How Do Best Seller Lists Work
For you, the aspiring writer whose goal it is to be published in their Bestseller list, probably the most important thing to know is what is worth writing if you are to get your work published on the list.
Again, The New York Times does not consider various categories for their bestseller list. A helpful article published on their site about their various guidelines and scoring method clarifies the matter.
Here is what those guidelines state:
Among the categories not actively tracked at this time are: perennial sellers, required classroom reading, textbooks, reference and test preparation guides, e-books available exclusively from a single vendor, journals, workbooks, calorie counters, shopping guides, periodicals and crossword puzzles.
Cookbooks, contrary to popular belief, are included, as are religion, spirituality, and faith books.
The Nyt Bestseller List Is Not A True Measure Of Bestselling Status
It may seem contradictory and still remains controversial to say but it is nonetheless true: The New York Times Bestseller list does not represent a true best-seller listthat is, when accounting for actual total sales.
Just what constitutes Bestseller status has been the decades-long battle legal, political, commercial, and otherwise betweenthe Times, various authors, and book publishers.
Like any traditional gatekeeper, the Times has its set of rules, standards, and procedures. As such, they hold the keys as to who gets inand who is left out .
It is best to think of New York Times Bestseller status as something that is subjective in nature. A book that becomes a New York Times Bestseller doesnt necessarily have to sell millions of copies, or hundreds of thousands, for that matter. While book sales do meet the subjective criteria that the Times uses, it is a specific kind of book sale that counts toward New York Times Bestseller status.
Moreover, given the explosion of online sales and the diminishing number of traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores the sales methodology behind how books are counted has influenced which books appear or do not appear on the list.
As explained in a recent article about how to become a best-selling author and how to appear on a bestseller list, its stated that the New York Times in particular, when tallying books for bestseller status, considers:
Again, the Times explains this in more detail on their site.
Controversial And Strongly Opinionated Content Works
Content needs to be meaningful. Theres a lot of content that has no real purpose. Editors seem to cling to pieces that are strongly opinionated or controversial. The New York Times, like every news outlet, needs to attract readers.
The reader is the only thing that matters and keeps the lights on.
When being controversial or making a strong stance on a topic, its important that you do so with headlines that are powerful. Draw in readers with a strong first sentence. Keep in mind that editors need the article to flow, with each paragraph forcing the reader to continue through the article to learn something new.
End paragraphs with strong hooks to keep the readers attention.
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Why These Tradeoffs Hurt Authors
Simply put, these tradeoffs are not worth it for most authors.
At Scribe, most of the authors we work with are not professional writers. Theyre C-level executives, entrepreneurs, consultants, coaches, speakers, and other types of successful people for whom their book is not the end goala book is a way to reach another goal.
Their book will help them get them authority and credibility in their field, it can drive clients and leads to their business, it can get them speaking gigs it essentially acts as an amazingly effective multi-purpose marketing tool to get them visibility. They dont need to focus on selling copies, they need to focus writing the best possible book for their audience and their goal.
And before you ask the question, selling copies and making money from a book are not always the same thing. If you are using your book as a marketing tool to get you something else , then what matters is not selling copies or hitting a list, its the impact your book has with your intended audience.
You want to understand the difference between bestsellers and impact? Read this article about what writing a book has done for Melissa Gonzalez.
It tripled incoming leads to her business, doubled her revenue in two years, established her as a keynote speaker, and got her media in every important retail outlet. It was resounding success in all ways for herand it did it while selling less than 1,000 copies.
Your Story Is Too Low
This mistake is a little hard to define, but it probably accounts for at least half of the stories I decline. If youre going to ask an editor to pay you for your idea, make sure its an idea worth paying for. Think scope, reach, and impact.
This problem emerges in a lot of ways, but the most common issues I see are: Your story requires very little or no reporting it could be written by anyone it applies to a very small demographic your story has a very limited shelf-life or it just doesnt have any sweep or scope. Editors want important, substantive stories.
Ask yourself: If an editor responded and said, So what? Who cares? would you have a real answer?
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What Are The Elements Of A Great Opinion Guest Essay
Guest Essays can take many forms. They can be:
- First-person accounts, in which everyday people describe their experiences in their own words in a way that compels readers to see the world or reflect on their own experiences in a different light.
- A hub for experts to present findings, highlight problems and propose solutions to the public and to one another. We seek out essays from experts in which they make an original, robust argument based on their unusual or deep expertise. Economists, lawyers, doctors, teachers, psychologists, playwrights and many others may all have expertise on a given topic that may advance an important argument.
- The place where public officials make their case, explain their position or tell their stories. Because these individuals already have significant platforms, their essays are held to especially high standards, and offer readers newsworthy insight.
And : Build A Really Shiny Object And Make It A Team Project
Pundits like to use different buzzwords, like Shiny Object or Cornerstone Content but in reality what it means is: Invest a lot of thought, a lot of time, and a lot of effort into creating a high quality thing you can pitch to trade and major publications.
It should be newsworthy and high quality stuff. Easier said than done.
What I discovered with our NYtimes article was is that the best way to accomplish this is to turn it into a team project. Even though its a pain to manage multiple peoples opinions, it was worth it because several heads think better than one, especially for something this important.
To come up with the killer idea for the Appsgeyser article I had one email thread going on for weeks with the company co-founder. I also opened up another thread with the development team to extract reports and data from the Appsgeyser database.
We even had a third thread dedicated to the graphic design team to to make the data visualization look awesome.
Finally, the editors at Venture Beat were awesome at providing feedback as to what they thought would work. Their advice was invaluable.
Combining everybodys efforts resulted in a guest post that was awesome enough to get picked up and republished on the New York Times website.
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Whats The Tradeoff Of Going For A Bestseller List
The tradeoffs of going for a bestseller list:
And : Pitch The Editors Of Each Publication If They Dont Bite Try Offering Exclusivity
After youve produced that killer piece of content, whether its an article, infographic, eBook, the results of a survey, or a combination of those things, then go out and pitch it to the editors. Of course the ideal scenario is where you already have an established relationship with the editors at trade publications and you can call them or email them a 2 line pitch first to see if they think it has potential.
But most people do not have editor friends at major publications, so we need to produce the product first and hone it to near perfect and hopefully when the editor sees it theyll rush to put it in their publication.
Editors have very little time to sift through the endless clutter they get spammed with daily, so if you are going to publish your work, then you are better off sending them a finished product.
If you have been able to get an editor to respond to your article, but still cannot get them to confirm theyll publish it, then offer them exclusivity.
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New York Times Submission Guidelines
The New York Times provides several submission opportunities for readers. Opinion, travel and general article submissions are just a few of the items accepted by the popular magazine. Following the guidelines set by the New York Times is important when submitting an item for potential publication. Failing to follow the submission guidelines could result in your item being discarded without even being considered.
Write opinion article on any topic that is no more than 750 words in length that has not already been published in print or online.
Copy and paste text of article, along with contact information, in the body of an email.
Write a proposal or story that is or will be no more than 1,500 words in length and has not been published elsewhere. An article will not be considered if it is in relation to a trip paid for by an airline, tourist board or other organization with an interest in the subject of an article.
Write the date of the trip on a separate line on top of the article.
Write a proposal or article that is or will be no more than 1,500 words in length and has not been published elsewhere.
Determine which section of the New York Times would be the most appropriate for the article or proposal submission. Possible sections include news, sports, fashion, politics, business and technology.
Send proposal or article by regular mail directly to department that is appropriate. For example, address it to News Editor or Sports Editor.
Start Talking To Publishers Before You Even Write Your Piece
A major mistake that many first-time contributors make is that they write their piece first, and the next thing they know, theyre too late. Its common to write a piece, spend days on it and then send it out to publications for approval.
If time-sensitive material is being written, its important that it be published as fast as possible.
Another content creator may beat you to the finish line and write on the same topic. At this point, youve wasted all of your time and energy on a topic that wont be published on the New York Times.
Contact the publication with your idea beforehand. Youll want to convince the publisher that your idea is one that they want on their publication. Op-Ed articles are accepted by the NY Times, so keep this in mind. Youll need to do the following:
- Read the rules for sending in a topic suggestion if the rules exist publicly.
- Contact the editor using their name .
- Pitch a topic idea.
- Sketch out your topic providing basic titles, headers of what youll discuss.
Youll need to convince the editor that you have a unique angle for a topic and that youre the right expert to cover the topic very important.
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Writing For Modern Love
Modern Love only accepts 1% of the submissions it receives. It must have been exciting when you heard a yes from the editor! Can you tell us a bit about your experience with being published there? How did you go about preparing your submission for them?
Getting an acceptance from Modern Love was one of the greatest thrills of my life. Id tried twice before and didnt make the cut. For the essay that was eventually published, I wrote five drafts after studying the Modern Love column for months. I read back issues, and I listened to an episode of the Tin House podcast where Ann Hood discussed her Modern Love experiences at the time she was the writer with the most Modern Love acceptances. I listened to that episode over and over, hoping the lessons would sink into my bones.
I workshopped my draft with my writing group. When I had a final version, I sat on it for a few weeks because I was scared. I knew my idea was good and that I had many of the elements that the editor looked for there are articles on the internet where the editor explains how to write a successful Modern Love column. I hesitated because I couldnt imagine that he would accept an essay from a nobody in Chicago. I had zero connections. I didnt have a fancy MFA. Id been watching writers publish in that column for years, always thinking that it would never happen for me.
While I loved my experience with Modern Love, and the day it came out was a singular thrill that Ill never forget, I did cry again.
Cracking The Modern Love Code
If it isnt clear by now, theres no Modern Love code, but there is tremendous satisfaction if youre lucky enough to land a column.
Today, the Modern Love franchise extends far beyond a slot in the New York Times paper to live reading events, anthologies, a podcast and an Amazon Prime TV show. Dan is very generous in terms of sharing submission tips and advice. He has appeared at writers conferences, been interviewed for podcasts and provided an online space with submission tips.
Here are a few avenues to help you get up to snuff:
You can also take a look at Laura Copelands, and Nicole WhitakersModern Love column analysis in the February 2020 issue of The Writer Magazine.
Do you have any favorite Modern Love examples? Share them in the comments section below.
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The Cheat Code: Buying Your Way Onto The List
Services exist that will guaranteefor a large feethat you get on the list. They are very expensive, and for the most part, if you read the fine print, their results are not actually guaranteed .
I have never used one directly, but I know the three major companies well, because weve had clients who used them, and the results have been mixed. Sometimes they work well, other times not.
I would estimate that a large number of books that hit the bestseller list are bought. At least 50-100 per year, on average for the last decade.
And like I said before, buying a place on the list is a pure ego play. If spending $200,000 to see your name on the NY Times Best Seller List is worth it to you, then go for it. Just be up front with yourself about what you are doing and why.
Regardless of whether or not you reach the top of a bestseller list, your book can still have a huge impact on your bigger business goals. Scribe has worked with over 2,000 Authors, many of whom have made well over 6 figures in revenue from the new business their book brought them.
If youre ready to become a published Author, schedule a consultation to speak with one of our Author Strategists.
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