How Do You Get On The New York Times Best-Seller List?
Short answer: Who the [bleep] knows.
Long answer: It seems obvious, right? The book was a best-seller, meaning it sold more than all the other books that weren’t on said best-seller list, correct?
Publishing insider Tim Grahl recently posted an article that outlines the eternal mystery of landing a book on a best-seller list, specifically The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. The New York Times is notoriously secretive about how books land on their list, but we do know they factor in a lot more than just sales. According to Grahl:
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, we’ve come pretty far from “the books that sell the most copies.”
Grahl explains some trends he and and a friend noticed from looking back over Neilsen BookScan numbers (the organization that tracks the large majority of book sales).
- If you happen to work for the New York Times and have a book out, your book is more likely to stay on the list longer and have a higher ranking than books not written by New York Times employees.
- If you happen to have written a conservative political leaning book, you’re more likely to be ranked lower and drop off the list faster than those books with a more liberal political slant.
Okay. Okay. You can say that, but give me some real life examples, right?
Hugh Howey’s Dust sold more than 50,000 copies in its first week, yet only debuted at #7 on the NYT bestseller list—even though it far, far outsold books that were higher on the list.
Fantastic question. Apparently, the people making the decisions about which books are selling the most copies (notice the contradiction there?) didn’t think Dust was quite good enough.
This is the problem with having these decisions made by a hidden group of people who are highly selective with their data. Real numbers don’t matter to them.
According to Grahl, the NYT also weights books differently based on where they were purchased. For example, a book purchased through Amazon gets more points than a book purchased from an indie bookstore in some random part of the country. As Grahl says, some stores just aren’t cool enough for the NYT apparently.
The company I write for published a book a few weeks ago called Retire Inspired by Chris Hogan. It’s an excellent book if you’re interested in making a gameplan for your retirement. Hogan makes a fairly dry topic interesting and fresh.
Anyway, the book sold 80,000 copies in its first week. It appeared in the top spot on the Publisher’s Weekly list and on the Wall Street Journal list. According to the Book Scan numbers, Retire Inspired sold nearly double any other book in America that week. We did everything on the up and up, totally legit. So where was Retire Inspired on the New York Times list? Nowhere to be found. We’ve had other books that made the list, so this isn’t our first time around the block.
So why did they ignore this one? Who knows. Only the New York Times and their secretive process–that absolutely isn’t a “best-seller” list–can answer that. If an author games the system, like buying thousands of books themselves simply to make a list, then I understand. But when the book sales are legit?
Why even call this a best-seller list? It’s more like the “Staff Favorites” aisle that you see at Barnes & Noble. Let’s just be honest.
So this is my PSA for all my fellow readers. The New York Times doesn’t have a best-seller list, no matter what they call it. Keep that in mind next time you see the NYT promoting its list of favorites.