This post is for everyone out there who still believes there’s no success to be had in self-publishing your books. “There’s just no way to self-publish a best seller!” Well, that’s just flat out not true. Do trad titles have a certain advantage? Sure. But it’s not impossible for indies to make these lists. It just (like everything) takes more work on your part. Here are ten tips for those coveting that best seller badge of honor.

self-publish a best seller

Note: Not All Lists are Created Equal

First thing’s first: there are multiple best-seller lists out there, and getting on any of them qualifies your book. The Holy Grail of best-seller lists is, obviously, the New York Times’, but other significant lists include Amazon, the American Book Association’s Indie Bestseller List, Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, and USA Today, to name a few. Almost every list has their own system for determining which books do and don’t make the cut.

Some of these lists, Library Journal and the NYT for example, don’t go by actual sales data. Library Journal’s list is based on the most borrowed books in libraries, which makes sense. But the NYT collects data about orders placed by certain bookstores around the country without taking into account how many of those books actually get sold.

All this is to say that, while calling yourself a best-selling author feels really good, making one of these lists isn’t necessarily an indicator of an author’s financial success. Just something to keep in mind during your next round of Compared To ______.

1. Publish Your Best Work

It seems a little silly to say, maybe, but putting out your best writing has a huge impact on the ultimate success of your book. Self-published authors are taking their product directly to their consumers, which has many benefits but means it’s on them to make sure it’s really ready. Working with an editor on the story and the writing is crucial!

Developmental editing improves all the elements of your story that truly matter to readers: plot, characters, themes, style, etc. It’s the only way for indie authors to truly ensure the quality of their work before it gets to readers. When your work is firing on all cylinders, it’s easier to find and most importantly wow your audience.

2. Understand (and meet!) Industry Standards!

Your book is going to be competing with the big dogs for reader’s attention. Nothing will turn away the majority of readers faster than your book “looking self-published.” Even if you’ve put a ton of effort into what’s inside, unfortunately, books do get judged by their appearance.

This means hiring the best team you can find to nail down your design (interior and cover), copyediting, and proofreading. The devil is in the details, things like remembering to create a logo for the spine of your book. To accomplish some of these other tips, you’ll need to work with folks who truly understand the business. Things like improperly formatted barcodes can keep you out of certain markets and therefore off certain lists forever.

3. Getting into bookstores and libraries

Ensuring your book meets industry standards is only part of making it into stores and libraries. The other part involves availability and distribution. Obviously, to get into physical locations you’re going to need to offer physical books. Making yours available at least in paperback is essential. You’ll want to be set up with the right channels to make it easy for sellers to order your book. Pro tip: independent bookstores won’t order from Amazon. The most popular distribution company working with indie authors at the moment is IngramSpark.

You’ll have to pitch your book to booksellers yourself. That might mean walking in and physically giving the person in charge of ordering a copy and will definitely require follow-up on your part. If you want to have a shot at the NYT list, then you’ll also want to ask them whether or not they report to them.

4. Pursue review/publicity opportunities

Book reviews are a huge part of trad houses’ marketing scheme for their books. A lot of publications either won’t review self-published books or require payment in exchange, but it’s definitely still worth pitching yourself to them. But those aren’t the only folks having a serious influence in the industry.

Book bloggers have major sway in terms of exposure and word-of-mouth marketing. Ahead of publication, many authors will put together a “street team” of folks who promise to review (on their own blogs, Amazon, and/or Goodreads) and share the book in exchange for an ARC (advance review copy). This is a tactic that’s just as open to indie-authors as it is trad houses, but I don’t see many of them truly taking advantage of it.

Another good tactic is to put a “call to action” at the end of the book itself. Remind readers of the importance of reviewing and sharing work they love. It’s the easiest and best way to support their favorite indie authors!

5. Maintain your platform

Pretty much everyone who’s ever casually Googled, “how to be an author” has heard the word platform. A platform is all the ways you connect with your readers—your website, your social media profiles, your Amazon author page, etc. Building up this audience takes time, but the effort is ultimately worth it.

An author with a platform has a group of people eagerly waiting to buy and share their work. This makes things like putting together a street team easier. You can also use your platform to ask your audience to call their local bookstores and order your book, thus increasing your chances of making a best-seller list.


Like I said at the beginning of this post, earning the distinction of best seller is more an ego boost than anything. You can have a plenty successful (and, more importantly, profitable) book that never makes one of these lists. But it’s also not a goal to be ashamed of! I don’t think there’s anyone in the publishing industry that has ever been disappointed to call themselves a best seller.

Ultimately it comes down to how well you plan and pull off your whole self-publishing journey. To make that easier for you, I’ve put together the Ultimate Self-Publishing Checklist that walks you through the whole process and what you’ll need to do to achieve your author dreams your way! Download it using the form below.

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Author: Whynott Edit

Hi, I'm Megan! My mission is to help underrepresented writers refine their words, strengthen their skills, and tell the best possible versions of their stories.

If you have questions/comments/concerns about writing, editing, or publishing, or want to suggest a post topic, feel free to reach out to me! megan[at]