Do I really want to be on the NYT Bestseller list?

I get this question quite often:

“Can I make it to the New York Times Bestseller list if I am self-published?”
The simple answer is that you might not make it to that list even if you are published with a big publishing house.
You may be tempted to think, “I’m going to set up an amazing author platform and really get things going with my marketing so I’ll sell thousands of books. That will get me there.”
Try again. The NYT Bestseller list isn’t based on gross or even net sales!
You can be the BEST writer with the BEST book and sell THOUSANDS of copies in the first day of sales and STILL not make that list. The way they choose which books to make that list is somewhat of a cloak and dagger affair. Here are some interesting facts about the NYT Bestseller list that we do know:

  • The New York Times samples different stores across the country and weighs book sales based on where they are purchased. What does this mean? It means that a hardcover copy of your book purchased on Amazon.com is counted differently than the same hardcover book purchased at indie bookstore X. Source
  • If you happen to work for the New York Times and have a book out, your book is more likely to stay on the list longer and have a higher ranking than books not written by New York Times employees. Source
  • If you happen to have written a conservative political leaning book, you’re more likely to be ranked lower and drop off the list faster than those books with a more liberal political slant. Source

There was even a great little expose’ about this on the Bill O’Reilly show.
Based on all this I have to ask myself, “Why would I want to be on a list that has such obvious biases, isn’t fair in it’s decision making and is so secretive regarding how it calculates bestseller status?

  • We don’t even know what the criteria is – it’s an unknown sales target.
  • We don’t know how they choose titles for the list – it’s not a fair competition.

My money (and my publishing efforts) are focused on a market that not only is fair and unbiased in it’s bestseller formula, but it results in more cash in my pocket at the end of the day. Amazon.

Because if you “make it” there, you can make it anywhere!

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