Over the years I’ve been asked about getting on a bestseller list – actually, if I had a dime for every time someone has asked me, I’d be richer than Bill Gates. That said, making a bestseller is still somewhat of a mystery. But if you want some low-down on how the New York Times works, here’s some bestseller scoop you may not know.
Did you know that the New York Times Bestseller List is actually based on a “survey” of closely guarded accounts posted for weekly sales? These are essentially stores – according to many sources – 34 reporting stores that the Times polls to see what’s selling.
Sales need to be showing up across the board. For example, if you’re hot on Amazon but nowhere else, your book would be excluded. If they are picking up a lot of bulk sales for the book, then it would be excluded, too. But, if the book is showing large bulk sales *and* a lot of regular sales then it could be added to the list.
Also, the Times list is polled Sunday to Sunday, so if you launch your book later in the week, it’ll be harder to hit the list for that week.
How much do you need to sell to hit a list? Well that depends on when you launch your book. If you’re targeting the heavy-shopping season (like Christmas), then you likely need to sell more. Though, to some extent, publishers have moved away from publishing “seasons” there are still some busy times you should be aware of: January sees a lot of change-your-life/save money books while the summer season sees a lot of beach-read type books (genre fiction). Also, if you’re planning to have a shot at the list, be sure to check out major anniversaries. You may recall the recent Kennedy 50-year anniversary, which was key for many, many new Kennedy titles.
And one final note on the Times list: Independent bookstores are central to these lists. At one time I know that many of the reporting stores were indie stores (I’m not sure of that now, and I assume these stores change). If you’re not in an independent bookstore (or several) you may be out of luck.
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I blew the launch hype because the book hit the streets 6 weeks prior to what I was told would be the launch date. Other authors told me not to be too concerned, but to consider it a “soft” launch, and to do something big in September when kids are all going back to school. Will that work, or are people trying to make me feel better?
And now we have a “spate” of tell-all books about Richard Nixon on the 40th anniversary of his resignation from his presidency. I wonder how many of them will become “bestsellers.”