What Writers Need To Know About The New York Times Bestseller List
Even though it retains its prestigious reputation, The New York Times Bestseller list has been the subject of much controversy. Charges of curated elitism, an overreliance on books published by the major New York publishing houses, questionable methodologies, bribery, editorial and political bias have prompted lawsuits and intense debates among authors, book publishers, and industry executives.
A 1983 lawsuit by William Beatty, an American writer best known for his novel The Exorcist and 1973 movie by the same name, is a case in point.
While his book Legion sold many copies during its initial publicationenough to earn a comfortable spot for a while on the Times Bestseller listhis book appeared on the list only for one week.
Sensing bias and claiming that by it not remaining on the Timess list his sales were being hurt, Beatty took his case to Court. In Court, the Times defended itself on grounds that The list did not purport to be an objective compilation of information but instead was an editorial product. The Court sided with the Times, dismissing a $3 million lawsuit.
Think of it like this: The New York Times is the newspaper equivalent to a prestigious university and fashionable high-end clothing brand. When it comes to getting on their bestseller list, just as it is for gaining admission to, say, an Ivy League School, few get in.
The Right Way To Become A New York Times Bestseller
Is there an ethical, effective way to become a bestseller? Yes, the answer is called pre-order sales. A pre-order occurs when someone buys a book before the official release date. For example, if your book won’t be available to buy in stores until November 1st, people can still purchase beforehand and wait for it to be shipped. Pre-orders are usually accepted by all of the major online retailers around 4 6 months in advance.
Pre-order sales are important for two reasons. First, pre-orders give publishers leverage to convince retailers to stock up early on a new book. Filling the distribution pipeline before a book’s launch date is crucial to maximize sales and boost the bestseller potential. If distribution is weak and availability runs out, then a book can get listed as out of stock, which can ruin all hopes of hitting a bestseller list.
Second, theres a secret about pre-orders that many authors dont know. The New York Times allows all pre-orders to be counted towards a books first week of sales. For instance, if you sell 5,000 pre-orders before release and another 5,000 copies during the first official week, then The New York Times will count your first weeks total sales as 10,000 copies. This odd reporting method allows authors to get a head start towards hitting the bestseller lists. Its a lot easier to sell 10,000 copies in the first week when you get several months beforehand to capture a lot of pre-orders.
How Does An Indie Author Become A New York Times Bestseller
The New York Times Bestseller list. The crown jewel for every author. Even more important than Oprahs Book Club, which is an authors dream in its own right.
NYT Bestsellers see a huge uptick in sales, both in the immediate and for the foreseeable future. Being able to slap that label of New York Times Bestselling Author of is the gift that keeps on giving.
So how in the world do you get on that list? Its just the books that have sold the most copies, right? Wrong.
The NYT editors handpick the books that make the list. The number of copies sold is considered as a factor, but is not the final driving force. The New York Times editors are. Heres how they describe their methodology:
Rankings reflect unit sales reported on a confidential basis by vendors offering a wide range of general interest titles. Every week, thousands of diverse selling locations report their actual sales on hundreds of thousands of individual titles. The panel of reporting retailers is comprehensive and reflects sales in stores of all sizes and demographics across the United States. The sales venues for print books include many hundreds of independent book retailers national, regional and local chains scores of online and multimedia entertainment retailers supermarkets, university, gift and big-box department stores and newsstands. E-book rankings reflect sales from leading online vendors of e-books in a variety of popular e-reader formats.
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Decide Which Bestseller List You Want To Get On
This will ultimately define which path you follow to get published.
Our list above details a couple bestseller lists you can aim to get on, or you can shoot for all of them if youre really ambitious.
Here at Self-Publishing School, we teach our students how to excel in in order to gain authority, increase your books rankings on the #1 platform for book sales in the world, and ultimately, sell more of their books.
Its up to you to determine if you want to get on one, two, or even all of the bestseller lists available.
Obtain Fast And Diverse Sales
In the age of digital self-publication and promotion, the traditional publishing route is virtually a thing of the past.
Not so for a New York Times Bestseller. Unlike selling on digital mediums where you can become a Bestseller by selling your book on, say, Amazon, to whomever, wherever, becoming a New York Times Bestseller follows a different system.
To achieve bestseller status on the Times not only do you have to sell at least 5,000 10,000 copies in one week, but these sales have to be diverse sales.
That is, you cannot sell 10,000 books to a pre-existing list of followers through a personal website or thousands from only one marketplace like Barnes and Noble.
Rather, these sales must flow from retailers across the country and in different geographical locationseverything from Big-Box chains like Barnes and Noble and Walmart, small independent book stores, E-commerce giant Amazon, university bookstores, etc.
It is worth noting that the public does not have access to who the aforementioned retail outlets are. To prevent possible abuse from those looking to rig the system.
But the thing that is discrediting the NYT Bestseller List further and further is the fact that you can sell many more books than what is required, but would still not make it on the list.
Therefore, Amazon sales only will not count on their own.
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Write An Amazing Book
Obviously, your book is important. While there is a lot of strategy involved in becoming a bestselling author, you do have to write a book worthy of selling.
Heres how you can write an amazing book:
Why These Tradeoffs Screw Entrepreneurs
I want to be clear. Though the trade-offs are the same, the advice here is geared towards entrepreneurs, especially the type we work with at Book In A Box, and not towards professional writers.
There’s a big difference between entrepreneurs who write books and professional writers — at least in terms of what goals they should pursue. The tradeoffs I explained above exist for both groups, but they impact the different groups in different ways.
Professional writers are people who write and sell books for a living. Their whole job is to write books that sell a lot of copies, because that is how they make money. So for them, working with traditional publishing and pursuing bestseller lists can make sense — though often it does not.
Most entrepreneurs are not professional writers. They don’t have the time to sit down and spend a year writing their ideas into books. For them, a book is not the end goal. A book is a way to reach another goal. It can earn them authority and credibility in their field. It can drive clients and leads to their business. It can get them speaking gigs, and it essentially acts as an amazingly effective multi-purpose marketing tool to get them visibility. They don’t need to focus on selling copies. They need to focus on writing the best possible book for the goal they want to achieve.
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The Amazon Bestseller List
Personally, I don’t think Amazon has a bestseller list. What they do is rank the sales of their books. Even on the page that they call their “bestseller” page, it says “Our most popular products based on sales. Updated hourly.” So it’s not really a bestseller list, it’s just the top 100 sellers from their site.
What are the rules for calling your book an Amazon bestseller? It’s an open question, a lot of people abuse it, and I already linked to the Brent Underwood piece that . But you can use them if you want. A lot of people do.
Why Every Bestseller List Is Always A Lie
Simply put — every bestseller list is a lie because no bestseller list measures the best selling books. Let me repeat that, so you can grasp the gravity of what it means. No bestseller list measures the actual best selling books.
Every single bestseller list either measures a limited number of sales in a few places, or far worse, it’s a curated list and a small group of people are deciding what to put on their list. And they’re picking books based on what they think are important books, not based on what is actually selling.
I am not exaggerating one bit. When questioned about the practice of deciding what books are appropriate to get bestseller status, an old school newspaper editor said they did not want to promote books that were, sewer-written by dirty-fingered authors for dirty-minded readers. Yes, thats a real quote.
You know what authors he was talking about? Henry Miller and Harold Robbins, now widely considered titans of modern literature. But that attitude is still prevalent today, and still infects how most editors think about books.
The most important bestseller list is The New York Times bestseller list, and they are the worst culprit at this curated elitism. They readily admit that their list is only reflective of books that are selling at a certain number of bookstores and online retailers around the country — but not an actual bestseller list. You know why they have to admit this publicly? They were sued about it.
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The New York Times Best Seller List
This is considered the most important bestseller list, and the only one that people tend to talk about by name. If you make this list, you put New York Times Bestseller on the top of books. Every other list generally gets a National Bestseller headline.
Methodology: The weekly bestsellers are calculated from Monday to Monday. Here is how they describe their methodology on their own site:
Rankings reflect sales reported by vendors offering a wide range of general interest titles. The sales venues for print books include independent book retailers national, regional and local chains online and multimedia entertainment retailers supermarkets, university, gift and discount department stores and newsstands. E-book rankings reflect sales from leading online vendors of e-books in a variety of popular e-reader formats.
E-book sales are presently included for all adult categories except for graphic novels, and all childrens categories with the exception of picture books. Titles are included regardless of whether they are published in both print and electronic formats or just one format. E-books available exclusively from a single vendor will be tracked at a future date.
This is because they think that the type of people who shop at indie bookstores are more serious readers and thus their reading decisions deserve more attention. Im serious, they have said this in public.
Make no mistake about it: this is all just as elitist and snobbish as it sounds.
Tips & Tricks:
Mtley Cres Nikki Sixx Is Now A Four
Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixxs latest book The First 21: How I Became Nikki Sixx has hit No. 8 on The New York Times Best Sellers List in the Hardcover category and No. 11 in the Combined Print And Ebook category. This is the musicians fourth book to make the chart following The Heroin Diaries,This Is Gonna Hurt, and Mötley Crües biography The Dirt: Confessions Of The Worlds Most Notorious Rock Band.The First 21 also made it onto Amazons rock music books chart, Amazons Top 40 overall biographies and memoirs chart, USA Todays best-selling books top 150 list, and Canadas The Globe and Mail bestsellers list. Sixx commented:
I am such a fan of books and storytelling. The whole process is extremely creative from the beginning to the end, which allowed me to open up candidly in the memoir about addiction, sobriety and reflect about the formative years of my life, while unpacking the complicated childhood that had some twists and turns along the way. I am really happy The First 21 connected with people in such a deep way.
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How Many Books Do You Have To Sell To Be A New York Times Bestseller
If you want to become a bestseller, you must sell at least 5,000 – 10,000 booksin one week. The amount needed to succeed fluctuates based on the level of competition and the number of new releases each week. The nonfiction lists tend to be more competitive and usually require weekly sales of 7,500 copies or more.
The New York Times counts the weekly sales starting the previous Sunday through Saturday. Also, books must be traditionally-published and sold in bookstores nationwide.
Self-published titles are rarely accepted, except for an occasional romance novel on the fiction lists.
In addition, you can’t just sell 10,000 books on Amazon to people in one city, state, or region. The New YorkTimes requires that book sales must be spread across America using multiple retailers, including Amazon, B& N bookstores, Books-a-Million, independent bookstores, etc. Sales must be dispersed, rather than concentrated at one place.
To compile the bestseller lists, The New York Times pulls a weekly sales report from a list of online retailers and bookstores scattered across the country. Their proprietary list of stores is guarded with same vigor as protecting the original recipe for Coca-Cola. Keeping their list of reporting bookstores a secret is meant to prevent authors and publishers from rigging the system, which leads to an obvious question…
Who Should Try For A Bestselling Book
All this being said, it does make a lot of sense for professional writers to focus on bestseller lists. Professional writers look at bestseller lists as a necessary evil in their industry, because they do confer status and help them gain credibility.
So they get a smart long term plan to hit them, work the steps, and then once theyve been on a few times they ignore them. Then, they focus on selling books directly to fans , not hitting bestseller lists .
But for authors whose main revenue source is their business and use books as marketing tools, I can tell you: hitting a bestseller list creates very few tangible results for your book.
It doesnt get your book much more attention. It doesnt mean much for your business. It doesnt help sales much. It doesnt get in front of many more clients or help your marketing.
Im not saying it has zero effect. It can have some effect.
Almost all of the impact of hitting a bestseller list is personal and social impact. There is not much business or sales impact, and when you measure the low impact against the high tradeoffs, its a bad decision. This is why almost all of our authors dont end up pursuing it.
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Where The Data Comes From
Appearing for the first time in October 1931, the list gave a humble rundown of the five top-selling fiction books and four non-fiction books in New York City. By 1942, the Times ranked sales in 22 of the countrys largest cities, gathering information from regional bookstores, department stores, and wholesalers. Exactly which retailers are not disclosed in order to prevent publishing companies from artificially inflating numbers. Additionally, a sale of more than one copy to a single buyer is counted as a single copy sold. By the 1950s, the list was on its way to being the marketing behemoth it is today, curating a list of the countrys most popular books.
The New York Times Bestseller List
A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, as the saying goes.
NYT keeps a tight lid on their process for selecting bestsellers. It is known that they sample their own list of certain booksellers across the countrythough which ones is a tightly guarded secretthen look at the data with their wise NYT brains, and decide who they think should be on the list.
Its said that this is done to keep people from gaming the system, which is partially true.
But its also done so that the New York Times can have a say on which books get the extra credibility of being a bestseller.
Im certainly not the only one who sees potential problems with this system.
Remember: NYT and WSJ list = More money.
So a small group of people look at highly selective data to decide who they deem important enough to be called a New York Times bestseller.
At this point, weve come pretty far from the books that sell the most copies.
Weve laid some groundwork, so now I can share the really weird stuff.
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