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8 Things You Might Not Know About the New York Times Bestseller List

(Note: because this is YA Highway, this list will pertain only to YA books, not all books involved in the best-seller list.)

The New York Times Bestseller List: while you might think you know what it means, you may not be sure how books get on it, or why they don't, or why one book is on a different list than another. This post will attempt to explain these things.

Here we go:

1. There are three lists that a YA book can land on. One is the children's chapter books list. These include chapter books for younger readers (ages 7-10), middle grade, and young adult. The second is the children's paperback list-- the same, except for paperback releases. The third is the children's series list. I'm not clear on the rules about when a series is considered a series on this particular list. It seems to be the third book in a continuous series (like The Hunger Games), but not a third book in a series of companion novels (like Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue). In any case, once a series is considered a series by the New York Times list people, its individual books can't be on the other two lists, even if they have higher sales.

2. It's on a week delay. You may have noticed that if you see authors, editors, agents, or other industry professionals posting/tweeting/etc. about a book that just got on the bestseller list, and then check the New York Times Best-Sellers website, the book is not there. That's because publishers find out which books are on the list a week before the list is published, and publishers will usually then contact authors and agents with that information. If you check back in a week, you'll see the book in question.

3. Just because a book isn't on the list, doesn't mean it's not doing really well. In order for a book to get on the list, it has to sell a large quantity in a given week. Consider these two fictitious books: Book A gets a big push for its release, sells a lot that first week, hits the list, and falls off the next week. Book B doesn't get a big push, sells consistently well for several weeks, and never hits the list. Book A and Book B could sell the same number of copies cumulatively! But because Book B never got that big swell, it never made the list.

4. A book can get on the list, come off the list, and get back on again. There is no fixed number of copies a book has to sell in order to make it on the list. All it has to do is sell more relative to other books. So if a book has been on the list consistently for several weeks, then gets knocked off by another book's release, it can still pop back on the list again if it keeps selling. It just depends on how the other books do.

5. Pre-orders don't necessarily count toward the list. This is because pre-orders are handled like regular sales: they are counted when they ship, which is when the credit card is charged. If books are shipped early, as most pre-orders are, they won't count toward release week sales.

6. E-books don't count either (on the children's lists). I don't know what else to say about this, other than: that could be a huge portion of a book's sales!

7. Some places/sites that sell books don't report their sales. As far as I know, Amazon and various wholesalers do not report their sales. This means that those figures are not accounted for when a book gets on the list, and their absence may account for a book not getting on it. I'm sure it's possible for Book 1 to sell more copies, all told, than Book 2, in a given week, yet Book 1 doesn't get on the list when Book 2 does, though I don't have a specific example to give.

8. It's not the end-all, be-all of bestseller lists, though it is the most famous. There's also an Indie list, a USA Today list, an Amazon list, and a bunch of others that are difficult to crack but express a different (or more complete, depending on the list) portion of sales. A book can also be an international bestseller, meaning it's kicking butt and taking names in non-US markets.

So, to summarize. What the New York Times bestseller list ISN'T: perfectly indicative of a book's success, or The Only Thing That Counts.

What the New York Times bestseller list IS: a reflection of a book doing very well in a particular week and suggestive of healthy sales, as well as a really, really exciting thing for all those involved.

Veronica Roth

Veronica is the author of the NYT bestselling YA dystopian thriller series Divergent, published by Harper Collins/Katherine Tegen Books. She's also a graduate of Northwestern University, a Christian, and A Tall Person, among other things.

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  1. Very informative! And congratulations to you for being on it. :)

  2. Number Two is an interesting fact. It makes sense for the insiders and members of the industry to see the bestseller's list early.

    Hopefully, Number Six will be knocked down in a couple of years and get e-books out of the ghetto.

  3. Thanks for the explanation. It seems to be the list a lot of writers want to be on, even, as you explain, it doesn't always give the true nature of the book's success or sales...but the general public won't know that, will they? *wink*

  4. Thanks for reposting. I hope they get with ebooks soon. Reminds me of Billboard charts and downloads; the industry is slow to adapt.

  5. This was fascinating to read. Thanks for blogging about it.

  6. Great information! Thanks for sharing!
    Also- hopefully they will add all the ebook sales! Often times this can be a dramatic portion of a books sales!

    Thanks again-


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