Best sellers books 2019

Table of Contents

How Do I Become a New York Times bestseller?

“I’d really like to get on the New York Times bestseller list, how does it work?” This is one of the most common questions that authors ask me.

Do you ever dream of publishing a book that hits the world’s top bestseller list? Do you watch other authors routinely achieve bestseller status, such as James Patterson, Danielle Steel, Brene Brown, or Tony Robbins, and wonder how they do it? I’m about to pull back the curtain and give you a sneak peek inside the process.

Publishing a book is one of the most effective ways to grow your personal brand and build a business. Publishing a New York Times bestseller is considered the gold standard. The achievement can lead to increased media exposure, higher speaking fees, other book deals, expanded consulting opportunities, etc.

But, how do you make the list? Is it magic? Is it money? Many authors wonder why their books don’t become bestsellers when they see other writers reach the summit.

The process may seem easy from a distance, but it’s a lot harder than most authors realize. As a book marketing consultant, I’ve helped clients hit The New York Times bestseller list three different ways, including new nonfiction, new fiction, and backlist nonfiction. In total, the authors whom I’ve coached have produced over 10 New York Times bestselling books. I’ve also worked in the publishing industry for over 12 years and published five books myself. Below is a sample of books I’ve helped hit the list:

Why would I share an insider’s view? An educated author tends to be a more successful author. In my experience, a lot of people have unrealistic expectations about becoming a bestseller. Some think it’s easy to hit the list, or they think it’s okay to cheat the system.

From a personal perspective, I’m not a fan of authors who just want to “hit the list.” Publishing a book should be about sharing a message or a story with the world to educate, entertain, or inspire other people. In contrast, hitting a list tends to be more about satisfying personal ego. I prefer coaching authors who think of their readers first and personal accolades second. If a book happens to make a bestseller list, that’s just icing on the cake.

However, if you’re reading this article, you’re probably intrigued about the possibility of becoming a bestseller. Before you go down that road, let me help clarify the details that are involved.

The New York Times Bestseller List Is Editorial Opinion, Not Statistical Fact

Most people believe that The New York Times bestseller list is based solely on measuring actual book sales. That makes logical sense, right? You may be surprised to learn that the opposite is true. In 1983, an author sued The Times claiming they kept his book off the bestseller list even though he sold enough copies to qualify.

However, the judge sided with lawyers from The Times who countered that “the list was not mathematically objective, but rather editorial content and thus protected under the Constitution as free speech.” Therefore, bestseller lists are legally considered editorial content, rather that factual content. That means the New York Times has the right to include or exclude any book from the bestseller list at their discretion. At the end of the day, it’s their judgement call.

The New York Times Bestseller Lists and the Total Slots Available

Hitting The New York Times bestseller list is extremely difficult no matter what type of book you write. Currently, there are seven bestseller lists for adult books that update once a week (4 for nonfiction and 3 for fiction). Plus, there are five bestseller lists that update once a month. For children’s books, there are four weekly lists. Below are the names and number of available slots for each type of adult book list:

  • Fiction Combined Print & E-Book List – 15 total slots
  • Fiction Hardcover List – 15 total slots
  • Fiction Paperback List – 10 total slots
  • Nonfiction Combined Print & E-Book List – 15 total slots
  • Nonfiction Hardcover List – 15 total slots
  • Nonfiction Paperback List – 10 total slots
  • Nonfiction Advice, How-To & Miscellaneous List – 10 total slots
  • 3 Nonfiction Monthly Lists: Business, Science, and Sports – 10 total slots
  • 2 Audio Book Monthly Lists: Fiction and Nonfiction – 15 total slots

When you see all of these lists and slots, it would appear that there are plenty of opportunities to become a bestseller. However, there’s a catch. The New York Times allows the same book to hit more than one list at the same time. In other words, the same 10 – 15 books usually take up the majority of all the available slots every week.

In addition, most self-help books and business titles are limited to the “Advice, How-To & Miscellaneous List” where competition is extremely fierce. You’re fighting for space against an onslaught of weight loss books, relationship books, religious books, humor titles, celebrity memoirs, etc. The battle is like watching hundreds of people all try to cram into Walmart right when they open the doors for a Black Friday Sale. Under that level of pressure, how does a book actually get on The New York Times bestseller list?

How Many Sales Does It Take to Become a New York Times Bestseller?

If you want a realistic shot to become a bestseller, you must sell at least 5,000 – 10,000 copies in one week. The necessary amount fluctuates based on the level of competition and the number of new releases during 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 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.

Think you can sell 7,500 – 10,000 books in a week? If so, don’t get too excited. The challenge gets even harder. You can’t just sell 10,000 books on Amazon to people in one city, state, or region. The New York Times 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.

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 the list of reporting bookstores a secret is meant to prevent authors and publishers from rigging the system, which leads to an obvious question…

Is it possible to rig the system? Yes, there have been occasions when authors used their own money to buy thousands of copies of their books. It’s an expensive process than can cost $100,000 – $250,000. These self-funded orders are processed through shady third-party companies who covertly place large bulk purchases through bookstores that report to The New York Times. Most people, including myself, consider this practice unethical, because the sales aren’t based on actual customer orders. Authors who stoop to this low level are sleazy sellouts.

Power Your Way Onto Bestseller Lists With Pre-Orders

Is there an ethical, more 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, there’s a secret about pre-orders that many authors don’t know. The New York Times allows all pre-orders to be counted towards a book’s 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 week’s total sales as 10,000 copies. This odd reporting method allows authors to get a head start towards hitting the bestseller lists. It’s a lot easier to sell 10,000 copies in the “first week” when you get several weeks or months beforehand to solicit significant pre-orders.

How to Reach a Big Audience and Hit the New York Times Bestseller List

Securing pre-orders involves two major components. You need a large audience and a way to entice people to purchase your book early. To access a large audience, you can either build your own following or connect with influencers who already have a big fan base. Most bestselling authors use a combination of the following tactics:

1. Build a large email list with at least 50,000 – 100,000 subscribers. Why email? Research shows that email is 12 – 40 times better at producing book sales than all social media platforms combined. If you do use social media, focus on Facebook for targeted advertising efforts.

2. Speak on a frequent basis and forego your speaking fee in exchange for a bulk book purchase, such as 250 – 1,000 copies. If you get paid $5,000 to speak in public, then ask the event director to buy $5,000 of your books instead of giving you a speaking fee. Make sure the bulk sale is run through a reporting retailer, such as a local Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million store. Then, books are shipped to the event attendees after the release date. Bulk sales need to be spread across America using different retailers. If sales are concentrated to one area or one retailer, your book can get flagged by The New York Times and banned from the bestseller lists.

3. Ask business clients to buy books in bulk for their employees. I know authors who have received custom orders of 500 – 5,000 copies using this approach. As long as the custom order is purchased through a reporting bookstore, then the sales can count toward the bestseller lists.

4. Schedule numerous appearances with other influencers to access their large audiences. If you don’t have a large audience, then piggyback on someone else’s large audience. For example, securing author interviews on well-known podcasts, TV shows, popular blogs, or video webinars help enable exponential reach. Shrewd authors will develop a network of influencers who they can tap when needed to help promote a book during the critical pre-order phase.

5. Create a launch team of 500 or more rabid fans who agree to conduct promotional activities in exchange for exclusive benefits. A book launch team serves as a group of people who volunteer to help spread worth of mouth. Typical activities include posting details about a book on social media, writing reviews on Amazon, forming book clubs, buying books for friends, etc. Their efforts are rewarded with exclusive conference calls with the author, bonus content, product discounts, backstage access at events, etc.

How to Entice Pre-Orders to Hit the New York Times Bestseller List

You can see the incredible amount of effort that it takes to build an audience. But, how do you get thousands of people to pre-order a book several weeks in advance? Use the power of an irresistible incentive. Give away something for free that people can’t refuse. Below are effectives incentives that I’ve used with my author clients:

  • Give away the first 3 – 5 chapters from the book in a digital format
  • Offer access to a private webinar with the author
  • Win a free coaching session or Q&A chat with the author
  • Offer discounts and coupons related to other products and services
  • Provide entry into a private online discussion group

There are endless options to incentivize readers to pre-order a book. However, success is ultimately based on how well you create a sense of urgency and the fear of missing out. For instance, make sure people realize that all incentives will disappear after the release date. People must feel a potential negative consequence to overcome their natural desire to procrastinate. In my experience, most pre-orders occur within the last two weeks before a book’s publication date. But, that final rush can make all the difference between hitting or missing the bestseller list.

If you want to become a New York Times bestseller, you don’t need a huge advertising budget. You don’t need your own radio or TV show (although that certainly helps). Instead, you must generate thousands of pre-orders. You can accomplish that goal by building your own audience through email, securing media coverage, connecting with major influencers, and offering irresistible incentives.

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to tell multiple clients, “You just became a New York Times bestselling author for the rest of your life!” Use the tips that I described in this article, and I’d be happy to see you achieve the same success one day.

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Start the New Year off right by adding some of the best books of 2019 to your list for the new year!

New York Times bestselling authors Jasmine Guillory and Téa Obreht stopped by TODAY to share some of their favorite reads from the year. Guillory, author of the bestselling romance “Royal Holiday,” picked novels that range from a lush high-school story to an emotionally packed, graphic memoir.

Obreht, the author behind the bestseller “Inland,” recommended several thrillers and a two-for-one memoir, but no reader can go wrong with any of their recommendations!

Continue reading to see the full list.

Jasmine Guillory’s Picks

“Full Disclosure” by Camryn Garrett

This romantic, realistic novel about a young woman trying to navigate the trials of high school and the highs and lows of adolescence while hiding an HIV diagnosis is a must-read for both teens and adults. Despite grappling with heavy subject matter, it remains light and humorous while still encompassing real emotion.

“Fumbled” by Alexa Martin

Hilarious, smart, and filled with memorable characters, this sports-themed romance ropes you in and doesn’t let up until the very end. Guillory said that she was “sad to stop hanging out with all of” the characters once she reached the end of the book. Named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2019, it’s a perfect read to start the New Year.

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“The Revisioners” by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

This winding, lyrical novel tells the story of several generations and the different eras they live in through the lens of one family. The novel focuses on exploring the depths of women’s relationships, the endurance of hope and trauma across centuries, and the bonds between mothers and their children.

Guillory said that the thrilling, taut novel made her think about her life and the world, in “a whole different way.”

“Good Talk” by Mira Jacobs

This eye-opening graphic memoir has been named one of the best books of the year by outlets like The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and TIME Magazine. What starts as mother and author Mira Jacobs answering the questions of her six-year-old son quickly evolves into something deeper as Jacobs considers where her own ideas and knowledge came from.

Witty, creative, and wholly unique, it’s the perfect read for someone looking to add something new to their bookshelf.

Téa Obreht’s Picks

“Miracle Creek” by Angie Kim

This “spellbinding whodunnit” is more than its mystery. The thrilling read starts with a horrible accident but grows to explore the aftershocks of that accident in a tightly-knit community. Angie Kim takes her time revealing the characters’ inner lives, making it what Obreht calls “a journey of great emotional depth.”

“American Spy” by Lauren Wilkinson

This Cold-War era thriller turns the standard spy novel on its head. Nothing is as it seems, every character has secret motives, and the novel bounces between being a gripping spy story, a heartbreaking family drama, and a passionate romance without missing a beat.

“The Volunteer” by Salvatore Scibona

This electric, propulsive thriller chronicles a life lived on the margins of Vietnam-War era America. Ranging across four generations of fathers and sons, the intense plot starts with a young boy abandoned at an airport and keeps going, resulting in what Obreht calls “a tapestry you will hold your breath to see come together by the end.”

“My Parents” by Aleksander Hemon

This hilarious read from Bosnian author Aleksander Hemon actually contains two books in one. The interconnected novels tell the story of his childhood in Sarajevo in one, a biography of his parents and their journey to immigrate to Canada in the other.

The two stories are distinct but impossible to separate, and Hemon fills each line with his signature wit, humor, and stunning writing.

For more stories like this, check out:

  • 18 self-help books that will change your life in 2020
  • Author Margaret Renkl opens up about writing ‘Late Migrations’
  • 10 author-approved books to read this winter

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The Hub

These are the 10 best-selling books of the decade.

By Emily Temple December 20, 2019, 10:04am

According to NPD Bookscan—not perfect, as we all know, but the best the industry’s got—the best-selling book of the last decade in the United States was . . . well, I’m sure you guessed it before you ever clicked here. It was E. L. James publishing phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey, which which sold 15.2 million copies from 2010 through 2019.

Though the list below is all fiction, overall the trend is moving towards nonfiction on the best-seller lists. According to Lee Graham of the NPD Group, “In 2010, nearly 80 percent of the top-selling titles were fiction, and by 2019 that percentage dropped to 32 percent.” Books industry analyst Kristen McLean said that “This consumer push for informational titles over fiction was reflected in larger non-fiction trends in the second half of the decade—such as the rise in cookbooks, self-help, and politics—which pushed more non-fiction titles into the top ten list.” However, the e-book revolution is not to be: print books outsold e-books about 3.5 to 1 this decade.

But now, without any further ado, the best-selling books of the decade:

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This was a year for the books. Literally. Throughout 2019, authors published works that inspired us, challenged us, and also gave us an escape. We saw new work from legendary author Margaret Atwood, were floored by newcomer Casey McQuiston’s debut romance novel, Red, White & Royal Blue, and couldn’t get enough of author and survivor Chanel Miller’s triumphant memoir, Know My Name. Our TBR lists were long, and rich with incredible reading material.

As 2019 comes to a close, Amazon Charts takes a look back at some of their most popular titles of the year. The books that customers shopped the most. From Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming—which was the highest-selling work of nonfiction on the site—to Delia Owens’s New York Times–best-selling Where the Crawdads Sing.

Read on for the books that Amazon customers couldn’t get enough of. And consider giving your loved ones a break from the world for the holidays—through the power of the written word.

Most Sold Books, Fiction

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Amazon $10 Buy Now

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Amazon $14 Buy Now

Treasure Island: An Audible Original Drama by Robert Louis Stevenson and Marty Ross

Amazon $8 Buy Now

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Amazon $7 Buy Now

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Amazon $16 Buy Now

Most Sold Books, Nonfiction

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Amazon $12 Buy Now

Educated by Tara Westover

Amazon $14 Buy Now

Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis

Amazon $10 Buy Now

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Amazon $13 Buy Now

Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins

Amazon $18 Buy Now

When you do want to become an Amazon seller you need to gather all the useful information about how to succeed on your new “investment”, on this post you are going to learn which are the best books about Amazon and how they are going to make you thrive.

And, how do I sell on Amazon? You may ask. Well, one of the first things you do need to learn is what is Amazon FBA (or Fulfillment By Amazon), which is the system that makes Amazon makes available to you, so you are going get it all easier and just worry about stocking your products.

Amazon Selling Blueprint

If you are looking for a book about how to find and launch your first private-label product on Amazon, this book is the answer to all your questions (and prayers), and you will be able to do in 90 days or less.

The author, Scott Voelker, got inspired about the stories of people who have gotten rich by selling their own private-label product on Amazon, so he wrote a book about some of the best tips to achieve it.

”Amazon Selling Blueprint” is one of the top books about Amazon FBA to help you find product ideas to what to look for, his personal recommendations for locating manufacturers and vendors who are easy to work with, as well as real-life case-studies and a “secret” formula to win a profit of $100 per day.
What are you waiting for? When you end reading this article, go on and start making those fresh bucks out of Scott Voelker’s advice.

FBA – Building an Amazon Business: The Beginner’s Guide

Do you wanna know why and how you should wonder about starting to build a profitable business on Amazon? This time Ged Cusack gots your back!

When you are looking for books about Amazon, in “FBA – Building an Amazon Business” you are going to learn all the cool tricks and basics about how to thire at being an Amazon vendor.

By following each of the steps of this book, you will given plenty of knowledge about the freedom to work your own hours for your own business, so you can buy stuff from one country and ship them to another without even having to physically touch them, while making a successful business for you.

Amazon Selling Secrets: How to Make an Extra $1K – $10K a Month Selling Your Own Products on Amazon

Are you interested in buying products and reselling them on Amazon? Well, you are on the right patch to become a great Amazon FBA (or Amazon vendor), and all you do need is to find the right books about Amazon, so your new business-vision could go to the top of sells and make you win that extra money per month.

”Amazon Selling Secrets: How to Make an Extra $1K – $10K a Month Selling Your Own Products on Amazon” by William U. Peña, is a great book if you want to learn the “art” of mastering of being an Amazon vendor.

The chapters go all through the level of desirability of a product is, how to create a unique brand, to learn the basis of effectively manage your inventory and fulfill orders with the little of the efforts but achieving a great ROI.

How to sell stuff on Amazon: your beginner guide for selling something online

Well done, you are just about to meet the ultimate beginner’s guide to sell on Amazon! “How to sell stuff on Amazon: your beginner guide for selling something online”, by Nick Tsai, is a recompilation about what you do need to learn, as an online marketer, in order to get the best score on your sells.

Nick Tsai has been an Amazon vendor for many years, so he himself has experience the ups and downs of this online niche.

Selling on Amazon – Amazon Seller Secrets Revealed Volume 1: Getting Started

Sometimes, all that you do need is a little push so you can jump into that business or new career path that you feel attracted to, but do not know if you do want to pursue it consistently.

With the right books about Amazon FBA you are open to learn the right tips so “Selling on Amazon – Amazon Seller Secrets Revealerd Volume 1: Getting Started”, by Manny Coats, is just the inspirational read you do need.

Through this powerful and inspiring book you are going to learn about which are the best products to sell on Amazon, the product categories that do have a better performance, how much money you do need to be selling, and about how much money you could be making.
All by learning stories of expert sellers of Amazon, about that their methods, strategies and opinions are about the FBA seller system of this platform.

This book, which is the Volume 1, all of you beginners out there, will be touch by some thought-provoking questions which do search you to aim about getting started selling on Amazon.
Even if you do have experience in this sector, you would be able to find value and learn more knowledge about what the secrets are for Amazon Sellers.

Product Research 101: Find Winning Products to Sell on Amazon and Beyond

Through all the books about Amazon, this 101 is one of the most complete guides for all those who do want to be an Amazon FBA.
”Product Research 101: Find Winning Products to Sell on Amazon and Beyond”, by Reane Clark, will guide you through the basic steps you do first need to make to find the top selling products, so you can establish what your “new” occupy is going to be as an Amazon vendor.

This book is going to make you wonders whether you are an experienced Amazon seller or are just getting started on the Amazon FBA game. Reane Clark is going to make you improve your skills to thrive by creating your own brand so you can be on right path of building a new chosen career, and leading yourself to find great products to put into a successful strategy.

Amazon FBA (2018 Update) – Step By Step: A Beginners Guide to Selling On Amazon, Making Money And Finding Products That Turns Into Cash

This step by step beginners guide is all you have been waiting for. There are many books about Amazon and how to become a successful Amazon FBA but this one goes up front to expose all those gurus “promises” (but, let’s be real, fake promises and tails), so you can learn the right way to step on the Amazon’s vendor path.

On “Amazon FBA (2018 Update) – Step By Step: A Beginners Guide to Selling on Amazon, Making Money And Finding Products That Turns Into Cash”, by Red Mikhail, you will learn how to create a product listing that do converts into cash, the best-practices for your strategy and daily practice, how to get Amazon reviews and the benefits of them, between other things.

The Amazon Way: 14 Leadership Principles Behind the World’s Most Disruptive Company

If you are interested on which are the best principles behind Amazon, and how to have success on the Amazon FBA “game”, you do need to start scouting the perfect books about Amazon, especially this one by John Rossman, where you are going to learn how to get to the core of this massive seller-website and becoming a rising-thriving Amazon vendor.

”The Amazon Way: 14 Leadership Principles Behind the World’s Most Disruptive Company” does cover all the points that you do need to learn and discover when getting introduced to Amazon FBA. This fourteen leadership principles-book does cover the pitch-points that you do need to be open to when launching your third-party seller program (corner).

Book Flipping: 10 Steps to Setting Up and Fully Automating a Used Book Selling Business on Amazon

Are you looking to be your own boss, setting up your own business and live a financial lifestyle based on Freedom? Well, you are just about to meet the greatest book for you; “Book Flipping: 10 Steps to Setting Up and Fully Automating a Used Book Selling Business on Amazon”, by Bryan Young, will give you the top-10 steps to start an online selling business so you can work your dream job.

All through this book you are going to learn how to become an online entrepreneur and bookselling expert, as well as all the systematically layouts to start (on good terms) your own used book-selling business.

You will be able to end up performing your own financial freedom and getting a new lifestyle based on freedom of working hours, money, actions and strategy. You are on the right path of freedom and success.

The Amazon Sales Formula: A No Experience Required, Step By Step Instructional Guide To Leverage Private Labeling and Fulfillment By Amazon, To Generate Thousands per Month In Passive Income

If you thought that this list was finished, you got it all wrong! We have saved the best of books about Amazon for the last. You are going to learn how to make a monthly extra-income of thousands of dollars by being a part of the Amazon FBA with the book: “The Amazon Sales Formula: A No Experience Required, Step By Step Instructional Guide To Leverage Private Labeling and Fulfillment By Amazon, To Generate Thousands Per Month In Passive Income”, by Michael Marani.

By Maranis’ experience you will be able to learn how did he make it to earn some extra thousands of dollars per month, without the need of doing some ridiculous expensive courses about Amazon.
On his book you are going to learn how to identify the products with the best performance and how are the customers searching for them, as well as creating your own brand for your business. You will learn how to develop an automated system of getting positive reviews and how to negotiate with the best potential suppliers.

There you go. Here are the 10 best books about Amazon. Are you already set to become a successful Amazon seller?

How To Get On The NY Times & Every Other Bestseller Book List

One of the most common questions we get at Scribe is:

“How do I get my book on a bestseller list?”

Our standard answer:

“You’d be better off by totally ignoring them.”

We encourage our authors not to chase bestseller lists, but instead focus on the business and personal goals for their book.

This confuses them initially (Having a bestselling book doesn’t get me more business?), but once we explain the process and tradeoffs to them, the overwhelming majority discard it and focus more on the goals that are far more impactful to them.

In this comprehensive guide, I will cover everything you need to know about bestseller lists:

  • How bestseller lists lie (yes, they literally lie)
  • How bestseller lists actually work
  • Why they’re not what they seem
  • Why chasing them is a losing proposition for most authors
  • What authors should focus on instead
  • And—how to get on them if you insist on chasing them

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 list is either measuring 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.

This is not my opinion. They all admit this.

The most important bestseller list is The New York Times Best Seller 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 best seller list.

You know why they have to admit this publicly? They were sued about it.

For most of the 20th century, they pretended to use a scientific method to count book sales, and claimed their list was authoritative and accurate.

And then William Blatty wrote a novel called The Exorcist (which has sold 10 million copies and became a famous movie). It sold more than enough copies to be high on the list for a long time, but initially did not appear on it.

He rightly claimed that the New York Times was intentionally excluding it for editorial reasons—the book was considered very controversial at the time—and claimed that their decision was costing him millions of dollars in sales.

He lost the case. Why?

Because the New York Times defense was that “the list did not purport to be an object compilation of information but instead was an editorial product.”

The New York Times won the case, in multiple rulings all the way up to the Supreme Court, based on the argument that the list is not supposed to be accurate, but reflects their judgment.

It is a valid legal argument…but it also means The New York Times admitted that their bestseller list is just a popularity contest, and not a list of best selling books.

In essence, they select who they will and won’t put in the “cool kids” club. It’s like high school all over again.

I’ve seen this so many times, and so has everyone else in publishing. You can see this clearly if you have access to Nielsen BookScan, which is the database that tracks paid sales covering about 70-80% of book outlets. I have access, and I can see how much the New York Times list varies from the Nielsen report of actual books sold (anyone in publishing can see this, and it is a known fact).

The same thing is true, to different degrees, with the other major national lists—The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly.

Why (Most) Authors Are Better Off Not Trying for Bestseller Lists

Right now, you might be thinking, “OK, even if it is all true, being a bestselling author is still a goal of mine and I want it, so I’m still going to try for it.“

OK, that’s fine. I’m not telling you it can’t be a goal.

But before you decide to go for it anyway, you need to aware of two things:

  1. How hard it is to do, and the tradeoffs involved (and they are big)
  2. Why it is you are so eager to get it

The Prerequisites for a Bestseller Campaign

Goals trade off in all aspects of life. You can’t have pizza and Mexican food and Italian food for dinner. You have to pick one.

Goals for your book act the same way. You can’t get everything; you have to focus on one or two goals.

This is especially true for bestseller lists. In order to even have a chance at getting on the New York Times Best Seller list, you must do all of these things:

1. Get a traditional publishing deal

With the exception of a few fiction genres like romance and horror, The New York Times still won’t recognize any book that doesn’t come from one of the big New York publishing houses as being fit for their list (that’s why I said it’s a high school clique mentality).

This is why most of the self-published or hybrid published books that have sold hundreds of thousands of copies over the past decade have never appeared on this list—they refuse to recognize them.

Example: James Altucher’s book, Choose Yourself. I helped him publish that through my publishing company (which turned into Scribe). It’s sold over 500k copies since it came out. It even appeared on the Wall Street Journal Best Seller list—but no appearances on The New York Times Best Seller list, even though it has outsold 99% of the books that have appeared on that list since his came out.

Why? Because it’s not through a major New York publishing house, so they won’t count it.

2. Have a realistic plan to get 10k+ pre-orders

This cannot be a hope or a wish. If you don’t have at least 10k pre-ordered books—through sales channels that The New York Times sees as valid and counts in their list—you probably won’t hit the list.

That means books ordered or bought at a bookstore that reports its sales to the New York Times, or through Amazon or iBooks, or some of the other major channels that the New York Times counts. You can’t just order 10k copies from your publisher. They won’t count that.

Even if you get a corporation to sponsor you and actually buy 10k copies, you have to route those sales through a channel that The New York Times counts—or they ignore them for the purposes of the list (yes, this is a total racket).

And even better, they often won’t count any “bulk” sales, which means those sales have to be done individually.

Many “experts” will tell you that you only need to sell 5k books to hit the bestseller list. That’s not wrong, but it doesn’t work many times. In my experience helping dozens of authors work through this process, if you are an unknown author, the bar is much higher than 5k. The 5k number is applicable to known authors and books that have already been on the list, but is very dangerous for first time or non-established authors.

How do you get 10k pre-orders? There are two basic ways to do this:

  1. You already have an audience who is willing to pre-order your book, or
  2. You spend a lot of money to buy your way onto the list. This is basically “cheating,” and it usually costs more than $250k (I explain how it works at the end).

If you don’t have an audience or email list who are used to buying from you but think you’ll “go on some podcasts and throw out some tweets” and get that level of pre-orders, you’re delusional. That does not work. Only a systematic plan that is very well-executed will work.

3. Get some mainstream press to validate your book

This is not 100% necessary, but the more “mainstream media” press you get, the more the book editors at The New York Times will consider your book to be “valid.” I was very serious when I said that this is a popularity contest, and to be popular, you have to show up at the “right” places (at least, the “right” places to them).

When I say “mainstream media” I mean any media source centered around New York City or that the coastal media elite read and take seriously. Like I keep telling you, they are elitist snobs. They don’t count anything not in their universe, no matter how much it sells.

By the way—mainstream press almost never sells books. This is only about getting the editors at The New York Times to take you seriously, not about selling books.

What’s the Tradeoff of Going for a Bestseller List?

The tradeoffs of going for a bestseller list:

  1. There’s no guarantee you get a publishing deal: It’s a huge amount of effort to find an agent to represent you to a traditional publisher, and it’s very hard to do a good book proposal that will appeal to a publisher, and then you have to get offered a book deal—which in this day and age, you will not get without having a large audience to sell into already. Many people put all this work in and never even get offered a deal.
  2. Your book will take at least 18 months to publish: And that’s from the day you sign the deal, not the day you start looking (and it’ll probably take longer than that, honestly).
  3. You no longer own your book: You are literally selling them not only the upside profits of the book, but more importantly, you are selling them control of your intellectual property. Once they own the book, they only care about selling copies. You can no longer do anything with that book that doesn’t involve paying them for copies of it. If you want a book to help you promote you or your business, this is greatly restricts your options.
  4. They will make you write a book you don’t want: You want to position yourself as an expert in something, and they don’t think it appeals to enough people? They don’t care about you or your business, they only care about selling copies of books, so they’ll make you go broader. They will make consistently terrible aesthetic decisions that will ruin your content for your purposes, because publishers only care about selling books.
  5. You do all the work to sell it: They do no marketing. I cannot emphasize this enough—publishers expect you to do all the work of selling the book for them. They don’t have a plan to sell 10k copies your book. That’s your job.

Why These Tradeoffs Hurt (Most) Authors

Simply put, these tradeoffs are not worth it for most authors.

At Scribe, most of the authors we work with are not professional writers. They’re C-level executives, entrepreneurs, consultants, coaches, speakers, and other types of successful people for whom their book is not the end goal—a book is a way to reach another goal.

Their book will help them get them authority and credibility in their field, it can drive clients and leads to their business, it can get them speaking gigs; 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 writing the best possible book for their audience and their goal.

And before you ask the question, selling copies and making money from a book are not always the same thing. If you are using your book as a marketing tool to get you something else (like authority and visibility in your field, or to draw clients to your business), then what matters is not selling copies or hitting a list, it’s the impact your book has with your intended audience.

You want to understand the difference between bestsellers and impact? Read this article about what writing a book has done for Melissa Gonzalez.

It tripled incoming leads to her business, doubled her revenue in two years, established her as a keynote speaker, and got her media in every important retail outlet. It was resounding success in all ways for her…and it did it while selling less than 1,000 copies.

Selling copies matters if book sales are your only revenue stream—which is only true for professional authors. For people in business, a book has an entirely different purpose that often has no correlation with selling copies.

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 they’ve been on a few times they ignore them. Then, they focus on selling books directly to fans (to make more money), not hitting bestseller lists (which often means less money).

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 doesn’t get your book much more attention. It doesn’t mean much for your business. It doesn’t help sales much. It doesn’t get in front of many more clients or help your marketing.

I’m 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, it’s a bad decision. This is why almost all of our authors don’t end up pursuing it.

Why Try for It? For Most Authors, It’s Usually about Status

The people we see who are most obsessed with bestseller lists are the authors who view it as a status marker that they can reach that will make people see them differently, and thus feel differently about themselves.

For these authors, striving for a bestseller list is about making them feel important. There is no real business reason. The unstated implication when an author says “I want a bestseller” is usually something like, “I want to brag to people about this and feel important because of it.”

Look, I am not judging anyone’s desire to raise their status by writing a bestselling book. My god—I put three books at #1 in the New York Times Best Seller List. Obviously I am guilty of this desire. My ego is fragile and needs recognition and validation, just like everyone else.

But understand this: a bestselling book might make you feel good for awhile, but it will not get you any real respect or fill any holes in your soul.

I say that from experience.

And even if you recognize that status as the reason you care about being a bestselling author, the best thing you can do is admit this to yourself. If you admit it, you can focus fully on that goal, make a realistic plan, and give yourself a realistic shot at actually hitting it.

How to Get on Every Bestseller List

Now—if you have decided to ignore my advice—I will describe the rules of every bestseller list and how to get your book on them.

Before I get into the major bestseller lists and their particular rules, there are two principles that apply to all of them; 1) velocity of sales, and 2) reporting.

Velocity of Sales Is Key

In this case, velocity of sales is defined as “amount of book sales within a specific period.”

Selling 5,000 books in a year is a pretty solid performance, but it’s not going to get you on any of the big bestseller lists. Concentrate those sales in a week, though, and now you’re looking at possibly hitting many of those lists.

That is the key concept you must understand for bestseller lists: it’s not how many books you sell, it’s how many you sell in a given time. The timeframe changes depending on this list, but the more velocity of sales you create—meaning, the more sales you pack into the shorter period of time—the better.

It is hard to sell 5,000 books in a year. To sell 5,000 in a week is ridiculously difficult, as evidenced that only a very small percentage of all books published each year do it.

In fact, barring some extreme stroke of luck, the only way I’ve ever seen first-time (or lesser known) authors hit any significant bestseller list is by first creating a large platform with an installed audience that is waiting for the book, and then selling the book into that audience.

Simply put: creating an audience of buyers for your book prior to your release is the best way to get the velocity of sales needed to hit a bestseller list.

This is why setting a release date and concentrating your marketing around it is so important to hitting a bestseller list. Setting a release date creates a manageable, self-contained window to concentrate your marketing efforts on, and use them as a mechanism to create this velocity of sales.

Reporting Sales Is Key

Not all book sales “count” for all lists, because there is no list that actually measures all book sales from all outlets. In the purest sense, there is no such thing as a “real” bestseller list.

Each list has their own method of counting sales, and each list only counts a fraction of places that books are sold. Amazon only counts books sold on Amazon. The New York Times only counts the physical bookstores that it tracks (and a few online sellers, but weigh them differently).

I’ll describe the counting methods of each list below, but the point is that you must know the way that lists counts sales, and then focus on creating velocity of sales in those ways only.

The Rules of the Bestseller Lists Matter

Even though the odds are against you, it’s not impossible to do it. But if you want to have a shot to make a list, you must understand how bestseller lists work, so you don’t accidentally do something that interferes with the possibility of hitting the list.

For example, when Marc Ecko’s book, Unlabel, came out in 2013, it sold over 15,000 copies the first week. This was more than enough to hit the New York Times Best Seller list, but the publisher had improperly listed Ecko’s book as an “art” book instead of a “business” book, and this decision alone kept the book off all the bestseller lists (well, that in combination with the fact The New York Times curates its list and decided to keep it off).

Know the rules to bestseller lists, because breaking them can keep your book off the list, even if it deserves to be there.

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 (fiction, non-fiction and advice) except for graphic novels, and all children’s 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.”

Let me explain this. The Times list is a survey list, not a tabulation of total sales. This means that they poll a curated selection of booksellers to estimate sales. They literally decide which bookstores and retail outlets are “important” and then only count those sales, ignoring all other sales. They also heavily weight independent bookstore sales.

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. I’m serious, they have said this in public.

They also focus on individual sales and try to not include bulk sales in their calculations. They do this to prevent people from buying their way onto the list (which we discuss below). If you sell 1,000 copies to a company as part of a speaking engagement deal, this is a great way to move copies and make money, but it’s not very effective for hitting the list, because they won’t count it.

And notice how they say that won’t count eBook sales from only one source? This is a direct shot at Amazon. They don’t like Amazon, and they don’t think eBooks are “real” books, and don’t want to see their eBook list dominated by Amazon’s Kindle list.

Make no mistake about it: this is all just as elitist and snobbish as it sounds.

They only recently started including eBooks in their lists, and they still heavily discount eBooks that have no print edition. Yes they track them, but they “count” their sales as less.

The reality is that even though the New York Times list is seen as the most prestigious, in many ways it’s the least connected to actual book selling reality.

Tips & Tricks:

  • For the most part, they do not count self-published books. You must be through a traditional publishing company to even have a shot at this list.
  • The category and window of your release all significantly impact the number of copies required to hit the NYT bestseller list, but 5,000 copies during any one-week period is the minimum. I would recommend 10,000 to be sure.
  • Have your publisher pick a down time in publishing; the fewer big books you have to compete with, the better.

The Wall Street Journal Best Seller List

This list is not as prestigious as the New York Times list, but for business books at least, carries almost as much social capital. And most of the weirdness and elitism from the NYT list doesn’t apply to the WSJ list.

Methodology:

How they describe their methodology, from their site:

“Nielsen BookScan gathers point-of-sale book data from more than 16,000 locations across the U.S., representing about 85% of the nation’s book sales. Print-book data providers include all major booksellers (now inclusive of Wal-Mart) and Web retailers, and food stores. E-book data providers include all major e-book retailers (Apple excepted). Free e-books and those sold for less than 99 cents are excluded. The fiction and nonfiction lists in all formats include both adult and juvenile titles; the business list includes only adult titles. The combined lists track sales by title across all print and e-book formats; audio books are excluded.“

This is about as fair and reasonable as you can get—very much the opposite of the New York Times list.

Tips & Tricks:

  • It usually takes about 3,000-5,000 sales to hit the WSJ bestseller list.
  • You can absolutely get books that aren’t from traditional publishers on this list. We did it with James Altucher’s Choose Yourself, Josh Turner’s Connect, and many others.
  • There’s not much trick here. Just get the sales and you can get on this list. The important thing is making sure all of the sales come from different people and are during the opening week. Bulk sales are not counted.

The USA Today Bestseller List

This list used to be pulled straight from Nielsen Bookscan, but they recently changed and started making it a curated list, more akin to the NYT than the WSJ. Rather than separate out the categories of books, USA Today puts them all in one category.

Methodology:

From their website:

“Each week, USA TODAY collects sales data from booksellers representing a variety of outlets: bookstore chains, independent bookstores, mass merchandisers, and online retailers. Using that data, we determine the week’s 150 top-selling titles. The first 50 are published in the print version of USA TODAY each Thursday. The top 150 are published online. The rankings reflect sales from the previous Monday through Sunday.

USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list is a ranking of titles selling well each week at a broad range of retail outlets. It reflects combined sales of titles in print and electronic format, if available. For example, if Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice sells copies in hardcover, paperback and e-book during a particular week, sales from each format are combined to determine its rank. The description of a title and the publisher name refers to the version selling the most copies in a particular week—hardcover (H), paperback (P) and e-book (E).”

Tips & Tricks:

  • This list is not really looked at as a prestigious list. If you hit it, that’s great, but I have rarely seen a book on this bestseller list that isn’t also on the NYT or WSJ lists.
  • What makes this list so strange is that you’ll see all kinds of things that don’t show up on the other lists—sudoku books, cookbooks, maps, things like that—though they have started to pull these out to focus more on “real” books. Thus the curation.

The Amazon Best Seller 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.

Why does this matter?

Well, it is an essential question if you want to call your book a bestseller. The rules for calling yourself a bestseller from any of the above outlets are clear.

What are the rules for calling your book an Amazon bestseller? It’s an open question, and a lot of people abuse it.

To show how ridiculous this “bestseller list” status is, one of the most brilliant marketers I know, Brent Underwood, took a picture of his foot, published it as a book, and hit #1 in with it. He detailed everything here, called out the whole group of people who sell this, and it’s a great read. It pulls back the curtain on this nonsense status symbol.

Methodology: Pure sales, just on their platform. Updated hourly. They do seem to have an algorithm that ranks the books in a trailing sales fashion. For example, if you sell 10 books in one hour, and then none the next, you don’t just fall off their list that hour. You go down some spots and keep falling, unless you start selling more books.

No one knows what Amazon’s algorithm is, and anyone who says they know for sure is probably lying (unless they work for Amazon). What most people are seeing is that the past 8 hours of sales are weighted evenly, thus making it a trailing algorithm.

Tips & Tricks:

  • If you want to rank on Amazon, focus all your marketing efforts on one day—your release date, for instance.
  • On an average launch day, it should take ~500 sales to make the Amazon Top 100.
  • It usually takes about 2,000 sales in a day to hit the Amazon Top 10.
  • To get to #1 in a subcategory, it takes very few sales. Usually 10, depending on the category.
  • Don’t try to cheat this! Amazon is in a better situation than anyone (by tracking IP addresses and credit cards) to know if you are gaming the system. You won’t get on their list without legitimate sales, so focus your energy there instead of gaming the process. Buying 1,000 books yourself won’t work. Amazon absolutely watches this and will punish you.

The Cheat Code: Buying Your Way onto the List

Services exist that will guarantee—for a large fee—that you get on the list. They are very expensive, and for the most part, if you read the fine print, their results are not actually guaranteed (despite what they claim in their ads).

I have never used one directly, but I know the three major companies well, because we’ve had clients who used them, and the results have been mixed. Sometimes they work well, other times not.

I would estimate that a large number of books that hit the bestseller list are bought. At least 50-100 per year, on average for the last decade.

And like I said before, buying a place on the list is a pure ego play. If spending $200,000 (yes, that’s what it costs, at least) to see your name on the NY Times Best Seller List is worth it to you, then go for it. Just be up front with yourself about what you are doing and why.

If you want to read more about buying your way onto the bestseller list, the WSJ has a good article here, the LA Times piece here, and Forbes writes about it here.

(Photo: )

By most standards, I’m still new to the publishing industry.

It’s been just eight years since I worked on my first book launch campaign, but since that time I’ve worked with hundreds of authors in just about every marketing capacity you can imagine. I’ve played the role of publicist, community organizer, web developer, social media expert, and on and on.

In my various roles, I’ve bumped into The New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists many times.

I’ve helped launch two No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, and several top-five bestsellers. At one point, five of my clients had books on the NYT list at the same time. While I haven’t tracked The Wall Street Journal list as closely, I’ve had quite a few hits on that list as well.

I also have my hands in a few launches right now, some now finishing up, and some just getting prepped for later this year—and more and more, I’m in awe of the complete disaster that are major bestseller lists.

As I’ve prepped to write this article, I’ve had trouble organizing all of my thoughts, data, stories, and sources into one cohesive narrative, so instead, I’ve decided to list point-by-point, in no particular order, the things I’ve either personally witnessed or experienced via one of my clients or colleagues in the publishing industry.

My goal is to shed some light on what really goes on with the two top bestseller lists—The Wall Street Journal and New York Times—and offer some information to authors who are hoping to hit them one day.

Here goes:

BESTSELLER LISTS: WHY DO THEY MATTER?

It’s true, bestseller lists are becoming obsolete. There are plenty of books that, despite never gracing the pages of WSJ or NYT, go on to sell thousands of copies, and have a great fanbase. However, the fact remains that having a New York Times or Wall Street Journal bestseller can greatly enhance your career.

Since the publishing industry still shows great deference to these lists, finding your name on them significantly impacts the advance on your next book contract.

If you’re a nonfiction author, and particularly if you write business books, bestseller lists mean more speaking gigs, higher consulting rates, higher visibility, and an enhanced reputation. They also mean more sales. If your book is a bestseller, it all of a sudden gets more copies on bookstore shelves and other promotions. It’s a self-feeding system.

Bestseller lists also mean more appearances in the media. NYT bestsellers get phone calls and emails from the media. And let’s face it: It matters because it’s pretty damn cool to be a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. But the bottom line, especially if you have anything to do with the traditional publishing industry, is this: WSJ or NYT bestseller = more money for authors, publishers and agents.

WHAT EXACTLY IS A BESTSELLING BOOK?

If you ask a typical person this question—someone who has never descended into the muck of the behind-the-scenes reality of the bestseller lists—they’ll of course answer something like, “It’s a book that has sold tens of thousands of copies,” or, “It’s the book that has sold the most copies.”

How naive.

Here’s a brief intro to how it really works. Further points will go deeper into some aspects of this.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL BESTSELLER LIST

WSJ builds its list based on the sales figures it gets from Nielson’s BookScan. In general, if you sell the most books in a category as reported by BookScan, you will hit No. 1 in that category on The Wall Street Journal bestseller list. Makes sense, right? Except that BookScan doesn’t track all purchases. It doesn’t include sales made through some big-box stores, such as Walmart and Sam’s Club, which doesn’t affect most of us. However, it also doesn’t include sales from CreateSpace and other self-publishing platforms, which affects thousands of authors.

But overall, BookScan is the most accurate data source, and reports about 75 percent to 85 percent of book sales, depending on who you ask.

More on The Wall Street Journal later.

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 its process for selecting bestsellers. It is known that NYT samples its own list of certain booksellers across the country—though which ones make the cut are a tightly guarded secret—then look at the data with wise NYT brains, and decide whom they think should be on the list.

It’s said that this is done to keep people from gaming the system, which is partially true. But it’s also done so that The New York Times can have a say about which books get the extra credibility of being named a bestseller.

I’m 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 whom 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.” We’ve laid some groundwork, so now I can share the really weird stuff.

WHO DOES NYT LOVE?

A friend of mine has access to the weekly Nielson BookScan numbers—that organization that tracks 75 percent to 85 percent of book sales. Last year, he decided to go back and compare BookScan numbers to the NYT bestseller list to see if he could find anything interesting.

Since NYT does its own secret reporting and choosing, he wanted to see if he could find any signs of bias.

Here are two conclusions he gathered from his own personal research, comparing real BookScan sales figures to the books deemed by NYT staff to be bestsellers:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

And another point:

Why the separate lists for digital and print copies?

From an author’s standpoint, this is maddening. I’ve been involved with book launches that have sold more than enough copies to hit the bestseller lists, but because the numbers were split between digital and print, they didn’t make it. How arcane, and antiquated. In what world does it make sense that it matters whether I buy the book in paper or in digital format? I still bought the book. I still thought it was worth the money. But for some reason, the NYT and WSJ lists think paper counts as a sale more than digital.

Arcane and antiquated are the only nice words that can be used here. Readers aren’t concerned about modality, so why are bestseller lists?

HOW TO LAUNDER YOUR BOOK PURCHASES

Let me change gears here and give at least one reason lists have for making so many weird rules. The bestseller lists are forced to jump through a lot of hoops, because people are constantly trying to game the system. If I’m a rich person and I publish a book, what’s to stop me from just buying 20,000 copies of my own book and putting myself on the list?

I think we can all agree that while we want the bestseller lists to reflect the bestselling books, we don’t want people to be able to buy their way onto the lists either, right? So the bestseller lists try to put some checks and balances in place to make sure people can’t do this.

So what happens? Book launderers start popping up. And how does book laundering work?

Let me explain:

Step 1. Find a book laundering firm. There’s a handful of them out there. ResultSource is the most well-known.

Step 2. Write them a check to cover their fee. They don’t work for free, after all.

Step 3. Write them another check—for your books. This check is to buy copies of your book. It depends on the campaign, but it’ll always number in the thousands. We’re trying to hit the bestseller lists here, after all.

Step 4. The firm launders the sales. It hires people all over the country to buy books through various retailers one at a time, using different credit cards, shipping addresses and billing addresses. This allows the sales to go through and show up as individual sales, instead of bulk purchases. These sales then get reported to Nielson BookScan.

Step 5. Pop the champagne corks. You’re now a bestseller.

If you think I’m making this stuff up, I have two sources that back this up:

  1. The Wall Street Journal
  2. The word of an insider—a friend who used to work for one of these firms, and headed up the book laundering side of the business. The person quit when they became sick of the lack of ethics and morals in the entire operation; they explained the whole system to me.

WHAT ABOUT BULK PURCHASES?

Now we’re getting into a truly gray area. Up to this point, I think we can all agree on two things:

  1. Individual sales should count. If I walk into a bookstore or log on to Amazon.com and purchase a copy of a book that sale should count on the bestseller lists.
  2. Huge bulk purchases from the author shouldn’t count. If you decide to order 10,000 copies of your own book, that shouldn’t automatically put you on the NYT bestseller list.

But what about in between?

What if an online book club wants to purchase 50 copies of your book—one for everyone in the group? Should those count as 50 individual copies, or as one bulk purchase?

What if one of your clients is bringing you in to speak to their entire department of 108 people, and wants to buy a copy for everyone in attendance? Should that count as 108 individual copies, or as one bulk purchase?

What if an association wants to buy a copy of your book for each one of its chapters, which are in more than a couple of hundred cities across the United States? Should those count as a couple hundred individual sales, or as one bulk purchase?

What if someone wants to buy 10 copies of your book to give away as Christmas presents?

What if a company wants to buy 1,000 copies of your book to give away to all its new clients over the next two years?

Do those count as individual copies, or as one bulk purchase?

Here’s where it really starts to get fuzzy, because in each of these cases, individual people are getting a copy of the book. Sure, they may not read it, but how many books line your own bookshelves that you’ve never gotten around to reading?

Different people will have different opinions on each of these scenarios.

If I’ve worked hard to build a fanbase or client base that will purchase multiple copies of my book, shouldn’t I get credit for those? But if I, as an author, go around and buy copies of my book in multiples of 50 and 100 and then store them in my garage, those probably shouldn’t count.

This is where the bestseller lists run into trouble. It’s extremely hard to police this sort of thing. What would you do?

HOW TO BUY YOUR WAY ONTO THE BESTSELLER LIST

We’ve already talked about the book laundering scheme, but here’s another way to pull off the bestseller list with sheer brute monetary force.

I was brought in to play a small role in a book launch a few years ago. Leading up to the launch date, I was on a few conference calls that outlined the author’s strategy for hitting the NYT and WSJ bestseller lists for a book.

Here are a few things the author did to make it happen:

  • Hired two high-end book publicists to get him booked on as many television interviews as possible.
  • Purchased full-page ads in national and local papers across the country.
  • Ran advertising in Times Square in New York City.
  • Paid the fee for the book’s publisher to have the book placed on the front tables at Barnes & Noble.
  • And my favorite: He hired people all over the country to go into their local Barnes & Noble and purchase every copy of the book one at a time with cash.

Did it work? Yes. The book debuted on the NYT and WSJ bestseller lists. Of course, the following week the book dropped off the lists, and was never seen again. Ninety-five percent of the sales happened in the first week. But the author, for all time, can be referred to as a “New York Times bestselling author.”

WSJ or NYT bestseller = more money.

IT’S THE GOOD, HARDWORKING AUTHORS WHO GET SCREWED

As I type this, there’s a huge shift happening inside the bestseller lists.

I’ve been on calls with people from two major publishers, and they can’t seem to give me a straight answer about how books are being reported and what is making the lists. They can’t tell me because they don’t know.

They don’t know because the lists keep changing the rules without telling anyone. Apparently, WSJ‘s list has tightened its rules on bulk purchases. A recent book supposedly sold enough individual copies to make the list, but then was thrown out, because it had also sold a lot of bulk copies.

This, of course, makes no sense, but as an author you’re at their mercy.

One of my clients has worked really hard to establish great relationships with their clients, who are now interested in buying the author’s new book in bulk, but with the new rules we’re not sure what to do. Should we go ahead and let them order in bulk, and potentially get the book blacklisted?

This author has done the work ahead of time to make the book successful, with the goal of hitting one of the major lists, and now it could very well be for naught.

When the rules are fuzzy, hidden, and constantly changing, what can you possibly do?

UNKEPT PROMISES

A while ago, a colleague of mine wanted to run a campaign to his author platform for his new book.

He checked with his publisher to see if they could take the orders through his own website, so he could give special bonuses to early purchasers, and still get them counted as sales through one of the major book chains.

The publisher checked on it and said they could. He asked if they were sure. They said yes.

The author ran his campaign, sold thousands of books, and then turned in all the names and orders to his publisher. They sent the list to the retailer.

The retailer decided they didn’t want to do it. Since the publishers have made the retailers their customers instead of the readers, they didn’t want to push too hard to get the retailer to accept the deal. So they caved, and told the author “sorry,” but there was nothing they could do.

Huge investment of time, money, and effort to become a NYT and WSJ bestselling author. Time, money, and effort that had paid off in enough sales, that got thrown out and never saw the light of day.

YOUR BOOK ISN’T QUITE GOOD ENOUGH

Hugh Howey’s Dust sold more than 50,000 copies in its first week, yet only debuted at No. 7 on the NYT bestseller list—even though it far, far outsold books that were higher on the list.

Why?

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.

YOUR BOOK WASN’T PURCHASED AT THE COOL BOOK STORES

Here’s another article for you to take a look at. It’s short but to the point.

The New York Times samples different stores across the country and weighs book sales based on where they are purchased.

What does this mean?

It means that a hardcover copy of your book purchased on Amazon.com is counted differently than the same hardcover book purchased at indie bookstore X.

At this point, do I really have to say how ridiculous this is, and how it punishes authors and readers alike?

WHAT CAN BE DONE NOW?

As authors, what can be done with this?

Yes, WSJ and NYT list = More money.

And it’s hard to ignore that, but we must. The only answer to this debacle is to stop worrying about hitting the major bestseller lists.

At this point, the results are so far outside of an author’s direct control, that it doesn’t make sense to make these lists a goal anymore.

Instead, focus on the reader.

Make your book available at the stores or websites your readers buy books from, in the formats they buy in. Make it easy to buy and easy to read.

Don’t make the lists your customer. Keep the reader your customer—the people you’re really writing books for.

Tim Grahl, founder of Out:think, where he helps authors connect with readers and sell more books. Tim is also the author of Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book.

A young adult novel has been removed from the No 1 position on the New York Times bestseller lists, after detective work worthy of Nancy Drew by YA writers on Twitter uncovered a trail of strategic preorders being placed in particular US bookshops.

Lani Sarem’s Handbook for Mortals is about “a free-spirited young woman, from a long dynasty of tarot-card readers, fortunetellers, and practitioners of magick travels to Las Vegas and uses supernatural powers to become part of a premiere magic show”. It took the top spot on the New York Times young adult bestseller list this week, ahead of Angie Thomas’s novel The Hate U Give. Industry monitor Nielsen Bookscan recorded 18,597 sales of Handbook for Mortals in one weekend.

But author Phil Stamper began to ask questions, pointing out that the book’s publisher was only launched a month earlier and that the novel was listed as out of stock on Amazon. “A book that no one has heard of except for the two niche blogs that covered the GN press release. Sells ~5,000 in the first week? Ok,” Stamper wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “You shouldn’t be able to buy your way on to the @nytimes list. But here we are.”

Stamper and other YA writers, including Jeremy West, began to investigate. Stamper shared messages he had received from bookshop staff who said they had been contacted to see if their store was an NYT-reporting shop – the paper’s lists are collated from information supplied by a confidential group of stores – before a bulk order was placed. Another bookshop shared similar information with West, while Publishers Weekly reported that a shop outside Las Vegas had a customer who ordered 87 copies after learning it was an NYT-reporting shop.

Entertainment website Pajiba, which first reported on the controversy, speculated that “someone, whoever they may be, hopes to use the ‘#1 New York Times bestselling novel’ moniker as a launching pad to a studio deal”. An IMDb page for an adaption of the novel lists the author, Sarem (who is also an actor and music act manager), as lined up to play the lead character.

West told Publishers Weekly: “As soon as I saw the list yesterday, it didn’t make sense to me. The lack of social media buzz , the fact that no one in the young adult community was talking about it or had even heard of it … it all sounded fishy.” West said he had spoken to five bookshops about the novel. “They all said the same thing: someone called and placed a large order or asked about placing a large bulk order ‘for an upcoming event’.”

Shortly afterwards, the NYT changed its list, removing Sarem’s title and putting Thomas’s novel – in which a teenager’s unarmed best friend is shot by a police officer – back into the top spot. The paper said: “After investigating the inconsistencies in the most recent reporting cycle, we’ve decided that the sales for Handbook for Mortals do not meet our criteria for inclusion. We’ll be issuing an updated Young Adult Hardcover list for September 3 which will not include that title.”

Sarem, speaking to Publishers Weekly, said: “It’s silly to say ‘I didn’t know about this book, so how can it be doing well?’ We should all be supportive of each other.” She added that she had been promoting the book at Wizard World Comic Con events, and that there had been a lot of buzz around it.

Thomas thanked those who had investigated the situation. “Omg . Thanks to everyone who investigated, spoke out, and supported. This week is that much more special because of you. this community,” she tweeted. “And thank you to the @nytimesbooks for the correction.”

The bestselling YA author Cassandra Clare also congratulated West and Stamper. “They would’ve gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you pesky kids,” she tweeted.