Recently I saw a writer running a 99 cent promo on his ebook and state that he was hoping to hit the USA Today bestseller list.
As someone who hit the list a few years ago, I can testify that it's possible for any writer to hit that list nowadays. Usually it involves a Bookbub promo, with either the mystery category or thriller category, to really push the book up the charts for a couple days. Depending on the time of year, only a few thousand units sold within a week's time will be enough to land you on the list — most likely near the tail end, but still.
However, this particular writer's book is currently exclusive to Amazon. In fact, he was running a Countdown Deal. Not that it matters one way or another, but the simple fact is that no matter how many units he sells within a week's time, he won't hit any national lists.
Well, because of the exclusivity.
There's a reason Amazon Publishing titles never hit the New York Times bestseller lists, despite the fact they can at times outsell most of the other books listed. I don't know where the fine print is, but a book has to be available on more than one platform, and has to sell a certain number of copies on each platform before it can even be considered as being added to a list.
As publishing is a rapidly changing landscape, where books are constantly selling as different speeds, it's impossible to say how many units an ebook needs to sell to make a list, though I have heard that over 10,000 units is needed to hit the New York Times list, while with the USA Today list you're probably looking at close to 5,000 or more. Really, it depends on what other books are selling well that week, the time of the year (certain seasons are busier than others), etc.
I forget how many copies of The Serial Killer's Wife sold when it hit the USA Today bestseller list — at least 5,000, I know that. And I know that the next year when I ran a promo on the same book I sold the same amount of copies, if not more, and yet it didn't make the list. The same with No Shelter — I sold close to 5,000 that week without it hitting the list.
So really, when it comes down to it, it's all about luck. Selling as many copies as possible between Monday and Sunday, of course, but also selling more copies than the thousands and thousands of other books out there.
Is it possible hitting a list without having a major publisher to back you?
Is it something you should depend on when running a promo?
Absolutely not — not even if you have a major publisher backing you.