Table of Contents
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
- Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
- The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
- The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
- The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White
- The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
- The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton
- An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
- Since January, each book at the top of The New York Times best-seller list has had one thing in common: President Trump.
- The convoluted world of best-seller lists, explained
- The Bestselling Books of 2018 (So Far)
- 1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Let’s face it: being a reader can be overwhelming. Each week, upwards of 20 books are released, one sounding just as intriguing as the next. As a way to simplify the book-picking process (very technical term), The New York Times offers up a weekly list of bestsellers, including everything from fiction to nonfiction, and adult to middle-grade. Here are eight New York Times bestsellers from 2018 that you need to read.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Children of Blood and Bone, the first book in Tomi Adeyemi’s Legacy of Orisha series, is a 2018 must-read. While it had a generally quiet release, it has since blown up with great critical acclaim and media coverage. The novel takes place in a fantasy world where magic has been eradicated by the monarchy, and follows Zélie Adebola, a young maji, as she tries to bring back magic and avenge the murder of her own mother.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
Debut author Tara Westover took cues from Jeannette Wall’s 2005 hit memoir The Glass Castle in her own story Educated. Similar to Walls, Westover provides a very detailed and heart-wrenching account of her childhood. Growing up in a survivalist family, Westover never went to school and was forbidden by her father to seek any kind of medical attention, be that a doctor, a nurse or a trip to the hospital. With honest and beautifully-crafted prose, Westover shows readers how she grew into the intelligent and strong woman she is today.
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Taking its inspiration from the dark history of fairy tales, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is both an atmospheric and eerie tale – perfect for late-night fall reading. The story follows 17-year-old Alice, the granddaughter of a famous, reclusive author of fairy tales who has a cult following. When Alice’s mother goes missing, she and a fellow classmate – who happens to be a fan of the cult fairy tales – will go on an adventure to try to find her. The two may have to venture into Hazel Wood, even though Alice’s mother warned her from ever going back there.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Chloe Benjamin’s novel The Immortalists is a quiet and breathtaking musing on grief, death and what it means to truly be alive. Four young siblings meet with a psychic in the hopes of learning their death date. The psychic agrees, but on one condition – each must sit with her privately, and pay a small fee. The story then jumps forward several years, and follows each character around the time of their given death date, showing the different ways information like this can change one’s life.
The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White
If there is one trend in YA fiction that needs to stay it’s the historical, feminist retellings. Bestselling author Kiersten White serves her fans another remarkable retelling in her newest release, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. As its title clearly indicates, the novel reimagines Mary Shelley’s 19th-century classic Frankenstein, this time through the eyes of Elizabeth Lavenzo, Victor’s adopted sister. The story – which provides the gothic classic with a much-needed female voice – reaches back into Elizabeth’s own history where she becomes swept up in her own darkness and unrelenting ambition.
The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
Ruth Ware has quickly become a household name in psychological thrillers – or ‘grip lit’ – with several award-winning novels, including The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Lying Game. This year, she’s released her fourth book, titled The Death of Mrs. Westaway, which is arguably her most impressive work to date. The book follows Hal, a tarot card reader who accidentally receives a very large inheritance from someone she’s never heard of. Motivated by curiosity, Hal attends the funeral and quickly discovers that the family is full of strange and sinister secrets.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton
Mystery, suspense and historical accuracy come together in Kate Morton’s sixth book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter. The bestselling Australian author continues with her popular split-setting format, following a group of artists in 1862, as well as a young archivist Elodie 150 years later. The book starts when Elodie finds an old leather satchel, containing two very unusual items: a sepia-toned photograph of a beautiful woman and a sketchbook. Curious, because she is oddly familiar with the items, Elodie attempts to uncover the mystery of the girl in the photo – a young woman named Birdie who harbors secrets of her own.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Tayari Jones, author of the award-winning novel Silver Sparrow, tackles love, loss and learning in An American Marriage. The story follows Celeste and Roy, a young and successful couple who are torn apart when Roy is wrongfully convicted of a crime and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Five years into his sentence, Roy’s conviction is overturned, and he returns home. By this point, however, Celeste has grown fond of Andre, a childhood friend and the best man at her wedding, and she struggles to reignite the love she once held for her husband.
(Feature image courtesy of @mpmarquesus)
Caitlyn is a writer and bookseller from the east coast of Canada. When she is not reading or writing – which, she admits, isn’t often – she spends her time hanging out with her cat and dog (Harley and Zooey, respectively), or kicking back with a bottle of local cider. Her reading motto is “the creepier the better,” and opts for titles like Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Du Maurier’s Rebecca. In addition to Gothic classics, Caitlyn also has a soft spot for folklore, with a special interest in fairy tales from around the world.
Will Comey book “change the narrative?”
Since January, each book at the top of The New York Times best-seller list has had one thing in common: President Trump.
James Comey’s book “A Higher Loyalty” will surely keep the streak alive. Comey’s high-profile launch is also highlighting Trump’s broader effects on book sales.
The No. 1 spot on The Times’ hardcover nonfiction list is incredibly coveted real estate in the publishing industry. Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” landed there in mid-January thanks to explosive allegations and a full-throated presidential attack.
“Fury” held onto the No. 1 spot until Michael Isikoff and David Corn’s “Russian Roulette” came along in March. The book — subtitled “The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump” — was on top for three weeks.
It was dethroned by “Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World,” a book by Jennifer Palmieri, the former communications director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The Trump connection is obvious here, too: Palmieri’s book is a reflection on Clinton’s loss and a motivational message for future female candidates.
She anticipates that Comey’s book, to be released on Tuesday, will replace her at the top of the Times list.
“I’m just grateful that I got my week before he comes in to crush my dreams again,” Palmieri half-joked on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”
Palmieri’s “again” remark was a reference to Comey’s controversial announcement about re-opening a Clinton email investigation just 11 days before the election. Clinton and many of her allies say Comey swung the election in Trump’s favor.
Until “Fire and Fury” came along, the No. 1 book was Walter Isaacson’s acclaimed biography about Leonardo da Vinci.
A non-Trump book will surely have a turn at No. 1 again — but not yet. “A Higher Loyalty” is all but guaranteed to rank in the top spot later this month.
Related: Publisher printing 850,000 copies of James Comey book
The publishing house, Macmillan, has printed 850,000 copies in anticipation of intense interest from the public.
Trump’s impact on book sales is multidimensional. While he is drawing extra attention to certain books, agents and publishing executives worry that he is also hurting sales of non-political titles.
This has also been a recurring concern among authors: Constant news coverage of all things Trump is taking away attention from other topics and thus other books.
Three books by conservative authors are on the Times list right now: Peter Schweizer’s “Secret Empires,” Jerome R. Corsi’s “Killing The Deep State,” and Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy’s “Unified.”
Former White House photographer Pete Souza’s book, “Obama,” has also been on the list in recent weeks.
There is a caveat about The Times list: Psychologist Jordan Peterson’s book “12 Rules For Life” has been a hot seller for months, and might have ranked No. 1, but because it is published by a Canadian company, it is not counted by the U.S. newspaper.
Related: George Stephanopoulos: I tried to ask Comey ‘the most critical questions’
The Times publishes its best-sellers lists each Wednesday, and there’s some lag time before a book’s launch and its ranking on the list.
Amazon tracks best-sellers differently. It has a constantly-updated list of the day’s sales — Comey is firmly in first place there — and a list of the best sellers of the year.
So far this year, “Fire and Fury” is No. 1 by that measurement, while a parody book by the HBO show “Last Week Tonight” is No. 2.
Even the parody book relates back to the president — because it was a response to Vice President Mike Pence’s family publishing a children’s book about the family’s pet bunny.
“Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver helped create the book to troll the Pences and raise money for charities.
The Times places children’s books on a separate list.
On the hardcover nonfiction list, “Fire and Fury” is still holding on — it is No. 15 right now — reflecting continued popularity of the title.
The publisher said last week that two million copies have been sold so far.
When asked last week if he thought Comey would outsell him, Wolff’s infamous ego shone through in his answer: “He can’t possibly sell more books than me.”
CNNMoney (New York) First published April 16, 2018: 12:18 PM ET
Although Michelle Obama is still touring the country to promote her new memoir, Becoming, there’s already much to celebrate: Her title is the best-selling book of 2018.
Her revealing personal story sold 3.4 million copies last year, according to stats NPD BookScan shared in Publisher’s Weekly. Becoming bested Joanna Gaines’s new cookbook, Magnolia Table, by more than 2 million copies. And since its November 13 release, Mrs. Obama’s book achieved a record-first in sales with a whopping 1.4 million copies purchased in all formats during the first seven days, according to Penguin Random House.
If you haven’t read it, Becoming chronicles Mrs. Obama’s journey growing up in the South Side of Chicago as well as her time spent in the White House as the first Black First Lady. In addition to topping the aforementioned best-selling books list, it was also selected as the latest Oprah’s Book Club pick and it’s currently the number one title on Amazon.
Better yet, her book reportedly saw the fastest first-week sales at Barnes & Noble since Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman in 2015.
Of course, Becoming and Magnolia Table weren’t the only books published in 2018. For an escape from sweater-weather season (or as part of your New Year’s resolution to read more), consider choosing your next read from this top 20 list of the 2018 best-selling books.
- Becoming – 3.4 million
- Magnolia Table – 1.3 million
- Girl, Wash Your Face – 1.2 million
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid #13: Meltdown – 1.1 million
- Fire and Fury – 1 million
- The Wonky Donkey – 973,000
- Fear – 972,000
- Dog Man and Cat Kid – 716,000
- You Are a Badass – 712,000
- The President Is Missing – 703,000
- 12 Rules for Life – 692,000
- Dog Man: Brawl of the Wild – 690,000
- A Wrinkle in Time – 630,000
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – 626,000
- A Higher Loyalty – 611,000
- Crazy Rich Asians – 595,000
- The Reckoning – 566,000
- Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Presents a Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo – 544,000
- Oh, the Places You’ll Go! – 540,000
- Homebody – 523,000
For more ways to live your best life plus all things Oprah, sign up for our newsletter!
I am criminally behind on the books I want to read, and my job consists of reading books, so I can only imagine how most readers feel. I haven’t cracked the latest Deborah Eisenberg collection. I haven’t brushed up on my Helen DeWitt. My God, I still haven’t read “An American Marriage.” The deficit grows by the hour. Meanwhile, in 2018, our politics further devolved into a baying theatre of horror. How do you read when the world is burning?
2018 in Review
New Yorker writers reflect on the year’s best.
To me, each of the titles below represents an energizing alternative to the ripped-apart illogic of our contemporary reality. Even the most disorienting novel is a reminder that you are more than a frayed nerve ending flailing across the Internet—that you, a somewhat coherent person, exist. Each one of these books does what Alexander Pope said wit can do: it “gives us back the image of our mind.”
“Asymmetry,” by Lisa Halliday
Halliday’s début arrived in February, dangling bait: a roman à clef starring an aging and unchaste Philip Roth. That’s the first half of the novel. In the second half, Amar, a Muslim-American economist, is detained at Heathrow Airport. A slim valedictory coda binds the two sections together. The complementary stories ping images off each other as Halliday raises volatile questions about imagination and its blind spots, about power, about the love of work and the work of love. Her book is a pleasure rush with a long half-life.
“Confessions of the Fox,” by Jordy Rosenberg
Rosenberg envisions the infamous British thief Jack Sheppard (of Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera”) as a transgender man. A put-upon professor, also trans, discovers Sheppard’s memoirs and adds his own annotations, which are alternately risqué, cerebral, and poignant. The fates of the two characters converge as the manuscript draws the malevolent interest of an academic corporation with a lust for surveillance. “Confessions” recasts the white supporting players of Sheppardania as nonwhite and queer, and it demands that the full and mysterious humanity of all people be recognized, but the book is not didactic. By the time you think you’ve caught up to it, it’s already gone: a political proof vanishing into the trees.
“Ordinary People,” by Diana Evans
Evans’s third novel, a domestic tragicomedy, centers on two couples: one has merely lost its spark, and the other has drifted into the living death of suburbia. The book achieves a moody, velvety atmosphere, as though events were unfolding under amber-tinted bulbs. Bracketed by Barack Obama’s electoral victory and Michael Jackson’s overdose, “Ordinary People” also offers a precise sketch of the British black middle class, with a daring fifth-act twist.
“Small Fry,” by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
This memoir, by the daughter of Steve Jobs, is sensitively written and crammed with spicy first-look anecdotes about the Apple co-founder and his family. But what renders “Small Fry” compulsively readable also makes it disturbing. The book often seems to slip from its author’s grasp, eviscerating Jobs and his wife and then apologizing, or denying any intent to criticize, or trying to short-circuit the reader’s judgment of Jobs via appeals to his inexpressible charisma. The memoir does not so much describe the child’s tumult of love and anger as manifest it, making for raw and riveting reading.
“Convenience Store Woman,” by Sayaka Murata
Keiko sells rice balls and other conveniences at the Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart, a zone of orderly shelves, fluorescent lights, and controlled temperatures. She loves her work, but her sister worries: Why won’t she settle down, find a boyfriend? Wouldn’t she rather be human and troubled than post-human and happy? In flat, uncanny-valley prose, Murata enacts a celebration of nonconformity that is both joyous and unsettling.
“Florida,” by Lauren Groff
A finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, this collection of short stories turns Florida into a place half-real and half-phantasmagorical—a psychic repository of beauty and danger. Women drink wine and hit their heads and may or may not become panthers. Children go feral and hide from hooting adults. Everywhere, Groff’s distinctive prose style tugs at the surfaces of things, revealing the alienness underneath.
“Kudos,” by Rachel Cusk
The final book in Cusk’s spare trilogy pours out flights of eloquent, self-damning consciousness. As with “Outline” and “Transit,” “Kudos” is concerned with what fresh shapes a novel might take and whether traditional devices—plot, character, dialogue—have worn out their welcome.
“Freshwater,” by Akwaeke Emezi
This slender début novel forms one of the twistier branches on the autofiction tree. Ada, a Nigerian girl who moves to Virginia, sees herself as an ogbanje—an Igbo spirit that often takes plural guises—born into a human body. (The Nigerian-born Emezi also identifies as an ogbanje.) The protagonist’s head swirls with alternative personalities—a cruel and impulsive charmer, a Christ-like observer, an androgynous poet—and “Freshwater” invites readers not to dismiss their own internal contradictions but instead to think about the multiplicity of the self.
“Immigrant, Montana,” by Amitava Kumar
This is a discovery of country through the discovery of that country’s women. But Kumar’s “nonfiction novel,” about an Indian student who comes to the United States to study literature, is tentative, funny, and self-critical—it inverts and skewers the colonial narrative. Kailash meets Jennifer at his university bookstore and Nina in his film class, and, with his older self narrating each initial intoxication, the novel emulates the digressive turnings of W. G. Sebald or Teju Cole, adding a gentle heat that is all its own.
A previous version of this post misstated the winner of the 2018 National Book Award.
The convoluted world of best-seller lists, explained
Over the past few weeks, scandal has rocked the august institution of the New York Times best-seller list. And it’s happened not just once but twice.
On August 24, an unknown book by an unknown author from an unknown publisher rocketed its way to first place on the Times’s young adult hardcover best-seller list. But as a scrappy band of investigators who congregated in the YA Twitter community discovered, it wasn’t because a lot of people were reading the book. Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem bought its way onto the list, they concluded, with the publisher and author strategically ordering large numbers of the book from stores that report their sales to the New York Times. Shortly thereafter, the Times removed the book from its rankings.
And on September 4, Regnery Books — the conservative publishing imprint that publishes Ann Coulter and Dinesh D’Souza, among others — denounced the New York Times best-seller list as biased against conservatives. Why, it demanded, was D’Souza’s new book The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left ranked as seventh on the Times’s hardcover nonfiction list when Nielsen BookScan’s data, per Regnery’s interpretation, suggested it should be first? Regnery concluded that the New York Times was actively conspiring against conservative titles, and announced that it would sever all ties with the Times.
To understand how any of this could happen — how different lists can contain different titles, in a different order, how an unknown book could buy its way onto a best-seller list, how a best-seller list could have a political bias — and why any of these things matter, you need to understand how the different best-seller lists work, what makes the New York Times’s best-seller list unique, and the purpose best-seller lists serve within the world of book publishing.
Why is it such a big deal for a book to be named a best-seller?
There are multiple best-seller lists out there, and getting named to any of them is welcome for most authors, but the New York Times best-seller list is widely considered to be the most prestigious, and it’s certainly the most well-known.
Becoming a New York Times best-seller has a measurable effect on a book’s sales, especially for books by debut authors. According to a 2004 study by economics professor Alan Sorensen, appearing on the New York Times’s best-seller list increased debut authors’ sales by 57 percent. On average, it increased sales by 13 or 14 percent.
Besides the list’s effect on sales, it offers prestige. If your book appears on the New York Times list — even just for a week in the last slot of the Advice, How-To & Miscellaneous category — you get to call yourself a New York Times best-seller for the rest of your life. You can put that honor on the cover of all of your other books. If anyone ever insults you, you can say, “Well, have you written a New York Times best-seller?” (Strategy not recommended if the person who insulted you was Danielle Steel.)
And for the rare book that manages to establish enough of a presence on various best-seller lists, a self-sustaining momentum develops. Not everyone who bought a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey expected to like what they read, but Fifty Shades became such a ubiquitous cultural force that lots of people wanted to have an opinion on it anyway. That inspired them to buy it, and that meant the book stayed on the list.
The list’s prestige does have its practical limits, however. “I guess I’d have to say it’s a little easier for me to get deals now?” New York Times best-seller Hillary Monahan told BNTeen Blog. “Meaning it’s another gold star on my report card, but my work is still held up to a competitive standard against other midlist authors.”
At the end of the day, best-seller lists work as shorthand for readers: “Lots of other people liked these books,” they say, “so odds are good that you will too!” And at its most powerful, the best-seller ranking can make it easier to sell your book in different ways. The author and publisher of Handbook for Mortals reportedly hoped that gaming the New York Times best-seller list would make it easier for them to sell the book’s film rights down the road, which is presumably why they were willing to spend the money to get the book onto the list.
What does it take to be named a best-seller?
The general consensus is that if you want to make your way onto a best-seller list, any best-seller list, you have to sell at least 5,000 books in a week, or maybe 10,000. Beyond that, things get complicated depending on which list you’re looking to end up on.
That’s because the different lists don’t all use the same data. No one has access to all of the sales made by every single book published in the US in a given week. It takes months for publishers to assemble that data; it’s impossible to get it all in time to publish a weekly best-seller list. “At the end of the day, the publishers will have a hundred percent understanding of what was sold,” says Jim Milliot of Publishers Weekly, “but they won’t have it by the end of the week.”
So all of the different best-seller lists have established their own methodologies to gather sales data — and once they’ve got it, they break it down differently. They put the break between one week and another in different spots (ending on Sunday versus Saturday, for example); they use different categories to sort the lists; they weigh digital and print titles differently. Here’s a breakdown of how the five major lists — Publishers Weekly, USA Today, Indiebound, Amazon, and the New York Times — work.
Publishers Weekly, which Regnery has cited as the “benchmark” it will be following henceforward, pulls its data from the Nielsen service BookScan. BookScan is also the service that most publishers use to track their competitors’ sales, so it’s more or less the industry standard.
BookScan reports that it tracks 80 to 85 percent of the sales of printed books in the US, and although that claim has been contested, it certainly gets data from major sellers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, and Walmart, as well as a number of independent bookstores. (BookScan estimates that it collects data from approximately 16,000 outlets every week.)
What it doesn’t track are books sold at independent bookstores that use older systems incompatible with BookScan’s tracking, or books sold outside of the general bookstore ecosystem, at conferences or gift shops or toy stores, or even sales to libraries. It also doesn’t track the sales of e-books, so anything you buy from Amazon’s Kindle store doesn’t count.
Publishers Weekly divides its BookScan data into categories by format (hardcover, trade paper, and mass-market paperback), age category (adult and children), and genre. Some of its genre lists appear every week, but others are published and updated more sporadically.
The Publishers Weekly week goes from Monday to Sunday, which can affect where a book ends up on its list. For example, while Regnery interpreted its BookScan data as meaning that D’Souza’s The Big Lie should have been the No. 1 best-seller on all the lists published in the week of September 3, the book’s sales were distributed across the week such that on Publishers Weekly’s list, it was No. 2 in hardcover nonfiction.
USA Today, meanwhile, compiles its own data from both a handful of independent bookstores and many of the usual-suspect big sellers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, and so on. It doesn’t make any claims about what share of books sales it tracks, so it’s not aiming to be comprehensive, but it does aim to assemble a broad sampling of the books being sold every week at different types of bookstores. (Again, like BookScan, it does not track books being sold outside the bookstore ecosystem.) It doesn’t divide its list into any specific categories, but instead reports the top 150 titles sold across all genres and in all formats except for audio. On the USA Today list, D’Souza’s The Big Lie has never risen above No. 17.
Then there’s the Indiebound list, compiled by the American Booksellers Association, or ABA. The ABA uses sales data drawn from about 550 independent bookstores to create its list, but it doesn’t rank titles by overall sales volume. Instead, it weights the books on its list according to the sales rank each one reaches at each individual store.
“If a large store sold 30 copies of their No. 1 book, and a smaller store sold five copies of their No. 1 book, the fact that it’s the No. 1 book is what’s reflected,” explains ABA CEO Oren Teicher. That means that the Indiebound list tends to reflect what independent booksellers are excited about and aggressively recommending to their customers, which, Teicher says, “is often some midlist stuff that’s less well-known.” D’Souza’s The Big Lie does not currently appear on the Indiebound best-seller list.
Amazon offers two different best-seller lists: Amazon Charts and Amazon Best Sellers. Charts comes out once a week, tracking the books that have sold the most copies in any format (on Amazon, and in its Kindle store, Audible store, and brick-and-mortar storefronts), and the most read or listened-to books on Kindle and Audible. It’s not broken down by category or format, and it only reflects what’s happening on Amazon and its subsidiaries. (Since Amazon has a 65 percent market share, that’s actually a pretty decent sampling.)
Amazon Best Sellers, in contrast, is updated once an hour, and it is broken down by categories. On September 7, D’Souza’s The Big Lie was ranked at No. 21 in Amazon Best Sellers’ Politics & Social Sciences category, and not at all on Amazon Charts. On September 12, it was down to 37 on the Best Sellers list (Hillary Clinton’s What Happened, which debuted that day, knocked it down significantly) and was still nowhere to be found on Charts. (Update: The Big Lie did appear on Amazon Charts earlier, however. It was ranked at No. 6 on the Most Sold list on August 6, and it remained there for four weeks.)
All of this brings us to the New York Times, and to a process that is notoriously cloaked in secrecy.
What we know for sure is that the New York Times pulls its sales data from a sampling of independent bookstores — although we don’t know which stores — and presumably also from the big players like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. We know its figures don’t agree exactly with BookScan’s figures, because there are usually discrepancies between what the Times publishes and what publishers see on BookScan from week to week.
The New York Times tracks the sales of both print books (in its own list) and e-books (combined with print in a different list; there’s no digital-only list). Like BookScan and USA Today, it doesn’t track sales from channels outside of the traditional bookstore markets. Its week goes from Sunday to Saturday.
Like Publishers Weekly, the Times divides its list by format (hardcover, paperback, e-book, and combined sales across all formats), by age (adult, children, and young adult), and by genre (fiction, nonfiction, business, science, sports, and advice). Following a major restructuring earlier this year, it’s dropped some of the more specific lists it used to maintain, like those for mass-market paperbacks, e-books, and graphic novels.
“The Times’s best-seller lists are based on a detailed analysis of book sales from a wide range of retailers who provide us with specific and confidential context of their sales each week,” said New York Times spokesperson Jordan Cohen in a statement to Vox. “These standards are applied consistently, across the board in order to provide Times readers our best assessment of what books are the most broadly popular at that time.”
What we don’t know is how many bookstores the New York Times talks to, how it weights different kinds of sales, or how it interprets its data. It’s widely rumored that independent bookstore sales are weighted more heavily than Walmart sales, for instance, but the Times has never confirmed this. Some observers have also suggested that it weights print sales from traditional publishers more heavily than it does digital sales from digital publishers or self-publishers, because books that do very well on Amazon’s in-house imprints seem to rarely show up on the Times list: Amazon Charts No. 1 best-sellers like Beneath a Scarlet Sky may never make their way onto the New York Times list.
So if you want your book to be a best-seller, you should try to sell at least 5,000 copies in a week — from Monday to Sunday if you want to be a Publishers Weekly best-seller, and from Sunday to Saturday if you want to be a New York Times best-seller. You should make sure your book falls into a very specific category if you want it to be an Amazon Best Seller, and that people are really engaging with it on Kindle if you want to appear on Amazon Charts. You should make sure that independent booksellers feel really passionate about your book and are ready to hand-sell it if you want to be an Indiebound best-seller.
But most importantly, you have to make sure your sales are happening through the channels that the best-seller list you’re eyeing tracks. That’s where each list lives and dies — and it’s the major vulnerability for the reputation of each list. Especially at the New York Times.
Is it really possible to game the New York Times best-seller list?
Buying your way onto the New York Times best-seller list is not all that difficult, although it is, as noted beacon of morality Tucker Max points out, “basically ‘cheating.’” The most widely accepted version of this play is to identify independent bookstores that you believe report to the New York Times and go to those specific stores on tours. Slightly more crassly, Mitt Romney boosted the sales figures for his 2010 book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness by requiring his book tour hosts to buy between $25,000 and $50,000 worth of copies of his book.
The publishers of Handbook for Mortals made their way to the top of the New York Times list via the expedient measure of calling up various independent bookstores and asking if they reported to the New York Times. If the stores said they did, the publishers placed a large order for copies of Handbook for Mortals with the knowledge that the order would go directly toward the book’s ranking on the Times’s list. (Update: Lani Sarem, the author of Handbook for Mortals, insists that her sales were valid and that she intended to resell all of the books she purchased at events. But as industry publication Publishers Lunch points out, booksellers have traditional mechanisms in place that allow you to drive pre-orders to existing sellers. The only upside of placing your own pre-orders and then reselling the books is that it allows you to artificially boost your sales numbers.)
The New York Times is aware of this vulnerability in its methodology, and it has systems in place to counteract it. If a book’s sales appear to be artificially inflated by bulk orders, the Times will usually place a cross next to the book’s appearance on the list to alert readers to the fact that something hinky might be going on. Sometimes it will delete books from the list altogether if it thinks there’s reason to doubt that a book’s sales are legitimate.
In the case of Handbook for Mortals, the book’s publisher appear to have circumvented the Times’s protections by always placing an order just a little too small to count as a bulk order. At indie stores, that’s 80 books, so the publisher placed orders of 78 or 79. At Barnes & Noble, that’s 30 books, so the publisher placed orders of 27 and 28. That’s what it took for Handbook for Mortals to fly under the New York Times’s radar all the way to the top of the YA hardcover best-sellers list, until YA readers started to investigate.
It’s possible to game most of the best-seller lists in this fashion, since most of them make the list of stores they track publicly available. It’s even possible to game your way onto Amazon Charts’ “most read” list by purchasing a bot that will constantly read your book on Kindle, boosting your engagement numbers — Amazon just filed a number of arbitration demands against companies it claims are doing just that.
Is the New York Times best-seller list really biased?
All of the major best-seller lists have blind spots that serve certain genres poorly, especially genres that don’t flourish in the traditional trade book market: gift shop books and toy store books. In that sense, all the major best-seller lists are biased, including the New York Times’s.
However, the numbers do not back up Regnery’s claim that the New York Times has constructed its best-seller list to penalize conservative books. According to data provided by the New York Times, of the 137 books that have hit No. 1 on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction list since 2008, 16 have come from Regnery, or about 11 percent of the list. For a publisher that doesn’t belong to one of the Big Five publishing houses that dominate the industry, that’s a huge number of best-sellers. And conservative authors who don’t publish at Regnery, like Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush, also frequently appear on the list.
And as Callum Borchers and Kevin Uhrmacher point out at the Washington Post, the Times’s list is actually sometimes kinder to Regnery than the Publishers Weekly list is. D’Souza’s 2016 book Hillary’s America made it to No. 1 on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction list but peaked at No. 2 for Publishers Weekly.
It’s fair to say that the New York Times best-seller list is biased against books that perform best outside of traditional sales channels, but those don’t include conservative books. Conservative books do very, very well in traditional sales channels, and the Times’s list reflects that fact.
The Times’s list also reflects the fact that, like all best-seller lists, it is a desperate attempt to impose order and meaning on a chaotic, amorphous system. Everyone who works in the publishing industry agrees that it is physically impossible to account for every book sold in the US in a single week, yet regardless, we demand that major publications try to do just that, week in and week out — and then we use the results to decide which books to buy and make into movies and turn into big cultural events.
All best-seller lists are compromises and guesses and interpretations of fuzzy data, including the New York Times best-seller list. They’re just very important, very prestigious, hotly debated compromises.
Update: This article has been updated to include links to opeds by Handbook for Mortals author Lani Sarem, and with more information about the Amazon Chart ranking of The Big Lie.
The Bestselling Books of 2018 (So Far)
As befits one more year of strident political discussion dominating public consciousness, political books sold well in the print sector in the first half of 2018. Macmillan, in particular, has seen its books perform well, with Michael Wolff’s tell-all Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (Henry Holt) settling in as the year’s bestseller to date and James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership (Flatiron) making the #3 spot. Even political parodies did well: Chronicle Books’s crashed children’s title Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Presents a Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, written by Jill Twiss and illustrated by E.G. Keller, which details a fictional same-sex romance between U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s pet rabbit and another rabbit named Wesley, came in at #6.
Otherwise, children’s literature and other adult nonfiction books dominated the top 10. A cookbook, Joanna Gaines’s Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering, was the #2 bestseller in the year so far, and nonfiction books by Jordan Peterson and Jen Sincero placed at #7 and #10, respectively. Children’s authors Madeleine L’Engle, Dav Pilkey, and Dr. Seuss all saw books in the top 10, too. The only adult fiction title to hit the list, at #9, was James Patterson’s collaboration with former president Bill Clinton, The President Is Missing. Even fiction, it seems, can’t escape the clutches of politics.
Fire and Fury was also the top-selling title in e-books, according to lists compiled by both Barnes & Noble and Apple/iBooks (PW has opted to change to the iBooks and BN.com e-book lists, from Amazon, since the online retailer’s list now skews heavily to titles released by Amazon publishing units and also includes sales made through the Kindle Unlimited program). Comey’s book placed #8 on the iBooks list, but did not appear in the top 10 at B&N. On both lists, as is typical with e-books, fiction titles were more prominent than nonfiction, compared to print lists, with A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window placing at #2 on both lists, while novels by David Baldacci, Lisa Wingate, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, and Kristin Hannah appeared on the top 10 of both e-book lists.
NPD BookScan Top 20 Print books, January 1–July 1, 2018
|1.||Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff (Holt)|
|2.||Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines (Harper)|
|3.||A Higher Loyalty by James Comey (Flatiron)|
|4.||A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Macmillan)|
|5.||Dog Man and Cat Kid by Dav Pilkey (Scholastic)|
|6.||A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Marlon Bundo (Chronicle)|
|7.||12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson (Random Canada)|
|8.||Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss (Random)|
|9.||The President Is Missing by Bill Clinton/James Patterson (Little, Brown/Knopf)|
|10.||You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero (Hachette)|
|11.||The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (Harper)|
|12.||The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur (Andrews McMeel)|
|13.||Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Random)|
|14.||Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (Andrews McMeel)|
|15.||The Outsider by Stephen King (S&S)|
|16.||Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (Random)|
|17.||Diary of a Wimpy Kid #12 by Jeff Kinney (Abrams)|
|18.||The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (Morrow)|
|19.||The Great Alone by Hannah Kristin (St. Martin’s)|
|20.||Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup)|
Apple/iBooks Top 10 e-books, January 1–June 30, 2018
|1.||Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff (Holt)|
|2.||The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (Morrow)|
|3.||The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen (St. Martin’s)|
|4.||Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (Penguin)|
|5.||The Fallen by David Baldacci (Grand Central)|
|6.||The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s)|
|7.||The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (Harper)|
|8.||A Higher Loyalty by James Comey (Flatiron)|
|9.||Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (Ballantine)|
|10.||Origin by Dan Brown (Anchor)|
BN.COM Top 10 e-books, January 1–June 30, 2018
There are two contrasting strategies for achieving a mega-seller, as illustrated by the uppermost books in 2018’s chart. You can publish it in mid-winter, or alternatively April, and then watch it accumulate stonking sales: that worked in the past for newcomers such as Paula Hawkins, Joe Wicks and EL James, and it has propelled Adam Kay, Yuval Noah Harari, Heather Morris and Tom Kerridge (beating Jamie Oliver, last year’s No 1 for the first time) into the list’s elite. Most spectacularly, it was the recipe for the success of Gail Honeyman’s debut, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, published in paperback on 25 January and 11 months later more than 300,000 sales ahead of its nearest rival.
top 100 bestsellers chart
The other, more conventional technique is to bring a big name’s hardback out in the pre-Christmas peak season and sell shedloads in a few weeks, an approach that slotted David Walliams and Jeff Kinney into their accustomed high places alongside paperbacks by fellow perennials Dan Brown and Lee Child. Crashing their stag party this time was Michelle Obama, whose November-released autobiography showed (as Alex Ferguson’s did five years ago) that the moribund form of the celebrity memoir can still be viable if the author is charismatic and candid enough.
While Honeyman and Obama’s performances were stunning, they are the only women in a blokey top 10. And although that stark split is untypical of the rankings as a whole, there is a pervasive sense of women being in retreat after a heady 2017. Male authors, for example, consolidated their dominance in children’s fiction (despite the remarkable return of three JK Rowling sagas from the 1990s) and cookery (where Mary Berry alone took on the male chefs), and penned most of the chart’s 25 crime novels, while the female-driven subgenre of the psychological thriller was on the wane. Tot up the names, and you have 63 men credited, compared with 35 women; a big turn-around from last year’s 50 women and 40 men.
Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere is at No 44 in the chart.
What Obama’s stellar presence at the top also belies is a marked lack below her of other writers of colour. Publishing has agonised in recent years about being “hideously white”; but the impact of the resulting initiatives has yet to show up commercially on the evidence of a chart you have to peer at before you spot Celeste Ng (44) and Reni Eddo-Lodge (96).
Eddo-Lodge’s essay on race was part of an improved showing by non-fiction, with Michael Wolff’s Trump exposé Fire and Fury (24) joining Kay’s hospital tales (2), Obama’s Becoming (8) and Harari’s sweeping history (9) in the upper echelons. So-called “smart thinking” books did well, whether they were popular science, such as Why We Sleep (26), or life-guides, such as those by Jordan Peterson (32) and Matthew Syed (53); and their concern with everyday dilemmas and experience can be seen as in line with the emphasis on practicality and self-improvement of Kerridge, Oliver and Wicks’s top-ranked recipe titles – and indeed as reflecting the same anxious zeitgeist as Honeyman’s probing psychological study.
Look for an equivalent brainy strain of novels, however, and you’ll find it challenging: literary fiction is scarcer than in 2017, and often set – with Eleanor Oliphant and Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere the main exceptions – in the past or future, as with Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry’s myth retellings (31, 66), CJ Sansom’s Tombland (46) and the TV tie-in reissue of The Handmaid’s Tale (43). The conspicuous absence of Sally Rooney’s widely admired, heavily promoted debut Conversations With Friends, in paperback since March, testifies to how rare it has become for a literary novel with a contemporary setting to combine critical acclaim with mass appeal.
If you’re in fiction writing for the money, you might want to switch genres.
A cursory look at Amazon’s best-selling titles of 2018 reveals something surprising: Not a single book in the top ten is a novel. Only one can even be considered fiction, and that’s the tongue-in-cheek children’s book A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo (ranked #2 on the list). The top seller, Fire and Fury, is also political in nature, with the other members of the top 10 being cookbooks and self-help titles.
Finally, at #11, the tides turn: Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved YA novel A Wrinkle in Time swoops in to bring hope to the fiction writers of the world. But the first novel for adults doesn’t show up until #15, and the fifth best-selling novel on our list doesn’t land a home until #40. (Ouch.)
Still, the best-selling books on our list are a varied bunch, with authors ranging from an acclaimed novelist to a former president. Here are the top five current best-selling novels for adults on Amazon (and stay tuned for a top-selling YA list in the near future).
Note: If you’re looking for the best-selling novels of the year that were actually published in 2018, you’ll find them here.
1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Celeste Ng’s career thus far has been the stuff of legends. Her debut, Everything I Never Told You, was named Amazon’s best book of 2014 and became an international best-seller. Her second book, Little Fires Everywhere, is set to follow the same path: It hit the New York Times best-seller list immediately after its release and has stayed there for 42 weeks. Amazon selected it as the best novel of 2017, and today it sits at #15 on the best-selling books of 2018 list. A Hulu series starring Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon is already in the works, so be sure to snag a copy before the show is released.
Check the price on Amazon!