, he and his wife Nicole spend most waking moments just trying to keep up with their kids. In rare moments of quiet, he can be found in the back of the City Dock Cafe in Annapolis working on his next novel or on

His new novel, RESURRECTION AMERICA, has been widely praised. Publishers Weekly calls it a “taut, thought-provoking apocalyptic thriller,” and Foreword Reviews declares “Gunhus delivers an unforgettable thriller that is thought-provoking, honest, and true-blue.”

About the Author

CJ grew up admiring books. His family owned a small bookstore throughout his early childhood, and he would spend weekends flipping through book after book, always sure to read the ones that looked the most interesting. Not much has changed since then, except now some of those interesting books he picks off the shelf were designed by his company!