The Mythos of the NYTBS

Everyone wants to be on this list. EVERYONE. If you’re writing something or have published and you say you don’t care about the New York Times Best Seller List or Wall Street Journal Bestseller List or even the USA Today Best Seller List, you are a liar.

This being said, I understand why I lie about it. Your reasons may be different from mine, but my reasons are quite simple:

The NYTBS List and the others are snapshots of a seven-day sales period.
That’s it. There’s other super-secret formulations involved, admitted by the industry that they refuse to divulge because that would mean people could “game the system,” but a lot of it boils down to “who sold how many and in what venues within this 7 day cycle.” (Yes, venue also apparently matters.)

Personally, I’m convinced the system is weighted. If you acknowledge (like the NYT has) you have a trade-secret method for making a list that goes beyond straight quantitative analysis, when the list itself is supposed to be nothing but quantitative analysis, but you won’t reveal the secret to anyone, and you acknowledge that the behind-the-scenes rules change frequently, then it sure sounds like a weighted system.

I’m not talking about your Great Aunt Tilda’s secret for making meatloaf. I’m talking about what should be a straightforward calculation, but isn’t one, that is meant to… okay, I’m not sure what The List is supposed to do anymore. Maybe once upon a time it was supposed to help the Great Aunt Tildas of the world pick out new books other than meatloaf cook books.


If I’m truly bound and determined, with enough tasting of Aunt Tilda’s meatloaf, I’ll figure out why you think it’s special (and go through several thousand iterations of making meatloaf to be sure). Not even on my best day can I figure out all the rules that are in play when NYT crunches their data to push out their list.

I can taste cinnamon, but Hidden Rule #61 doesn’t make itself so easy to discover.

Getting on The List means you’re good at marketing. The List does not look at returns, or reviews, or any other thing that would tell you if the book was at all a good read for anybody who bought it. (Which is a Qualitative analysis, and no matter what your system, that analysis will always be rigged because it falls entirely upon personal opinion. Person A likes meatloaf, Person B despises it – guess who scores your meatloaf as a crappy entry in a competition?)

The bestseller lists mean you have the ability/resources to market, to talk things up, to network, to advertise, possibly even a way to alter your sales price. To which I say: “Kudos. You know your shit about sales. Awesome. I willingly bow to the superior talent in the room as it comes to marketing.”

The bestseller lists do not address how many people bought your book and said “meh” after they finished it. It does not look at how many people actually finished your book. It does not look at how many reviews came back as “This book was awesome!” or “This book was a pile of uninspired shit.”

There are a lot of good books on the list, some of which I’ve read and can agree – “Why yes, I can see why everyone would want to buy this book.” There are a lot of crappy books on the list, some of which I can’t begin to understand why anyone would want to read them.  Those last two statements are qualitative, they are opinions, my own opinions and don’t belong in a quantitative calculation of who and how much, but because there’s so much super-secret squirrel action happening in the behind the curtain in Oz, one is forced to consider that there might be some non-quantitative action happening in the selection of The Lists (Like, say, the weighting of the purchase of the same book, depending on what part of the country the purchase was made in. Buying it in California has a different point value than buying the same book in Colorado.).

There is more than one fiction reader out there who has said: “seeing the New York Times Bestselling Author bit on a title or a website is nice, but it doesn’t have an affect on whether or not I’ll buy the book or even read it.”

There are those who make it to The List with hard, honest work, putting out well written pieces. To these people I say: “Good for you. Think about the long haul, not the short sprint. Yes, I know ‘Steady ain’t sexy’ but steady is stable, and stable is a good thing.” There is more than one career author out there (by which I mean someone whose writing sells well enough to support them financially on writing alone) who have never made it on The List. Not once.

I doubt I will ever make it onto any list. I don’t care if I do (LIAR!!!!).

But if that unlikeliest of events should happen, once I’ve peeled myself off the ceiling and stopped bouncing around and shrieking like a sugared-up 7 year old at a birthday party in the middle of Disney World, I hope I remember to tell myself: It’s just a 7 day snapshot.

Slow and steady can be very sexy, too.


About kattywampusbooks

A SAHM with delusions of literacy.
This entry was posted in People, Random, self-publish, Writer, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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