Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How does a book make the New York Times Bestseller list?

Ever wonder how books make it to the New York Times Bestseller list? I was thinking about this, as I read the list whenever I can, and thought it might be interesting to see how books make it on the list and the criteria involved.
According to Reader Views (read the whole article here: the process of a book making it on this list is a rather arbitrary one. The New York Times has relationships with various independent and chain bookstores and wholesalers throughout the United States,  that report their weekly sales to the New York Times. These sales do not include sales of books through the internet, such as Amazon, or in department stores, or even in stores such as Walmart. The books that sell the most copies each week (during a seven day time period) in the stores they are monitoring determine which ones end up on the bestseller list.  According to Wikipedia, “The sales figures are widely believed to represent books that have actually been sold at retail, rather than wholesale, as the Times surveys booksellers in an attempt to better reflect what is purchased by individual buyers”. So say your book actually outsells a bestseller in sales in your hometown of West Branch, Michigan (my hometown). This book will not make the list because your bookstore is not reporting those sales to the New York Times. Also, the sales must occur over a short period of time (seven days) rather than slow steady sales over a longer period of time. Accordingly, a book that sells over a million copies over the course of several years will not make the list, even if its lifetime sales are more than a New York Times bestseller. This is why you will see writers actually asking readers to not purchase their books in stores or on Amazon until a certain date. They then put out promotions during that time to encourage purchasing, thus making sales during that specific timeframe very high. If enough sales are achieved during this time they then make the New York Times bestseller list or Amazon’s top seller list. To achieve a ranking in Amazon’s 1-10 list, a book must sell over 500 copies in a day.

Michael Hyatt has an article on his blog telling how he achieved his goal of getting his book Platform on the New York Times bestseller list. Along with many other techniques, he actually asked people not to purchase his book before the official release date and pushed for big sales during that week by offering “can’t say no” promotions. As a result of this he sold at least 11,000 copies during that first week thus making the bestseller list.
So does making it on the New York Times bestseller list actually constitute a bestseller book? Many books sell over a million copies in a short period of time and then quickly fade from the spotlight. Whereas books, like the Bible, or certain classics, never appear on any list but their total sales far outsell any bestseller, just because they are good literature, or books that stand the test of time.

So there you have it. If your goal is to get on the New York Times bestseller list or another bestseller list you’ve got a big job ahead of you. Frankly, I think we as writers should concentrate on producing the highest quality fiction possible and let the bestseller status take care of itself.  

Happy reading and writing!

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