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How to Get a Book Published: How the Bestseller Lists Work

  • By Dee Power
  • Published 04/17/2009
  • Writing

If you’re thinking about how to get a book published you’ve probably wondered how the bestseller lists work. There are several recognized national bestseller lists including: The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today. The New York Times bestseller list is compiled by polling hundreds of independent booksellers across the country. The stores are selected because they are able, and willing, to do the reporting on hundreds of titles a week on a confidential basis. Also included are about 40 wholesalers who provide books to non bookstore retailers such as airports, hotel and hospital gift shops, grocery stores, consumer co-ops, Target, WalMart, and so forth. Regional and national chains are polled as well. Specialty shops like children’s bookstores are not polled because it would bias the results. Thousands of selling locations are included every week. The results are entered and a statistical model results which produces the nine lists, six adult and three children’s. A master file has a background description of each store. If there are any anomalies, such as one book selling a huge amount of copies but only in that one store, the system flags the store for a re-interview to find out if there was any mistake. This prevents an author, or his/her friends from buying several thousand copies in one city in an attempt to make the list artificially. The results are extrapolated based on their geographic location. For example more books are bought in New York per person than in Phoenix, so the results of the New York store’s sales would be weighted more heavily than the Phoenix store.

There is no magic number of sales that results in a ranking on the bestseller list. It depends on the season. It’s easier to make the hardcover list in summer than fall, because more titles are released in fall. It depends on the competition. If only one mega bestselling author’s book is released for that time period it’s easier. I

f you have Nora Roberts, Stephen King, and Nicholas Sparks all competing for a spot, it’s more difficult. IUniverse said that its title, If I Knew Then by Amy Fisher sold 34,000 copies and resulted in a number 14 spot on the list. You could use that as a benchmark. What is important to understand is that only sales in retail locations that are polled count. If your book sells, say, in churches, like The Purpose Driven Church, those sales don’t count toward the bestseller list. It’s important to realize that the lists are compiled on a weekly basis. Your title could sell 20,000 copies every week for a year and not make the list. A John Grisham title can sell 250,000 copies in a week and snag the number one spot. Publishers Weekly, publishersweekly.com, is a publishing industry publication devoted to trends, news, and book reviews. Each issue has several bestseller lists: fiction and nonfiction hardcover bestseller lists, trade paperback and mass paperback bestseller lists. They track the children’s bestsellers and on occasion, categories such as cookbooks, religion, or audio books. PW surveys selected bookstores, both chain stores and independents, as well as other retail sites, and then uses a formula to weigh the responses and determine the bestsellers. The USA Today list is one list ranked by sales, regardless of whether the book is hard cover or mass market, fiction or nonfiction. Bookscan is not a bestseller list. It is a retail sales tracking program and database. Data is accumulated from the Point of Sale terminals in the participating retail locations for each book sold. Borders and Walden, Barnes & Noble Inc., Barnes & Noble.com, Deseret Book Company, Hastings, Books-A-Million, Tower Music and Books, Follett College stores, Buy.com and Amazon.com all participate as well as mass merchandisers like Target, Kmart and Costco and smaller retail chains, as well as hundreds of general independent bookstores. The information tracked is available on a subscription basis.

If you’re learning about how to get a book published knowing how the bestseller lists work give you an advantage.


Get your free report The Perils and Pitfalls of Publishing: Whom Can a New Author Trust at How to get a book published Dee Power is the author of several nonfiction books including The Making of a Bestseller, the novel, Over Time, and several screenplays. Find out more about her at http://www.brianhillanddeepower.com

by Dee Power


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