New York Times Best Seller List

I don’t care what they say, every writer dreams of making the New York Times best seller list. Personally, I always write my name on the list every Sunday, just to give the universe a nudge in the right direction. Until I read Clark Hoyt’s report in the Times, I’d always had a vague notion that the list was compiled from actual sales of books as reported by all booksellers around the country. That turns out not to be true.

The list isn’t compiled from reports of distributors of the number of books they’ve shipped to booksellers, either. It comes strictly from booksellers. Just not the same booksellers every week.

There are no “official” booksellers whose sales are tracked, like B&N or Borders or the independents. Instead, the reporting booksellers vary from week to week. And there’s no consistency in the way they report sales, either.

Which makes getting on the Times list sort of like chasing lightning bugs, and explains why some authors who’ve made the list say they’re not absolutely sure what put them on it. In some cases, it may have been that a book store where they’d just sold very well was among the reporting stores that week, even if they hadn’t been selling terribly well in the rest of the country.

We should all hope for that kind of luck, because once you’ve made the NY Times list, your sales will increase exponentially. Not just for that book, but for all subsequent books as well. I mean, look at James Patterson, who’s made the list 37 times!

Now that I know how the list comes about, I feel better about my chances of getting on it just by inking in my name and book titles every week. Seems about as good a plan as any.


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