New York Times Best Seller List

Secrets of The Times Best Sellers List

By John Prince

Authors sometimes tell us that they want their book listed on The New York Times Best Seller List.

I tell them that if their name is James Patterson, or Janet Evanovich, it’s a sure thing. Otherwise, maybe not.

On October 12 the NYT Best Seller List celebrates 90 years of bring the top reads to the public. And it has had its fair share of controversy.

The first big question: How can they track sales of thousands of books at all of the online platforms, thousands of bookstores, and retailers.

Answer: They can’t. What they do track is the number of units of a book shipped from distributors, like IngramSpark, to sales outlets.

Therein lies a flaw. What if an author ordered thousands of bulk copies to drive up the distribution numbers. (This sometimes happens in the music industry where an artist buys thousands of albums to get into the gold category.) When you see a dagger symbol next to a Best Seller listing, there is a suspicion of bulk buying.

So they’re tracking distribution.

How the Times actually compiles the list is a trade secret.

According to Wikipedia “In 1983 (as part of a legal argument) the Times stated that the list is not mathematically objective but rather editorial content.” That means the content can fall into the realm of ‘opinion,’ which doesn’t have to be ‘factual.’ Wikipedia also reports that “In 2017, a Times representative said that the goal is that the lists reflect authentic best sellers.”

Even so, the huge fanbase some authors enjoy will ensure that they get on the Best Sellers list the day their latest book hits the shelves.

Who are they?

Go to your favorite bookstore or online sales platform. Look at the book covers. If the author’s name is huge at the top of the cover, chances are they’re “famous” and the publisher is counting on their name to sell the book. The title? Doesn’t really matter. The author’s name says it all.

4 thoughts on “Secrets of The Times Best Sellers List”

  1. Very interesting. Thanks for that info John.
    It goes to prove it’s not only “Who you know” ,”WHAT you know about who you know”, but more-so, NAME RECOGNITION.

  2. John, one of the book marketing “experts” was accused of this recently–ordering 400 of his own books & then achieving NYT best seller-dom. He was kicked off the list. (Not sure, but think it was Mark Dawson.)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content