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The Truth About The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists

(Photo: Pixabay)(Photo: Pixabay)

(Photo: Pixabay)

By many standards, I’m still new to a edition industry.

It’s been usually eight years given we worked on my initial book launch campaign, yet given that time I’ve worked with hundreds of authors in usually about any offered ability we can imagine. I’ve played a purpose of publicist, village organizer, web developer, amicable media expert, and on and on.

In my several roles, I’ve bumped into The New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists many times.

I’ve helped launch dual No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, and several top-five bestsellers. At one point, 5 of my clients had books on the NYT list during a same time. While we haven’t tracked The Wall Street Journal list as closely, I’ve had utterly a few hits on that list as well.

I also have my hands in a few launches right now, some now finishing up, and some usually removing prepped for after this year—and some-more and more, I’m in astonishment of the complete disaster that are vital bestseller lists.

As I’ve prepped to write this article, I’ve had difficulty organizing all of my thoughts, data, stories, and sources into one cohesive narrative, so instead, I’ve motionless to list point-by-point, in no sole order, a things I’ve presumably privately witnessed or gifted around one of my clients or colleagues in a edition industry.

My goal is to strew some light on what unequivocally goes on with a dual tip bestseller lists—The Wall Street Journal and New York Times—and offer some information to authors who are anticipating to strike them one day.

Here goes:




It’s true, bestseller lists are apropos obsolete. There are copiousness of books that, notwithstanding never gracing a pages of WSJ or NYT, go on to sell thousands of copies, and have a good fanbase. However, a fact stays that carrying a New York Times or Wall Street Journal bestseller can severely raise your career.

Since a edition attention still shows good esteem to these lists, anticipating your name on them significantly impacts a allege on your subsequent book contract.

If you’re a nonfiction author, and utterly if we write business books, bestseller lists meant some-more vocalization gigs, aloft consulting rates, aloft visibility, and an extended reputation. They also meant some-more sales. If your book is a bestseller, it all of a remarkable gets some-more copies on bookstore shelves and other promotions. It’s a self-feeding system.

Bestseller lists also meant some-more appearances in a media. NYT bestsellers get phone calls and emails from a media. And let’s face it: It matters since it’s flattering damn cold to be a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. But a bottom line, generally if we have anything to do with a normal edition industry, is this: WSJ or NYT bestseller = some-more income for authors, publishers and agents.


If we ask a standard chairman this question—someone who has never descended into a plod of a behind-the-scenes existence of a bestseller lists—they’ll of march answer something like, “It’s a book that has sole tens of thousands of copies,” or, “It’s a book that has sole a many copies.”

How naive.

Here’s a brief intro to how it really works. Further points will go deeper into some aspects of this.


WSJ builds its list formed on a sales total it gets from Nielson’s BookScan. In general, if we sell a many books in a difficulty as reported by BookScan, we will strike No. 1 in that difficulty on The Wall Street Journal bestseller list. Makes sense, right? Except that BookScan doesn’t lane all purchases. It doesn’t embody sales made by some big-box stores, such as Walmart and Sam’s Club, that doesn’t impact many of us. However, it also doesn’t embody sales from CreateSpace and other self-publishing platforms, that affects thousands of authors.

But overall, BookScan is the many accurate information source, and reports about 75 percent to 85 percent of book sales, depending on who we ask.

More on The Wall Street Journal later.


A riddle wrapped in a poser inside an enigma, as a observant goes.

NYT keeps a parsimonious lid on its process for selecting bestsellers. It is famous that NYT samples its own list of certain booksellers opposite a country—though that ones make a cut are a firmly rhythmical secret—then demeanour during a information with correct NYT brains, and confirm whom they consider should be on a list.

It’s pronounced that this is finished to keep people from gaming a system, that is partially true. But it’s also finished so that The New York Times can have a contend about which books get a additional credit of being named a bestseller.

I’m positively not a usually one who sees intensity problems with this system.

Remember: NYT and WSJ list = some-more money.

So a tiny organisation of people demeanour during rarely resourceful information to confirm whom they hold critical adequate to be called a “New York Times bestseller.” At this point, we’ve come flattering distant from “the books that sell a many copies.” We’ve laid some groundwork, so now we can share a really uncanny stuff.


A crony of cave has entrance to a weekly Nielson BookScan numbers—that classification that marks 75 percent to 85 percent of book sales. Last year, he motionless to go behind and review BookScan numbers to a NYT bestseller list to see if he could find anything interesting.

Since NYT does a possess tip stating and choosing, he wanted to see if he could find any signs of bias.

Here are dual conclusions he collected from his possess personal research, comparing genuine BookScan sales total to a books deemed by NYT staff to be bestsellers:

  1. If we occur to work for The New York Times and have a book out, your book is some-more expected to stay on a list longer and have a aloft ranking than books not created by New York Times employees.
  2. If we occur to have created a conservative-political-leaning book, you’re some-more expected to be ranked reduce and dump off a list faster than those books with a some-more magnanimous domestic slant.

And another point:

Why a apart lists for digital and imitation copies? 

From an author’s standpoint, this is maddening. I’ve been endangered with book launches that have sole some-more than adequate copies to strike a bestseller lists, yet since a numbers were separate between digital and print, they didn’t make it. How arcane, and antiquated. In what universe does it make clarity that it matters presumably we buy a book in paper or in digital format? I still bought a book. we still suspicion it was value a money. But for some reason, a NYT and WSJ lists consider paper depends as a sale some-more than digital.

Arcane and superannuated are a usually good difference that can be used here. Readers aren’t endangered about modality, so since are bestseller lists?


Let me change gears here and give during slightest one reason lists have for making so many uncanny rules. The bestseller lists are forced to burst by a lot of hoops, since people are constantly perplexing to diversion a system. If I’m a abounding chairman and we tell a book, what’s to stop me from usually shopping 20,000 copies of my possess book and putting myself on a list?

I consider we can all determine that while we wish a bestseller lists to simulate a bestselling books, we don’t wish people to be means to buy their approach onto a lists either, right? So a bestseller lists try to put some checks and balances in place to make certain people can’t do this.

So what happens? Book launderers start popping up. And how does book laundering work?

Let me explain:

Step 1. Find a book laundering firm. There’s a handful of them out there. ResultSource is a many well-known.

Step 2. Write them a check to cover their fee. They don’t work for free, after all.

Step 3. Write them another check—for your books. This check is to buy copies of your book. It depends on a campaign, yet it’ll always series in a thousands. We’re perplexing to strike a bestseller lists here, after all.

Step 4. The organisation launders a sales. It hires people all over a nation to buy books by several retailers one during a time, regulating opposite credit cards, shipping addresses and billing addresses. This allows a sales to go by and uncover adult as particular sales, instead of bulk purchases. These sales afterwards get reported to Nielson BookScan.

Step 5. Pop a champagne corks. You’re now a bestseller.

If we consider I’m creation this things up, we have dual sources that behind this up:

  1. The Wall Street Journal
  2. The word of an insider—a crony who used to work for one of these firms, and headed adult a book laundering side of a business. The chairman quit when they became ill of a miss of ethics and ethics in the whole operation; they explained a whole complement to me.


Now we’re removing into a truly gray area. Up to this point, we consider we can all determine on dual things:

  1. Individual sales should count. If we travel into a bookstore or record on to Amazon.com and squeeze a duplicate of a book that sale should count on a bestseller lists.
  2. Huge bulk purchases from a author shouldn’t count. If you decide to sequence 10,000 copies of your possess book, that shouldn’t automatically put you on a NYT bestseller list.

But what about in between?

What if an online book bar wants to squeeze 50 copies of your book—one for everybody in a group? Should those count as 50 particular copies, or as one bulk purchase?

What if one of your clients is bringing we in to pronounce to their whole dialect of 108 people, and wants to buy a duplicate for everybody in attendance? Should that count as 108 particular copies, or as one bulk purchase?

What if an organisation wants to buy a duplicate of your book for any one of its chapters, that are in some-more than a couple of hundred cities opposite a United States? Should those count as a integrate hundred particular sales, or as one bulk purchase?

What if someone wants to buy 10 copies of your book to give divided as Christmas presents?

What if a association wants to buy 1,000 copies of your book to give divided to all its new clients over a subsequent dual years?

Do those count as particular copies, or as one bulk purchase?

Here’s where it unequivocally starts to get fuzzy, since in any of these cases, particular people are removing a duplicate of a book. Sure, they might not review it, yet how many books line your possess bookshelves that you’ve never gotten around to reading?

Different people will have opposite opinions on any of these scenarios.

If I’ve worked tough to build a fanbase or patron bottom that will squeeze mixed copies of my book, shouldn’t we get credit for those? But if I, as an author, go around and buy copies of my book in multiples of 50 and 100 and afterwards store them in my garage, those substantially shouldn’t count.

This is where a bestseller lists run into trouble. It’s intensely tough to military this arrange of thing. What would we do?


We’ve already talked about a book laundering scheme, yet here’s another approach to lift off a bestseller list with perfect beast financial force.

I was brought in to play a tiny purpose in a book launch a few years ago. Leading adult to a launch date, we was on a few discussion calls that summarized a author’s plan for attack a NYT and WSJ bestseller lists for a book.

Here are a few things a author did to make it happen:

  • Hired dual high-end book publicists to get him requisitioned on as many radio interviews as possible.
  • Purchased full-page ads in inhabitant and internal papers opposite a country.
  • Ran promotion in Times Square in New York City.
  • Paid a fee for a book’s publisher to have a book placed on a front tables during Barnes Noble.
  • And my favorite: He hired people all over a country to go into their internal Barnes Noble and squeeze any duplicate of a book one during a time with cash.

Did it work? Yes. The book debuted on a NYT and WSJ bestseller lists. Of course, a following week a book forsaken off a lists, and was never seen again. Ninety-five percent of a sales happened in a initial week. But a author, for all time, can be referred to as a “New York Times bestselling author.”

WSJ or NYT bestseller = some-more money.


As we form this, there’s a outrageous change function inside a bestseller lists.

I’ve been on calls with people from dual vital publishers, and they can’t seem to give me a true answer about how books are being reported and what is creation a lists. They can’t tell me since they don’t know. 

They don’t know since a lists keep changing a manners yet revelation anyone. Apparently, WSJ‘s list has tightened a manners on bulk purchases. A new book presumably sole adequate particular copies to make a list, yet afterwards was thrown out, since it had also sole a lot of bulk copies.

This, of course, creates no sense, yet as an author you’re during their mercy.

One of my clients has worked unequivocally tough to settle good relations with their clients, who are now meddlesome in shopping a author’s new book in bulk, but with a new manners we’re not certain what to do. Should we go forward and let them sequence in bulk, and potentially get a book blacklisted?

This author has finished a work forward of time to make a book successful, with a idea of attack one of a vital lists, and now it could unequivocally good be for naught.

When a manners are fuzzy, hidden, and constantly changing, what can we presumably do?


A while ago, a co-worker of cave wanted to run a debate to his author height for his new book.

He checked with his publisher to see if they could take a orders by his possess website, so he could give special bonuses to early purchasers, and still get them counted as sales by one of a vital book chains.

The publisher checked on it and pronounced they could. He asked if they were sure. They pronounced yes.

The author ran his campaign, sole thousands of books, and afterwards incited in all a names and orders to his publisher. They sent a list to a retailer.

The tradesman motionless they didn’t wish to do it. Since a publishers have finished a retailers their business instead of a readers, they didn’t wish to pull too tough to get a tradesman to accept a deal. So they caved, and told a author “sorry,” yet there was zero they could do.

Huge investment of time, money, and bid to turn a NYT and WSJ bestselling author. Time, money, and effort that had paid off in adequate sales, that got thrown out and never saw a light of day.


Hugh Howey’s Dust sold some-more than 50,000 copies in a initial week, nonetheless usually debuted during No. 7 on a NYT bestseller list—even yet it far, distant outsold books that were aloft on a list.


Fantastic question. Apparently, a people creation a decisions about that books are offered a many copies (notice a counterbalance there?) didn’t think Dust was utterly good enough.

This is a problem with carrying these decisions finished by a dark organisation of people who are rarely resourceful with their data. Real numbers don’t matter to them.


Here’s another essay for we to take a demeanour at. It’s brief yet to a point.

The New York Times samples opposite stores opposite a nation and weighs book sales formed on where they are purchased.

What does this mean?

It means that a hardcover duplicate of your book purchased on Amazon.com is counted differently than a same hardcover book purchased during indie bookstore X.

At this point, do we unequivocally have to contend how absurd this is, and how it punishes authors and readers alike?


As authors, what can be finished with this?

Yes, WSJ and NYT list = More money.

And it’s tough to omit that, yet we must. The usually answer to this disturbance is to stop worrying about attack a vital bestseller lists.

At this point, a formula are so distant outward of an author’s approach control, that it doesn’t make clarity to make these lists a idea anymore.

Instead, focus on a reader.

Make your book accessible during a stores or websites your readers buy books from, in a formats they buy in. Make it easy to buy and easy to read.

Don’t make a lists your customer. Keep a reader your customer—the people you’re unequivocally essay books for.

Tim Grahl, owner of Out:think, where he helps authors bond with readers and sell some-more books. Tim is also a author of Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book.

Article source: http://observer.com/2016/02/the-truth-about-the-new-york-times-and-wall-street-journal-bestseller-lists/