Our Yardstick is Bent: the NYT Best Sellers List

The NYT once testified that their best selling book list is editorial content, not news content. In other words, it’s not an objective measure of books’ worth OR popularity.

In 1983, author William Peter Blatty sued The New York Times for $6 million, claiming that his latest book, Legion (filmed as The Exorcist III), had not been included in the list due to either negligence or intentional falsehood, saying it should have been included due to high sales.[4] The Times countered that the list was not mathematically objective but rather was editorial content and thus protected under the Constitution as free speech.

The NYT was recently in the news regarding biased placement of political books on its “best sellers list.” Politics very much aside, any lack of objectivity in best seller lists is significant for all authors. The non-objective nature of the NYT list is especially disheartening for writers who remember the Times and its best seller list as impartial industry standards. Or so we believed.
From the writer’s point of view, it doesn’t just mean that your book could be ranked below an inferior book, it may result in your book not making the list at all. Ever. Fortunately, there are other lists, such as Publisher’s Weekly’s. We need to pay more attention to those and publicize them in our blogs, etc., and put less emphasis on the NYT list. Unless we get on it, of course. /sarc

A major problem with these lists is that booksellers and libraries use them to determine what to stock. [Some booksellers make up their own lists, with no statistical basis at all!] It’s disgusting to see the racks of just 10 “best sellers” at small outlets, such as airport kiosks. I never buy from such racks. I remember when airport booksellers stocked hundreds of titles. Now, books that make the list will sell in even greater numbers, skewing the system even more away from fairness, in a vicious circle.
We should demonstrate!! What do we want? Space on the rack! When do we want it? A while back…

But lightning can still strike. There’s still luck, if we do everything else right: Lyn Hardy’s Master of the Five Magics made the NYT list for one week ~1980 due to distribution quirks. There are books that are so good (or bad), they generate their own buzz and go viral. Even success at the local level can be wonderful financially and otherwise. The solution is platform, creating a name in another field that will generate additional marketing swat.

There are things we can do, including avoiding energy-sucking marketing methods that only used to work. I’m convinced that Twitter and Farcebook are saturated to the point that book tweets/posts are invisible to users. We need to make/buy the best covers we can, ones with strong impact. Good book titles are also vital. Choosing our genre [and Amazon categories!!] carefuilly is a help, within the limits of what we like to write.
And if lightning does strike, you can soon empty your lower right hand desk drawer. Manuscripts that never sold suddenly become very marketable. Even a minor success with one title can provide leverage for sales of all your works.
What can we do about the bent yardstick?


Yardstick photo by Wystan
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

This entry was posted in book review, books, Lists, marketing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.