Book Beat Babes

Book Beat Babes

Friday, December 20, 2013

What Makes a Book a Bestseller?

So, there are lots of books-of-the-year lists being released and I always take time to look at these lists because as a writer I’m always curious about what people are reading and what is selling, especially what is selling well enough to be labeled a ‘Bestseller.’

What always surprises me, about these lists, is how many books on these lists - including the bestseller lists throughout the year - I’ve never even heard of.  Now you have to understand that I receive all kinds of emails about writing; I look at many, many websites about writing, I’m in writer’s groups that talk about writing and books; so, I’m not approaching this lightly.  If a book is a bestseller for a day, a week, a year, then how is that determined?  I’ve always been curious about this because for writers it is quite a feat to be a “Bestselling Author” as evidenced by the words plastered across their book covers, their websites and their promotional material.

Now, you might think that sales would determine whether or not a book is a bestseller but that apparently isn’t always true, or at least how true it is varies from list to list.  Apparently it has more to do with how the bestselling list in question is developed.  Talk about spin.

The term ‘Bestseller’ is relatively new according to an interesting article posted at Wikipedia – here’s the link:

This article indicates that the term ‘Bestseller’ was first recorded in print in 1889 but what you might find most interesting is the section in this article about the differences among the lists.  According to the article, Book Sense – a program of the American Booksellers Association (ABA) – only uses sales numbers from independently owned bookstores, and of course those are dwindling.  The article further indicates that because of this and the fact that there are many other outlets for a book to sell such as gift shops, etc., a book could land on the New York Times Bestseller List and not on the Book Sense Bestseller List.  Amazon apparently only uses sales from the site and it is updated hourly.

The differences in how these lists are constructed helps to explain why we also see the specification that an author is a New York Times Bestselling author.  It is easy to understand why those extra three words mean quite a lot in the publishing world.

So, the term ‘Bestseller’ truly is a relative term but I suspect it is a label most writers want to have assigned to them, or their books.  However, the next time you see it, maybe you might just want to research which list has granted them the label of ‘Bestseller.’


  1. Being a bestseller of any kind is thrilling for an author, but having those three extra words (New York Times) added must be like an athlete winning a gold medal at the Olympics. I only hope I get to experience the feeling one of these days. A girl has to dream, right?!

  2. Getting a bestseller is an author's dream!

    Morgan Mandel