Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pub Life: Secrets of the New York Times Best Seller List

Ever wondered what it would take to add "Bestselling Author" to your name? My next two Pub Life posts will focus on two of the biggest lists for an author to hit-- New York Times and USA Today.

New York Times Best Seller List

The basics:

The New York Times list recognizes the bestselling books in the United States through a survey of sales.  It is published weekly on Sundays.  The first list appeared in 1931, although the format has since evolved over time.  In 2011, the list expanded to include e-book sales and the e-book list is released online.

The New York Times list is divided into several categories and subcategories (Print & Ebooks (Fiction & Non-fiction); Hardcovers (Fiction & Non-fiction); Paperback (Trade fiction, Mass-market fiction, and Non-fiction); E-books (Fiction & Non-fiction); Advice & Misc. (Combined); Children's (Picture Books, Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Series); Graphic Books (Hardcover, Paperback, and Manga); and Monthly Lists (Hardcover Business, Paperback Business, Political Books, Science Times, and Dining).  The list is available here.

The lists are published in the Sunday edition of the New York Times and are pre-released to subscribing publishers, literary agents, and other industry professionals on the preceding Wednesday.  


The exact metrics of what reporting is used are shrouded in secrecy, however, the list is calculated from weekly sales reports from independent, chain bookstores, and wholesalers across the U.S.  The selling week is calculated as beginning in the morning on Sunday and ending with the close of business Saturday night.  The e-book list includes sales from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, and Google.  Distribution through these channels can give you a shot at hitting the e-book list if your weekly sales are high enough and has led to many self-published authors hitting the e-book list.


How many copies you need to sell to hit the New York Times list often depends on when you release it.  One week you may be able to hit the list with only a few thousand sales, another week you may need much more.  Additionally, as mentioned above, the methodology for the New York Times's sales sources is considered to be a trade secret.  It's impossible to know how sales will be counted and all of your sales might not necessarily be eligible to put you on the New York Times list.  The other important thing to remember about hitting the list is that it reflects sales in a given week, not total sales.  Therefore the list focuses on the velocity of your sales, not your overall sales.  

Ideally, you want your book to release on a day that will allow you to maximize your one-week sales rather than splitting it across two.  Also, if your book happens to release the same week as a slew of popular authors (ie John Grisham, Nora Roberts, etc.), you will have a more difficult time hitting the list than if you released on a slower week.  Your sales numbers will likely need to be much higher as many spots will be filled.

Chanel writes New Adult contemporary romances and Young Adult thrillers.  Her New Adult debut, I SEE LONDON, will be released by Harlequin (HQN) on February 1, 2014, followed by a sequel, LONDON FALLING, later in the year.  You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook or on her own website

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