What does it take to become a “Best Seller?”

Getting on the New York Times “Best Seller” list is one of the most prestigious titles an author can earn. But what does it take to get on that list? And did you know that there are other Best Seller lists, like the San Francisco Chronicle?

First, the bad news. This weekly list, as published by the New York Times Book Review, has kept the criteria of getting on the NYT Best Seller list a closely guarded secret. However, an author’s ranking on the Best Seller list is strictly based on the sales during a one week time period (as opposed to overall sales). So it seems that the list favors spikes in sales.

A few authors have manipulated the system in the past by purchasing up to 10,000 copies of their own book so that it would achieve the infamous “NYT Best Seller” status. These authors justified it as an investment into their career because the title of “Best Seller” brings about additional clout that increases sales. However, in 1983, author William Peter Blatty sued New York Times for not putting his book Legion (which was made into the movie Exorcist III) on the best seller list. It had considerable sales as a result of the movie, however the New York Times’ defense said that their system is not mathematically objective – rather their system is purely editorial content and thus protected under the Constitution as free speech. Mr. Blatty lost his suit, which leaves other authors wondering if they are being overlooked for such recognition.

So, while the New York Times Best Seller list is a national list, the San Francisco Chronicle Best Seller list is a local list that is specific to the Bay Area. Being on this list is a stepping stone toward getting on a national list, and apparently, selling 100 books in a week in the local Bay Area book stores might be all it takes to get on that list. That may not sound like a lot to non-authors, but to put this in perspective, when my short story (The Ravenous Flock) was free on Amazon – I “sold” over 100 copies within 24 hours and it jumped to #10 in Free Fantasy on Amazon.

The good news is that the NYT Best Seller List is decomposed into fiction and nonfiction, print and ebook, paperback and hardcover. This allows for a better chance to make the national list.

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