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What I Didn’t Know About Best Seller Lists

best sellerEven though I’ve had one book on a best seller list, (Autocad Method and Macros – I knew you’d be thrilled) which was, at one time, on some computer book best seller list, I never have understood them.

I do know that most people who write books, including me, hope to be on a best seller list, preferably one that has some clout and can generate some sales, maybe even lots of sales.

A Mark Boersema, the business coach I work with mentioned Morgan James Publishing and there I found a link to an article entitled The Ultimate Guide to Bestseller Lists: Unlocking the Truth Behind the New York Times List & Others by Chadwick CannonBy all means, read the article if you’ve got any interest in best seller lists – it’s a delight. (And as near as I can tell, spelling best seller as one word or two is okay – whew!)

Some of what I didn’t know

According to Chad (that’s how he identifies himself on his site) Nielsen Book Scan (links to a Wikipedia article because the site itself requires membership) is the source of most of the data on how books sell AND because of various exceptions, they only report roughly 75-80 percent of all book sales in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Chad lists these best seller lists as important: USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Publisher’s Weeklyand something called ECPA, which is a Christian best seller list and totally new to me.

I did know that the New York Times best seller list was considered most important by most, but I didn’t realize their process of selecting books for that list is literally secret – and arcane. Chad goes into some delightfully and gossipy details.

Apparently at least the New York Time’s list is regularly gamed. That sort of surprises me – we’ve all seen how Amazon’s lists are gamed and gotten emails both explaining how to, and encouraging us to participate for one or another book. I should have known this would apply to other lists as well.

Chad points out that since best seller lists are based on a week’s worth of data, in most cases, an author can do things like work for a big pre-order campaign which will mean most of those orders actually are fulfilled in the first week of a book’s sales. Bulk sales made on the first day or two also tend to get counted in that critical first week. And, if the author can hit major media that first week, there will be a nice boost in sales as a result. In other words, canny marketing makes a huge difference. No surprise and it’s nice to know exactly what kind of marketing works.

What I like best

What I like best in this article about best sellers is that Chadwick Cannon makes a bold suggestion that we readers and writers redefine what success means to an author. He’s mounted a twitter campaign, but more than that he’s hoping we’ll get back to the original reason we wanted to write a book in the first place – to communicate some idea or other and market from there and that we evaluate the books we buy and read based on that rather than an arbitrary list of some favorites or other.

What do you think? Tell us in comments.

Write well and often,


{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Oh goodness, Anne, I have so many emails with posts from you to catch up on! Since I last visited, I’ve written another book, a massive one, and recently got asked for pages from my last book by an agent. OMG! No offers yet, but we can only hope!

    This is a good article you’ve shared. I like the redefining success idea too. It would be nice to hit #1 on the list someday as Joe Hill did with The Fireman (deservedly so–it was a masterful book). But I’d be happy if I had a good following and at least some steadiness to my career.
    Elizabeth West recently posted..A Farewell to SkatingMy Profile

  • Most of these kinda informations that we get are what we rely upon but due to lack of knowledge about how these things work, we often remain in dark. However, I too knew that new york times list is always considered to be the most reliable but of course, i didn’t know how secret the process was. Too much knowledge for today!
    Thanks Anne!
    Shubham recently posted..Change MAC Address – Android Phone Without RootingMy Profile

  • Anne,
    If you have an Amazon Author Central account, they share *some* BookScan data with you every Friday. Namely: weekly sales and a rough idea of where (in the US) sales occurred. You can see some historical data (they started this service in July 2014, so nothing before that). The information is just for viewing, though. You can’t save it into a spreadsheet or other format.
    Michael McCallister recently posted..WPMU: Enhance WordPress Security – Fix XML-RPCMy Profile

    • Michael, great information, thanks!

      What’s this security thing you’re talking about on your blog… do I need to worry as a wordpress user?

      And thanks for the heads up re European net neutrality… I signed. Hope others here will too.


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