The New York Times Bestseller List is Full of Lies

hello everyone Alexa down here and today

I am going to be demystifying the New

York Times best seller list I'm going to

be dashing hopes and ruining dreams or

really just putting an end to some

unfortunate gas lighting

I mean honestly hopefully giving you

some peace of mind what I am sharing

with you today is one of those secrets

that is not a secret in publishing but a

thing that is not as widely discussed as

it probably should be and that is the

known fact that the New York Times best

seller list is not just a list of the

best-selling books it's not just about

sales there are so many other factors

that go into something making the New

York Times bestseller list and some of

them are mysterious and some of them are

deeply frustrating and most of it isn't

particularly fair essentially the New

York Times bestseller list is not really

a meritocracy because seriously it's not

just about who is selling the most

number of books so I'm going to be

sharing some conventional wisdoms about

how the New York Times bestseller list

works also some pure conjecture because

part of the problem is is that some of

it's very mysterious and so we talked

amongst ourselves and publishing as to

what how we think it works and mostly

what I really want to debunk for a lot

of you is the double-edged sword of

wanting to list feelings when you don't

list or feelings when you do and placing

undue value on the idea of being a New

York Times best seller because once you

understand how kind of nebulous and

borderline unfair it is I hope you have

a healthier attitude about Hennig or not

hitting the lists and this of course is

coming from me Alexa Dunn an author who

has not had the New York Times

bestseller list and never expected to

and probably never will I just want to

say that I know I've never had the list

and that I promise I'm not unduly bitter

i legit have never expected to hit the

list but mostly because i've actually

understand how the list works and

genuinely I think once you have a better

sense I mean you'll be like vaguely

frustrated especially when you have

friends who almost make it and don't

that is actually the worst I do have

friends who

almost but not quite made the list and

then of course I have friends who have

made the list I personally think it

makes you feel better once you kind of

understand how it works though you'll

never really understand how it works

let's let's just jump right in so the

main thing to know that I've kind of

covered is the New York Times best

seller list is a curated list it is not

purely based on sales it is curated

based on a number of factors some known

some less known or unknown that the

staff at the New York Times the editors

at the New York Times whoever manages

the New York Times bestseller list they

have this alchemy that they put together

to make the magical elusive near at

times bestseller list

it is a known thing in the industry that

the list is curated like this is not a

shock to anyone who is in the publishing

industry it does tend to come as a shock

to everyone outside of it because I mean

by the title the assumption is oh these

are the these are the best-selling books

no it's not that simple every book that

makes the list is of course selling a

lot of copies it's just not the only

factor and especially there's nuance in

the positioning on the list so to give

you a real example that is heavily

anonymized two books come out the third

week of September not with the real week

and both books sell about 5,000 copies

book a debuts at number one on the New

York Times bestseller list and book B is

not on the list at all not even second

third fourth or fifth and there are

books on the list that sold only 2,000

copies are 3,000 copies look B is

completely shut on the list even though

book a and book B have more or less the

same sales this is something that has

happened continues to happen and will

happen in the future because position on

the list making the list at all is not

just about raw number of copies sold so

I want to talk about some of the

important factors known and unknown so

no one speculated that go into making

the list starting with the things that

we know are factors in listing sales of

or sales though I've heard that it's not

strictly sales I've heard it's actually

technically copy shipped so the volume

of books shipped to specific stores for

sale I've heard then conflicting reports

of whether it's no no it really is the

literal number of copies sold that week

versus no no it's about copy shipped so

somewhere in the middle of that is your

answer but that said we do know that

number of copies shipped is important

distribution numbers are important and

when a book has a particular print run

and is having a certain number of copies

go to store specific stores which I'm

going to talk about in a second we do

know that that makes a difference you

can tell when a book has a good shot at

listing based on these things the next

factor that we know is that some book

stores or points of sale matter more

than others there are key reporting

stores to the New York Times so these

are specific book stores some are

definitely known widely others are less

known at least to outsiders I don't know

what they call are but the publishers

definitely know and those key reporting

stores to the New York Times the stock

that they have the buzz that they report

and the actual number of copies sold

makes a big difference to the list

I mentioned buzz so another thing that I

have heard that happens is the New York

Times well literally sometimes call key

reporting stores in these stores and ask

what's buzzy what's moving off the

shelves what are people buying so the

trusted opinions of key book sellers can

make a difference to something listing

so it is possible for strong support

from book stores specifically in the

book stores to make a difference in a

book listing this is how we get a lot of

really feel good success stories of a

book not necessarily having a ton of

buzz but developing buzz doing

incredibly well and week one of sales

with buzz from book stores or sometimes

it's week two that it less

it is possible for the little book that

could to make the New York Times

bestseller list based on groundswell of

support but then there are a number of

factors that are more speculative we

don't know for sure that these happen or

how big of a difference that they make

but definitely there I mentioned buzz

already there can be a prestige factor

to titles that can make a difference in

how likely they are to list there's all

sorts of other speculation that I'm too

scared to share in a video but the

summary I want to give you is that

there's all sorts of speculation behind

the scenes that sometimes it's just down

to how much the New York Times likes an

author and that there's all sorts of

stuff that goes on there the thing is

none of us can prove it and no one wants

to say any of that speculation out loud

hi because honestly it sounds catty but

at the same time I can tell you that

behind the scenes in publishing we all

talk about the list and why we think

certain books listed especially if you

hear that it wasn't the strongest seller

but maybe it had the the prestige or the

nd store support sometimes it's super

obvious that something sold a million

copies and other times it's just kind of

like you're pretty sure sales aren't the

number one contributing factor in

something listing but you can't quite

put together

concretely why it did you're always

happy for people listing unless they're

your mortal enemy but we do talk behind

the scenes about the composition of the

list we've also been talking a lot

lately about how there's been very

little movement on the list but I'm

gonna talk about that later another

thing that is definitely known in the

industry like it's known we talked about

it is that certain publishers and

imprints definitely gain the list more

than others because you can game the

list because of key reporting stores and

copies shipped in conjunction with sales

and pretty sure publishers that know

exactly which stores are the key

reporting stores and approximately how

many copies need to be shipped to give

something a really good go at the list


there's just specific kinds of marketing

and publicity they can do in the run-up

to a release of the title that gives it

a better chance of listing because of

word-of-mouth and getting people to hand

sell it in the store there are certain

imprints and publishers that really

prioritize getting specific titles

usually lead titles to lists and they

have a complex set of factors and things

that they can and do do to push books to

success on the list and what ends up

happening is that we know inside the

industry that certain imprints and

publishers go to get things on the list

more than others it's a priority to

certain imprints and publishers more

than others and so your experience of

how much your book is pushed to lists

can just differ depending on who is

publishing you so it just it's not

always you and whether your book is

worthy of listing and selling enough

copies it's just different strategy

depending on the publisher and the

imprint and I say this so that no one

out there blames themselves if they

don't end up with the runaway bestseller

New York Times best-selling book even

though they tried their hardest their

publisher supported them that they could

have made it if sometimes luckily it is

just out of your control but also

sometimes a book is lightning in a

bottle and it just develops that

groundswell of buzz and it lists because

it just it ascends and a ton of people

buy it

so they're it's really complicated all

the factors that go into the list but

these are things that are talked about

behind the scenes in the industry which

brings me to Laney saram so Laney serum

aka handbook for mortals was a whole

thing about two years ago a little over

two years ago I think where someone who

came out of nowhere

debuted at number one on the New York

Times bestseller list for the book

literally no one had ever heard of and

the whole thing exploded where we

figured out that she had figured out how

to game the list and she did game the

list she basically ordered massive

amounts of stock books from specific

reporting bookstores like she bought

them herself that's definitely one way

to do it publishers don't do that by the

way and she basically popped up

a data point and they put her at number

one on the list clearly without checking

anything and within hours people were on

Twitter like what is going on who is

this person we've never heard of this

book and they ended up correcting the

problem but it kind of blew the list

wide open and all of a sudden people who

weren't in the know before were like

wait this means the list can be gamed

meanwhile people like me over here like

yeah we knew this this is I thought I

genuinely thought it was funny I thought

it was really really funny that a no one

with a book basically beat us at her own

game she proved that it was possible and

we know it's possible and it happens all

the time and so I found that whole thing

amusing I know I probably shouldn't but

I did and actually that's what made it

far more acceptable and comfortable for

us to talk about publicly some a little

bit publicly within measure about the

mystery of the list what the list

actually means and it was the first time

we did I'll talk about it clearly

doesn't genuinely only mean that real

consumers buy books in large volume it's

specific stores it's talk it's all sorts

of things obviously she didn't have buzz

and all of that kind of stuff up she

wasn't actually curated for the list but

she came to the system on the stock and

sales order side because it is

definitely possible and really I think

it deigned confidence in the list and in

some ways I think that's a good thing

but to that end a new kind of issue that

we've been facing and this is all in the

way a world I don't play in the whorls

of adult bestsellers or anything like

that this is all young adult fiction

we've definitely noticed a phenomenon

over the last year or so where there's

just very little movement in the titles

on the yf-- sellers list it's the same

five or six books they kind of move in

position but very little comes in that's

new almost no 2019 debuts for example

have listed that's made a lot of us

speculate on the back end like are there

new factors going into the list that we

don't know about that are

impacting the list maybe they put in

place to stop someone like Lanie serum

from taking advantage it's possible and

honestly to that end like this this is

only getting peer lis into my opinion

but also my reassurances to you watching

about the value that you place in the

New York Times bestseller list in a way

it almost feels like it's lost its value

because we know that it's not just about

sales and it's the same books over and

over again very little movement nothing

new by the way this is a problem with

the list Oh years and years ago and then

they recalculated the way list to take

off paperback and move series and that

was the first time in a long time we'd

seen new things on the list but the same

thing has happened again where there's

no movement so I anticipate they're

gonna change the lists again but also

it's definitely impacted at least

internally and on in the industry a lot

of the confidence in the list it's

definitely interesting and I can say

that there have been a lot of

conversations behind the scenes of like

why there hasn't been a lot of movement

on the lists lately and whether we're

looking at another shake-up for the list

because when you know that it's not just

about sales that there are other factors

that go into listing such as buzz it's

both kind of mystifying but also a

little bit demoralizing so I want to

talk about feelings in the New York

Times it definitely used to be easier as

a young adult writer as a writer in this

space to make the list partly because

there used to be separate lists for

hardcover and ebook and when the e-book

list still existed you could list if

there was like a sale for your book and

you sold a bunch of copies in a short

period of time now it was done away with

in part because people thought it was

too easy to make the list by doing a big

sale which fair but at the same time it

means that now all we have is the

hardcover list in the series list and

the hardcover list has almost no

movement to it it's the same books over

and over again and it's you almost never

see something new on the list and when

you do its lucky if it gets more than

one week and so the question becomes

well maybe that's legitimately what's


I'm so curious because there are certain

books on there like 5 feet apart a

tie-in book for a packaged it was

packaged they created the movie into the

book at the same time and I'm just like

who's reading it are you guys reading it

I haven't seen it on booktube at all

some of those things we're not a single

breathing human you know is reading a

book but it's listing week after week

and so you just kind of scratch your

head some books on the list make

complete sense you're like ah yes

everyone's talking about that book I

know it sold a ton of copies I'm so

happy that that book listed and you feel

that way about most of the books but

some of the books it's just like her I

mean that's how Laney is there I'm got

caught we were all like whoo but I think

there's less than this value in the list

because it is so opaque it's not

actually clear how things make the list

and it varies so widely I've heard about

books listing at nine hundred copies

sold and I have heard about books

listing at four to five thousand copies

sold to like make those lower spots on

the list it depends on the time of year

and it's just kind of like and as I said

there are cases where someone you know

makes it with X number and someone you

know with X number doesn't make it and

you're just kind of like what does that

even mean but what I want to leave you

with is not to pin your hopes and dreams

and aspirations on listing now I do want

to admit the double-edged sword

does listing matter yeah it does it book

doesn't it doesn't listing can make a

huge difference for a book listing even

just once but it's usually listing for

more than one week is what really makes

a difference to a book it can create a

momentum that legit turns it into a

runaway bestseller listing just one week

and being able to say something's in New

York Times bestseller it can be a

game-changer but just as often you'll

hear people caution you that you can be

a one time New York Times best seller

and not be home like a mega famous

best-selling author but it does or can

certainly make a difference it is

certainly a mark of prestige but at the

same time because

there are factors that are out of your

control and it's not just raw about

sales but also a book can be successful

without selling that many copies it can

just be really dangerous to be like I

won't feel I am valid or worthy or

successful unless I'm a New York Times

best seller just in this climate where

it's almost impossible to become one is

especially if you're comparing yourself

to older writers not that literally in

age but writers who have been around

longer because as I mentioned it used to

be easier to list on the ebook list

there are a ton of people who get to say

that they're near Times bestselling

author and it means they sold 3,000

ebooks at $2.99 four years ago so take

it with a grain of salt but I just think

so many people get so disappointed and

devastated because they don't make the

list I think the safest thing to do is

never expect to make the list never make

it a goal because it's something that's

so far out of your control and then if

you do a list it's just a great thing

that happened that's the thing anyone

who does lists should be incredibly

proud of themselves it does mean that

you've sold a lot of books by the way it

just means that that's not necessarily

the only factor in you making the list

so someone who does make the list should

be happy and proud but the flip of that

is that if you don't don't hate yourself

don't beat yourself up don't think that

you're not as good as someone else and

if you have made the list you're just an

outsider who thinks that the list is and

I'll be all don't think that the list

hitter is better than the non list

hitter I just think that those kinds of

value judgments are really dangerous

when it comes to the New York Times

bestseller list because of some of the

that goes on and what it means

and what it also doesn't mean I hope I

haven't blown too many minds as I

mentioned most of this is pretty well

understood in the industry we talk about

it all the time behind the scenes it's

definitely a complicated thing let me

know down below in the comments what do

you think have you long suspected this

about the list are you just like totally

shocked and give this video a thumbs up

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as always guys thank you so much for

watching and happy writing