When Bestseller Lists Aren't

In Author World, there’s a kerfuffle going on right now because the New York Times bestseller list has chosen to leave off a book that is … wait for it … a bestseller.

As a reader, I rarely if ever pay attention to bestseller lists. But if you do, if you are swayed by what other books are selling well, you should know that the New York Times list is NOT bestsellers.

It’s what’s called a “curated” list. The NYT acknowledges that it only counts sales that come from certain outlets of its choosing. And it won’t say which outlets, so it’s not known how broad or deep a range those outlets might represent.

In addition, there are instances where it certainly seems that the New York Times has passed over books for unknown reasons. The latest instance is what’s caused this stir.

I can add to the anecdotal evidence because at least two of my books definitely outsold multiple titles that made the NYT list, while mine were not included. Two more of my books appeared to outsell titles that made the NYT list, but I was more naïve then and thought I must be wrong. <wg>

(Oh, and of course, all this is for only a designated seven days. It has nothing to do with ongoing sales, it’s only for that one week. So keep that in mind, too.)

So, if you want to buy and read based on titles or authors bearing the designation “New York Times Bestseller,” you should be aware that the more accurate designation would be “New York Times Favorites.”

And while we’re at it, Amazon’s “bestseller” lists aren’t, either. For the past 18 months, Amazon has been employing algorithms that favor books that are in its “Kindle Unlimited” program. To be in “Kindle Unlimited” a book cannot be offered for sale anywhere else. I’m among a lot of authors who choose not to disenfranchise our readers who prefer other devices. So we are, in essence, disfavored in the Amazon algorithms.

(The non-KU titles that are on those Amazon lists ARE bestsellers. In fact, they have to sell enough to overcome the algorithm advantages given KU titles.)

The USA Today list is probably the closest to an accurate accounting based solely on sales … you know, a list of actual bestsellers.

It’s not infallible, however. It was only thanks to wonderful author Lisa Mondello saying she thought Heart Stealers should have been on the list back in early 2013 that we contacted USA Today and asked if we might have been overlooked. To its great credit, it doublechecked and said, yes, Heart Stealers should have been included, and issued a revised list (without knocking anybody off, either) – and that was the first time I had a USA Today bestselling title.

The New York Times has been operating this way for decades. Amazon, as I said, started favoring KU titles 18 months ago. I can’t imagine either one changing. And most of the time I view this as just one of the unpleasant realities of the business – every business has them.

But it stirs my journalistic soul that they inaccurately call their listings “the bestsellers.” And it stirs my Irish that they mislead readers.

So, remember when you look at those listings, you are seeing “New York Times Favored Titles” and “Amazon Titles That Make Us More Money.”

… And then go buy another Patricia McLinn book!! <g>

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