Home » Bestsellers, Self-Publishing » This National Best Seller List Ignored 20k Book Sales

This National Best Seller List Ignored 20k Book Sales

7 February 2016

From author Autumn Kalquist:

I’ve tried to research the best seller lists before, and finding numbers and real information was difficult. There were articles about the New York Times famously “snubbing” a few high-profile non-fiction authors and a few articles claiming the New York Times Best Seller list was corrupt. But there was nothing concrete that would apply to an average author like me.

When fiction authors discuss being “snubbed” and share how many sales it takes to actually hit the NYT lists, it is usually done quietly and in private, so that the world never knows. Despite being snubbed again and again, many writers still want to attach “New York Times Bestselling Author” to their name. I completely understand that; It’s an achievement that the traditional publishing industry rewards monetarily, and it’s a title that still garners respect.

There’s a reason no one speaks up. If the New York Times truly snubs authors and devises a fake Best Seller list, then publicly questioning their integrity would likely land you on their blacklist, jeopardizing your future chances to find a spot on their coveted (and curated) list. Which might lead you to wonder why I’m crazy enough to post this in the first place.

. . . .

So I’m sharing in the hope my experience will illuminate the way the Best Seller lists really work and be helpful to other authors and readers in some way. And maybe someday “All the News That’s Fit to Print” will include the truth.

. . . .

 Finally, in February 2014, I borrowed $750.00 from the family checking account in order to pay my editor and cover designer so I could publish my first book, Legacy Code. With a young child at home and my husband starting a new career, the money seemed a dangerous amount to gamble on a fiction book.

Every week we asked whether we could stand eating more beans so we could keep the electricity on, and every month we wondered how we’d ever pay off the accumulating late fees on every bill. When I called the creditors to work out a different payment plan, they turned me down after determining we had no money left over at all. I’d shown them our budget, which I’d already chopped to the bone. My husband and I had a five-year plan that was more like blind faith. In five years, he would be well-settled in his career, I would be making money from my writing, and we would finally be able to pay all our bills on time.

This was the worst possible time to borrow $750.00 from the checking account. But I was deeply passionate about my series and the story I needed to tell. I’d written a longer book in the same series first, but I knew there was no way we could afford to pay to have it professionally edited. So I went back and wrote a prequel story that could be contained in fewer pages.

The story took on a life of its own, words bleeding out of me onto the page. I wrote quickly, waking up at dawn and racing the clock every afternoon until naptime ended.

. . . .

I started down my path, connecting with one reader at a time. I also learned about the industry and studied what the big publishers did to get books in the hands of readers. I earned back the money we’d invested, and I dedicated myself to finishing Paragon, the book’s sequel.

It took months of writing, but I got Paragon written. Every extra dime I’d saved from my sales of Legacy Code went to paying for the cover, editing, and my other overhead costs. In a few months, I had sold enough copies of Paragon and made enough money to qualify for membership in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, so I proudly joined.

. . . .

When I finally released a prequel novella to Legacy Code called Better World in June 2015, things began to really pick up. I’d sold well over ten thousand copies of the first two books by then and had given away more than 50,000 copies during free promotions, but having three books available made things snowball.

Within the next eight months, I had thousands of reviews across the 3 books and 2 short stories in my series and my newsletter had ballooned to over 16,000 subscribers. I finally had the funds to pour my heart and soul into one big promotion—for an omnibus collection of my first three short books. I wanted to do something that could help me reach more readers than ever before.

. . . .

 Last week (January 24th – January 31st), friends, readers, and book deal sites shared my Fractured Era Bundle. I dreamed of selling enough copies to possibly hit the USA TODAY best seller list. I knew I needed at least 500 sales on Nook for my sales to be taken seriously by the national lists, so I was nervous. (Many authors, including me, sell something like 10 e-books on Amazon for every 1 or 2 e-books we sell on the other vendors.)

I barely slept as the bundle rose to the top of the e-book best seller charts. In eight days, I had more than 1,000 US sales through Barnes & Noble and nearly 1,000 US sales through Apple and hit the goal. I sold most of my books through Amazon.com, bringing the total to more than 20,000 US sales. The USA TODAY reporting week runs from Monday through Sunday, and I’d had ~19,400 sales for that week. The New York Times Best Seller list had only ever been a distant possibility for me, but I’d sold nearly 20,000 copies during their reporting week, which runs Sunday through Saturday.

Other New York Times bestselling authors (independent authors like me) thought I had a real chance for both lists with 20,000 sales. But they warned me: the USA TODAY list reported based on straight sales and was a reflection of true national sales for the week. The New York Times “curates” their list, and had snubbed self-published authors in the past. I was told it was possible they’d “curate” me off the list no matter how much I’d sold.

. . . .

The day the USA TODAY Best Seller list refreshed, I couldn’t look at it. At 3:55pm, I left my office and did everything I could to avoid seeing where I’d ranked. After showering, dressing, and running through every possible superstitious-writer behavior I have, (Candle, check. Music, check. Special writing rings, check.) I finally felt brave enough at 4:38pm to go back to my computer. The first page of the USA TODAY list had refreshed, so I kept clicking.

Fractured Era was #16th on the list.

The list was a total ranking of every book, every genre, every format – print and e-book… and my omnibus had been the 16th bestselling book in the country.

. . . .

 The New York Times had two lists I could qualify for – their Combined Print & E-Book List (with 20 slots) and their Fiction E-Book list (with 15 slots). Since only adult fiction could qualify for those lists, I quickly counted down the USA TODAY list – Fractured Era was the 12th most sold adult fiction book in the country. I had a chance. A good one.

. . . .

The New York Times privately releases the forthcoming week’s list the same day as USA TODAY refreshes at 5pm, and someone managed to get me screenshots of both lists I should have qualified for: the Combined Print & E-Book Best Seller List and the E-Book Best Seller List.

Fractured Era was missing.

“Sorry,” my author friends said. “You got snubbed… They don’t want you on there, but take heart, because this has happened to others before you. Maybe it’s because you have a bundle or because you sold it for $0.99.”

In response, I showed my friends screenshots of a recent mystery bundle that had hit NYT on January 24th at #19 and #11 on both lists. It was self-published, had no paperback version or ISBN, and had sold for $0.99. Clearly a three book “bundle” at $0.99 qualified. And Hugh Howey’s Wool Omnibus, which is a collection of shorter works in one book, had also hit when it was still self-published. As had many other single author and multi-author $0.99 book bundles in the past.

. . . .

 So I did more digging. I made spreadsheets, and I cross-checked my data to be sure what I was seeing was correct. According to USA TODAY, Fractured Era had outsold 10 of the 21 books chosen by the New York Times. And there was proof it had definitively outsold at least 3 of them during the New York Times reporting week. If the New York Times was ranking E-Books accurately, it meant Fractured Era had outsold eight of the fifteen books ranked on their E-book list.

. . . .

I wrote to the New York Times to make sure they’d received my sales numbers and to give them a chance to clear up the confusion. I shared all my research. All of it. I didn’t want to claim they’d “snubbed” me if they simply hadn’t seen my sales. I still couldn’t believe they’d purposely skip a book that sold 20,000 copies. I knew what it took to hit the fiction lists most weeks, and the number could be as few as 6,000 copies below what I had sold.

The Senior Editor of the Best Seller lists replied the next day with vague statements about their methodology, repeating all the things written on the New York Times website, and ignoring every single valid concern I’d raised. She said they rechecked the sales data and were confident they’d made the right choices. I was free to try again next week. (Read the Senior Editor’s reply at the bottom of the page.)

I was forced to face the reality: they had seen my sales, they’d read through my data, yet they’d still decided to exclude my book.

Link to the rest at Autumn Kalquist and thanks to Anthea and others for the tip.

Here’s a link to Autumn Kalquist’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Bestsellers, Self-Publishing

88 Comments to “This National Best Seller List Ignored 20k Book Sales”

  1. Self- aggrandising twoddle.
    So you didn’t get on to the New York Times bestseller list, oh cry me a river.
    I seriously hate blog posts like this, needlessly angst-filled backstory.
    And the echo chamber of yes-men On that site Is just as bad.

    • It’s relevant to the interests of indie publishers everywhere of exactly what New York Times considers a bestseller and that it has nothing to do with actual sales.

      • ^This.^

        • If somebody is a millionaire, does that mean he can’t complain about being mugged? If somebody has a nice dog and his health, does that mean he should be happy if his wife is cheating on him?

          I know we don’t actually expect truth in media, but the New York Times claims to report the US bestselling books every week. This lady exposes this as a barefaced lie. It’s not the first time somebody has pointed it out, but people may as well keep pointing it out for the sake of the suckers who don’t know yet.

          • Suburbanbanshee:

            I was referring to the comment by Liana Mir.

            “It’s relevant to the interests of indie publishers everywhere of exactly what New York Times considers a bestseller and that it has nothing to do with actual sales.”

            Not to the comment from Anonymous.

    • Smart Debut Author

      So you didn’t get on to the New York Times bestseller list, oh cry me a river.
      I seriously hate blog posts like this, needlessly angst-filled backstory.
      And the echo chamber of yes-men On that site Is just as bad.

      Ah, how I love the smell of bitterness, jealousy, and spite in the morning… 🙂

      The thing is, Anon, we’re all interested in Autumn’s story, because we can learn from it.

      No one cares what you think.

    • That would correctly be spelled “twaddle,” Anon, if it were twaddle.

      I bet you’d be annoyed and eager to correct the record if you sold as many books as Autumn Kalquist did and didn’t get the recognition promised by a news source.

      I wonder that you don’t give your name. Notice that Autumn did, despite the possibility of a backlash against her. That’s what you do when you aren’t afraid to stand behind your words.

  2. We’ve known all about the NYT rigging their lists against self publishing, it’s sad people still worry about their listing — or not listing there. (And if something gets so big they can’t ignore it — they’ll simply change the rules — as they did for (I think it was) an adult coloring book …

  3. “All the News We See Fit to Print.”

    Seeing the way corporate media discusses corporate publishing has made me wonder about all the shortcomings of its other coverage.

  4. I’m shocked, shocked I say, that the NYT is “vanishing” best selling indie/self pub authors and books!

    Perhaps the New America outfit should reconvene their recent anti-Amazon presentation, with an actual more concerning topic. To re-word their thesis slightly…

    “We’re here today to discuss whether [New York Time’s] manipulation of the interaction between the citizen-as-author and the citizen-as-reader, whether this emergence of a master intermediator in the U.S. book market, is a problem that requires the government to act. And if so, what might the government do?”

    • Just know that NYT has been “neglecting” many bestsellers on their lists for a long time. It’s politics, or money, or a little bit of both. Like any publication, take it all with a grain of salt.

      Interesting article!

  5. Holy moley, with those sales I would be dancing all the way to the bank.

    • Right? I certainly wouldn’t have been unhappy about not making some list.

      But then, making either the USA Today or NYT best seller lists has never been a goal of mine. For some people, it is.

      • Once you can plaster ‘NYT Bestselling Author’ on the front cover of ONE book, you can do that forever on all your books.

        YOU have been vetted. YOU are gold.

        It gives you credibility from the readers who don’t know the innards of publishing, or the deals, but think, ‘If the NYT says it’s okay, it must be at least half-way decent.’

        Then they purchase the thing, and don’t worry if they don’t finish it.

        It’s like winning an Academy Award (which, btw, apparently adds 7 years to your expected life span).

        It says that you are writing good commercial-grade entertaining fiction (it may lie/okay, lies a lot), but most readers don’t think that deeply.

        Yes, it STILL is that important – and they are fighting to keep it that way, with all their teeth and nails. And tame authors. And advertising from the big publishers.

        • I guess it is important to some.

          As a reader, I’ve never cared whether a book made a best seller list or won an award. I just care that it tells a good story.

        • Actually, that little thing in the corner used to tell me not to bother even picking up the book to look at, as it dang sure wasn’t written for me.

          Too much like those two film critics that would give ‘two big thumbs way up!’ on what most people saw as a dog, so has the NYT ‘best sellers’ list has been a joke for years — and not a funny joke.

          Though she could add: “So good the NYT had to deliberately ignore it because the publishers are afraid of what too many self publishers on the list will do to them”

      • I’m sure that the author is completely happy with her sales. And of course the Greenback Award is the only one that really counts.

        But when somebody works hard and wins big with a US bestseller, one would expect that the bigness of one’s winnings would be accurately reported in any publication claiming to report US bestsellers.

        If known sales figures conflict with what is published by such a journal, one would then have a perfect right to complain about such a publication lying outright to its readers about bestsellers, and to say so at length.

        Yes, clearly the chick is not starving, but she still got rooked by the New York Times. Why shouldn’t she complain about it?

        • If it’s what she wanted, and she had the numbers to get placement on it and KNOWS she did, there’s no reason for her NOT to complain.

          She can all she wants, but it won’t result in her books getting on that list.

          It does, however, result in a little more awareness about that list being… rigged, I guess is the best word. 😉

      • I think it’s a step farther than that, though, or maybe that there’s more at play here — and the way indie is changing writing.

        Because I think a lot of people who have wanted to be writers have had expectations about what that means, or maybe the way it works. Like, it used to be that you wrote, and you kept writing, and you wrote the best you could and hoped you got an agent, and published, and made those list. And it at least used to seem like that was how it worked. That there was some merit to it, perhaps, or maybe it used to seem like the books that made it deserved it. That agents chose to represent good books, and publishers bought good ones, and lists like the NYT list accurately reflected what was actually selling.

        It’s disillusioning that all that’s not true.

        Did it used to be? Was all that ever actually true? I dunno, but I know, e.g., that long before they were parodies of themselves, authors like Grisham and Patterson wrote good novels. But then, back before reality shows and such it often seemed like people got famous for doing something, not solely for being famous.

        Indie publishing is slowly exposing all the high-idealed fantasies for what they are. That agents don’t really know what’s good, and publishers don’t really know what sells, and the NYT doesn’t really know how many, anyway, and all the books you once thought were carefully chosen for the shelves at your local bookstore got their way paid to those shelves by a handful of giant corporations who colluded to make sure they could keep the price of ephemera at a premium.

        • Indie publishing is slowly exposing all the high-idealed fantasies for what they are.

          So true. And if the particular fantasies exposed were yours, it’s uncomfortable and disconcerting. If they weren’t yours, remember how you felt when some other reality you believed in was shown to be fantasy. No one likes it much!

        • Smart Debut Author

          I’m waiting for the first public meltdown of a legacy publishing talking head. 🙂

          I’m picturing something like the scene from Aliens, where Hudson throws a crying “Game Over, Man. Game over!” tantrum. 😀

          The closest we’ve come yet was Roxanne Robinson’s “Special Snowflake” moment… that was hilarious.

          Okay, sorry, back to work…

      • She is very happy with her sales, but the biased gaming of the lists needs to be talked about more. I’m glad she said something.

  6. Just put “More Copies Sold Than New York Times Bestsellers” on the cover.

  7. Smart Debut Author

    The NYT is in a real pickle.

    Every week, they are having to “disappear” more and more indie best sellers — even the ones who follow their stated no Amazon-exclusives rules, and the unstated ones about having 500+ of your sales be on Apple and B&N.

    Take a look at any honest sales-based best-seller list, like Amazon’s, and it becomes obvious what’s happening.

    The NYT is desperately fighting to keep big publishing’s favored titles on the list, and has to resort to outright fraud to prevent those BPH titles from getting washed away by a landslide of far-better indie sellers.

    They should show a little integrity and rename their list what it really is:

    “The New York Times Bull Sh!tters List” 🙂

    Truth in advertising. You’re welcome. 😀

    • An indie’s best chance is Amazon’s own list, of course, because presumably Amazon has no ax to grind, and Amazon represents most of an indie’s sales, but only part of a BPH author’s sales. In fact this site recently posted Amazon’s 2015 Top 15 … and, oh look: no self-pubbed titles, and no AP titles. So you keep on bulls!tting, SDA, and we’ll keep on selling.

      • Smart Debut Author

        Hi Lee,

        Your position on any and all best seller lists is safe for years to come. You’ve earned it. But you know better than to compare an annual list to the weekly lists like NYT – it’ll be a while yet before indies make a dent in the annuals. The weeklies, though? Well within reach, hence the NYT’s growing problem.

        I ask you, though … once you, too, were a new writer like Autumn, and her 20K sales in a week is one heck of a great start – worthy of recognition.

        Don’t you think writers like her shouldn’t have their achievements arbitrarily marginalized? Is that the kind of industry we want?

        You’re a straight shooter — none straighter — and you could do a lot a good with a few backroom whispers in the right ears over there.

        Help her fix this brokenness. Many of us look up to you.

      • Smart Debut Author

        Hi Lee,

        Your position on any and all best seller lists is safe for years to come. You’ve earned it. But you also know better than to compare an annual list to the weekly lists like NYT – it’ll be a while yet before indies make a dent in the annuals. The weeklies, though? Well within reach now, hence the NYT’s growing problem.

        I ask you, though … once, you, too, were a new writer like Autumn, and her 20K sales in a week is one heck of a great start – worthy of recognition.

        Don’t you think writers like her should not have their achievements arbitrarily marginalized? Is that really the kind of industry we want?

        You’re a straight shooter — none straighter — and you could do a lot of good with a few backroom whispers in the right ears over there at the NYT. You’ve always done a lot to help new writers.

        Help Autumn fix this brokenness. Please. Many of us look up to you.

        • Thanks for your kind words, but there’s a slight false premise in your argument … given pre-orders, nothing is steady-state anymore, therefore weekly is annual, in a way – I do about 50% of my annual total on Amazon in the first hour.

          And honestly (not that I expect you to believe me) there’s no evidence of arbitrary marginalization. NYTRB asked me to review books for them recently, and before I accepted the gig I went through stuff like that with them – back room and front room – because I didn’t want to take a fee from a bent operation. They “de-clutter” mass purchases for school (e.g. Catcher in the Rye and so on) but otherwise I was satisfied. 20k in a week is great, but bestseller numbers are currently way higher than that.

          • 20K is plenty to hit the ebook bestseller list. Top 10, not even top 15. You’re thinking the combined list, no doubt.

          • Off topic but I loathe pre-orders. I just don’t get them in a digital context.

            If the book is complete, I want to buy it and read it.

            If the book isn’t complete, I don’t want to hear about it until it is.

            I don’t want to pay now — and especially don’t want to commit to paying now (how do I know I’ll still have the budget when the thing comes out? I still have to be pretty careful with finances and have a finite amount of funds to draw from each month, and yes, it’s well and good to say well you know because you pre-ordered, but still).

            Heck, I stopped pre-ordering videogames except when there’s something physical I want with the game (like with Uncharted 3; I proudly rock Drake’s belt buckle) and now just wait for the Steam sale for everything.

            Sorry. Totally off-topic, I know, but on the other hand, maybe not, because how much does pre-ordering effect the bestsellers list? Like, if you do 50% of your annual total in the first hour on Amazon, Lee, does that mean your ephemeral book that won’t be out for several months yet hits the list instead of a title that’s actually available now?

            20k in a week is great, but bestseller numbers are currently way higher than that.

            Interesting. Elaborate?

            • There was a pre-order that had Drake’s belt buckle? I bet that was US only…

              • There were a couple of different pre-order options. The one I got was exclusive to North America and included the buckle, a ring, an action figure, and a couple of other things. I think there was a similar edition released for Europe/AU/NZ. Not sure about other territories.

                You should be able to find one fairly easily online. eBay or Amazon, maybe?

          • Smart Debut Author

            Makes sense that pre-orders play an increasingly large role these days, and the targets to hit the various lists vary significantly week to week.

            And your word that you’ve done some backroom auditing of the NYT and didn’t find anything systematically wrong enough to be obvious — that carries some real weight… with me, at least. It’s some food for thought, anyway.

            But I’ve never heard of a week before where 17K wasn’t enough to at least squeak onto the tail of their Fiction Ebook list. And this happened in January.

            Might warrant a deeper look, IMO, given your NYTRB role… to find out what happened there — for your own info, at least, if not for the rest of us.

            And FWIW, your transparency, willingness to engage, and open-kimono glimpses into aspects of publishing that few authors ever see are tremendously helpful to all of us.

            We really appreciate your participation, Lee.

            • Open kimono is a horrible thought. You really don’t want to go there. Two issues – January isn’t what it was. Like Yogi said, no one goes there anymore, because it’s too crowded.

              But much, much more importantly … I made a call (obviously to someone who wasn’t watching the Super Bowl, which might be a clue as to the type of person it was) and … it seems that a particular reporting vendor didn’t report on this title, and therefore tabulated figures were lower than the author (rightly) expected them to be. “Possibly an office oversight at the far end.” No consolation at all, I know, but it happens frequently, not necessarily with the vendor that failed this time, but with a random selection. Anger should be directed at the vendor, not the NYT.

              For Will above – no, the sale takes place when the credit card is charged, which is midnight on official launch day, and is reported as such. The pre-orders therefore show up as part of the first week’s sales figures, not before. (Which is part of why AE is so hilariously inaccurate, but that’s another discussion.)

              • So pre-orders are a way of gaming the NYT list by counting months of orders on one day. Interesting.

                • They’re sales made on one day. Principally they’re a way of guaranteeing future income for Amazon, who invented the idea. I doubt Amazon was thinking about the NYT.

              • Smart Debut Author

                Lee, thanks for making that call and sharing what you learned.

              • Thanks for the clarification, Lee. Good to know it’s not as bad as I thought.

                However, my other objection still stands. I want it all! Delivered! Yesterday!

                (Which is what Amazon’s good at.)

              • Interesting, Lee. My contact at the New York Times said something very different. I won’t try to paraphrase, though.

                “Prompted by your concern, and in keeping with our standard protocols, we have gone through all our raw data from each of our vendors one more time, as well as our determinations of the final tabulations, and we have met as a staff again to discuss our conclusions. We emerge from those processes entirely confident that we accurately captured all the sales reported to us for this title and all others during this sales period and data collection cycle.”

                Certainly a missing vendor would have been noticed after such an in-depth investigation? Especially since I helpfully told them which vendors to look at. From my original e-mail to them: “From Jan 24th – Jan 30th, I sold nearly 20,000 e-books in the US through Amazon.com, Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. (Nearly 2,000 came from the smaller vendors, which is significant.)”

                I can see now why they used this language in their response to me: “we accurately captured all the sales reported to us for this title”

                It leaves them just enough wiggle room to claim the sales were not reported to them. It makes me wonder if most of their meeting was spent crafting their reply to me, instead of combing through raw data to ensure my concerns were unfounded.

                Another quote from the Senior Editor:
                “The New York Times does not disclose who reports to us, nor do we disclose who does not. In addition, we never disclose which titles any of those retailers report to us, or not, or in what quantities. Our data, relationships and communications with all our diverse retailers in the marketplace are protected by binding Non-Disclosure Agreements.”

                Does it really only take a single phone call to a friend at the Times to get information on a specific title? Perhaps you could share the name of the missing vendor with me, Lee, so I can contact them?

                I understand that you might get your friend in trouble if you post that publicly. You can find my e-mail on my website.

                Now let’s pretend for a moment that you work for the NYT and one of the bestselling authors in America calls you on a Sunday to ask if you truly excluded an indie author.

                Quick! What do you say?

                You say:
                a. Autumn did not have enough sales to qualify for our lists this week.
                b. Autumn is making things up.
                c. Autumn’s book wasn’t eligible because *reasons*.
                d. Don’t blame us, blame our confidential vendors. It’s their fault.

                If you are telling the truth, and you did not purposely exclude an indie author, you choose A. Full stop. You’ve seen the raw sales data, and an author who didn’t sell enough books to hit your list is wrong to say she should have.

                But Autumn did have enough sales. She knows that, and you know that. It’s now too risky to claim she didn’t when clearly she’s willing to share data to prove that she did. And, horrors! What if one of the other authors on the list this week comes forward and admits they sold fewer than 20,000 e-books? The PR department will not be happy.

                Do you choose B? Nope. All she has to do is take screenshots of her sales dashboards because she controls her own rights and distribution.

                Maybe C, then. Nah. If you make up new reasons why she was excluded, you might box yourself in and find you have to adhere to new made-up rules when you choose titles next week. Besides, titles just like Autumn’s made the list a few weeks ago.

                That leaves D. When caught in a lie, what’s the best choice? A scapegoat, of course. And if binding non-disclosure agreements keep you from sharing the details, all the better.

                • Why are you assuming you were left off because you are an indie author when they INCLUDE indie authors all the time? I just don’t get that reasoning at all. They screw up. They snub people all the time who should’ve made it based on raw numbers. I can name authors who have not made the NYT in weeks when they had more than 20K sales across all vendors. It happens. But to say it happened because you are indie isn’t taking into account how often indies DO make the list.

                • Marie, of course you’re right that indies make the list all the time. But it seems as though there might be a cap on how many. Perhaps an indie quota? Two or three at any one time…

                • I don’t know about that, Patrice. I’ve seen some weeks when there were five or more indies on the list. There doesn’t seem to be an overall indie bias of any kind. My first time on the NYT was with an indie title (which was also my 25th published book, so it certainly didn’t happen overnight). Lots and lots and LOTS of indie authors have become NYT bestsellers on their own (meaning not part of a multi-author set before the NYT put the kibosh on that). To say that the NYT discriminates against indies is just not the experience I or many other indie authors have had with the list.

                • Smart Debut Author


                  It’s probably a bit similar to the first couple [choose some minority ethnicity/religion/sexual-orientation] that join the country club.

                  All the other members, and the country club admissions board, pat themselves on the back, smug about how fair and unprejudiced and welcoming they are.

                  And then another joins. And then another. And then five more.

                  Until next thing you know, the admissions committee is looking around the dining room and thinking something’s gotta be done to save the club’s prestige, because look… there goes the neighborhood.

                • Smart Debut Author


                  I’ve talked to Deb Hofmann (the person Lee most likely called) a few times in a different context. She’s smart, professional, and friendly, as are most folks over there at the NYT.

                  But their “Best Seller” List is a curated editorial construction, whose changing rules (even the explicitly stated ones) reflect a definitive preference for what mix of book types and publisher types they want to have on it.

                  1) No books “available from a single retailer”, to exclude Amazon-Imprint best sellers and exclusive indies, later revised to no books “primarily available from a single-retailer”, to limit even non-exclusive indies who happen to make the vast majority of their sales on Amazon
                  2) No multi-author box sets, after indies started getting those on the list
                  3) Changes to the rules governing the children’s list, made the exact same week a self-published print children’s book sold 29,000 copies and would absolutely have topped that list.

                  If an organization keeps changing the stated and unstated rules that govern a “Best Seller” list, and both types of changes consistently shift the list composition in a favored direction, you can make of that what you will.

              • If you read the blog post, though, the author presented all her sales figures when she made her case. I used to really trust the bestseller lists, but honestly (and I LOVE the NY Times), I don’t anymore. But they aren’t dumb–they find ways to present it so it seems legit. You weren’t exactly auditing all the numbers.

                • Heh, I seem to remember a bit of a stink way back when when they removed all the Harry Potter books from their lists. Not because they weren’t still selling in the best seller numbers each week — but because they had been tying up too many of the best seller slots for months.

                  And all the indie and self publishers are even a more ‘inconvenient truth’ that the qig5 are losing the game — despite whatever the NYT scoreboard pretends to say …

                • Smart Debut Author,
                  Not sure exactly where you think the neighborhood is going…. Indies make the list ALL the time. The NYT has been INCLUSIVE of indies for years now, not exclusive. Autumn has a good argument for why she should have made the list. No question about that. But to say she didn’t make it because she’s an indie doesn’t hold water when you look at how many indies have made the list in recent years. An indie book put me there for the first time and I know many other authors who can say the same thing.

  8. I think it should be a much bigger deal that the so-called “best seller lists” (at the NY Times and Amazon both) are manipulated and not accurate rankings of actual sales.

    Readers and media types do pay attention to those lists. It is not “Self- aggrandising twoddle” anymore than it is when a political candidate boldface lies in a debate and is called on it by a fact-checker — it is correcting a deliberate falsehood that causes actual harm to the authors who are being excluded despite having earned a spot on any honest “best seller” list by virtue of their sales volume.

    The NY Times “Best Seller List” could better be described as “books we approve of that probably sold a few copies.”

    And it seems pretty well established by lots of authors who have posted their research (on Kboards and other places) that the Amazon sales lists are “altered” by Kindle Unlimited borrows and other algorithm funkiness. Their lists are not, strictly speaking, an accurate ranking of “sales.”

    • I think it should be a much bigger deal that the so-called “best seller lists” (at the NY Times and Amazon both) are manipulated and not accurate rankings of actual sales.

      I think it is. I think most of us — especially indie authors and regular readers of this site — just know more about publishing and the industry than most. It’s already starting to trickle beyond the specialized subset who know about it, and that’s only going to continue.

      Slowly but surely, the corporate empire is crumbling. It’s going to happen slowly until it happens quickly.

      Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it didn’t fall in one, either.

      But fall it did. And eventually all these conversations we’re currently having will be remembered as quaint.

  9. KKR wrote about just this a long while ago. And about how it made her feel to discover the New York Times bestseller list was meaningless, as far as being a true reflection of what books were really selling. This is not new. It does need to be more widely discussed and aknowledged.

  10. KKR wrote about just this a long while ago. And about how it made her feel to discover the New York Times bestseller list was meaningless, as far as being a true reflection of what books were really selling. This is not new. It does need to be more widely discussed and aknowledged.

  11. Haven’t we all know about this for years?

    I feel sorry for her, but not because she didn’t make the list. I feel sorry for her because somewhere along the line, she forgot that what was important to her was paying those bills (which she can now do).

  12. I agree that it is suspect when 20K sales isn’t enough to at least get on the end of the NYT eBook Bestseller list (though it does depend on what else was selling that week). I’ve hit NYT bestseller list twice with self-published multi-author anthologies, and USA Today list 4 times. To my recollection, these books were 99c during preorder, but switched to $2.99 when they went live. Maybe that has something to do with it (ie NYT not liking 99c sales?)

    I’m going to share my numbers (and I hope other bestselling indie authors do the same) – how many copies it took to get on the bestseller lists. These are debut week sales with release days on Tuesdays to best suit both lists. Each book had preorders that helped boost release week sales numbers.

    ~”Make Me” sold 15.9K copies in the first week and hit NYT and USAT.
    ~”Cowboy 12-Pack” sold 15.8K and hit NYT and USAT (I forget which one was on the lists two weeks in a row, maybe this one).
    ~”Wicked Hot Reads” sold 9.8K and did not hit NYT, but did hit USA Today.
    ~”For the First Time” sold 13.3K and hit USAT only.

    I’m sharing these numbers not to say “look at me, I’m a bestseller” but to share with other indies concrete numbers that hit lists, in the interest of knowledge. I did not do this on my own; the other authors in the anthologies cross-promoted like crazy, which is what made these books sell better than my individual books written as Shoshanna Evers.

    Why does hitting a list even matter? If you hit it on your own (ie not the way I did it, with help from other authors) then you can garner bigger advances when you trad-pub (I do both), and it helps you project how many minimum sales future books will have (good for planning how much to spend on marketing a title). However you get on the lists, you can also put your bestseller status in your bio and on all of your books, which may help nudge a reader to click if they are on the fence (I don’t have any statistics or polls on that, just guessing as a reader myself).

    Yes, it was nice being able to put my bestseller title on all of my books, BUT it is now irrelevant to my career–I’m giving up my name. Basically I had a major life change and decided to stop writing erotic romance, and start writing inspirational romance (God sure has a sense of humor). Since I’m writing the new books as Shoshanna Gabriel, I can no longer use my NYT & USAT bestseller title. It was fun while it lasted, though! 🙂

    TL;DR: I think the author may have a legitimate complaint (depending on what else was selling that week), since I’ve hit NYT twice with lower sales.

    • Thanks for adding that, and sharing the numbers.

      I wouldn’t have thought using a different name would nullify NYT Bestseller status, though. I mean, you hit the list. You can’t un-hit it. You’re obviously not trying to hide the former name or its relation to your current one.

      And good luck with the new genre!

      self-published multi-author anthologies

      Off-topic, but this to me seems to highlight what a misnomer “self-published” is. Like, how can multi-authors “self-publish”? Do they all gather around the same desktop and use five index fingers to click “publish”?

      • Yes, good point. In these anthos I didn’t selfpub myself, I let the person in charge handle it. But I did get to be involved in group decision making for some of them. They would still be considered “indie” by NYT, though.

        Unfortunately re: the name, it’s just one of those things. No one uses the bestseller status between names, because if someone looked it up they wouldn’t find that name on any list. The only way to do it properly is “NYT & USAT Bestseller Shoshanna Evers writing as Shoshanna Gabriel”…

  13. back in the early 1990s, one had to sell over 1000 copies per week to be on bottom of nyt bestseller list. My bet is it’s more than than amount now. Though not sure. Also, for certain, only certain bookstores are taken into account. Have no idea if amz is counted. Or how various are weighted.

    Just speaking for our family, we dont look at usa today or pw or nyt lists. We read what we want. Long ago turned away from having book lists ‘curated’ by the twee. Many of my fav books I read over and over, have never been on a list.

    My bet is many of our grands also dont read lists. So not sure if being on ‘a list’ actually sells more books for indies, unless one has print on paper also in bookstores.

    I thought the author did a great job.

  14. “Basically I had a major life change and decided to stop writing erotic romance, and start writing inspirational romance (God sure has a sense of humor). Since I’m writing the new books as Shoshanna Gabriel, I can no longer use my NYT & USAT bestseller title. It was fun while it lasted, though! 🙂

    “TL;DR: I think the author may have a legitimate complaint (depending on what else was selling that week), since I’ve hit NYT twice with lower sales.”

    Good luck on your new endeavor. What a great story Shoshanna.

    Lastly, ‘depending on what else was selling that week.” Therein lies the exact that can take speculation from conspiracy to flat factual. I can see that one can sell kajillion books but if 20 other authors sell bazillion more, you can still be too low to make the lists. That’s my understanding from being there on all lists for long and long.

  15. Without having read all the comments…. If you look at the list every single week, as I do, you will see that PLENTY of indies are recognized on a regular basis. I’ve had more than 10 indie titles on the NYT in the last three years. What is not being recognized by the NYT on a regular basis, anymore, are box sets, which is what this author is talking about. Making the NYT seems to be a big deal to her. Lambasting them in public and contacting them to express her anger is certainly not the way onto the list.

    • It’s easy to be content with a system that works in your favor.

      Nice, quiet people don’t get very much accomplished.

      “Making the NYT seems to be a big deal to her.” <– It would probably be a big deal to most people.

      • A LOT of things have to work in your favor–at the same time–to make the list. So much of it is about the week, what else is selling, where the sales are being recorded, if the book is selling robustly across multiple platforms vs. just one, etc. And yes, people who SHOULD make the list get snubbed all the time. I’ve seen it happen lots of times to authors who were already repeat NYT bestsellers who sold more in a week than authors who made the list. The bottom line is only the curators know the secret formula and they aren’t talking. What good does it do for someone who clearly wants to make the list, to rail about the injustice of it all?

    • If you’d actually read her post, you’d notice she did research and found multiple .99 box sets on the list *in recent months*. So they definitely do still list box sets AND .99 books fairly often, especially on the ebook list which is what we are discussing here.

      • I seriously look at the list EVERY week and box sets are a rare commodity these days. The NYT stopped including multiple-author boxes last year without fanfare. They just stopped doing it. There has been some speculation that they would stop featuring box sets at all, which tells us they aren’t keen on including them. What can you do? Their list, their rules.

        • Um… you must have missed reading the list a couple weeks ago then? Because there was a box set at .99 on the list. So, perhaps you didn’t notice that? Autumn did her research.

          • I didn’t say NEVER. I said it is VERY RARE these days to see any box sets on the list. That’s all. And people can say and do whatever they want. Have it it. Just don’t be surprised if the people behind the list take issue with the way an author handles not making the list. Should she have made it? Without knowing what everyone who DID make it sold last week, that’s impossible to say. Only the people on the receiving end of the data know that. I don’t. And no one here does either.

    • “Lambasting them in public and contacting them to express her anger is certainly not the way onto the list.”

      Dear Dr. King,
      You’re doing this civil rights thing all wrong…

      • Sure, if you want to take that stance. But remember, there’re people behind that list and they will remember this the next time. Nothing wrong with saying, hey, I think you forgot me, or you might’ve made a mistake, but if you WANT to be on the list someday, you can do that AND play it cool.

        • I see your point, but I also believe that it’s important to speak truth to power.

          I also know that Autumn Kalquist did her homework, built up to this big run for two years, and will not be getting the chance next week, as was suggested to her.

          She worked hard, she has the data, and she’s disappointed. I believe she’s doing all indies, and all writers, a favor by pointing out the realities of what the NYTimes does. That’s pretty damn brave. She recognizes that this will probably cost her future opportunities. But she made the choice to take one for the team.

          Good for her.

          • She can absolutely do whatever she wants, and she has every right to be disappointed. If I had a nickel for every disappointment I suffered in this business before anything good happened to me, I wouldn’t need to work 14 hrs a day. My only point is that by calling them out and calling them liars the way she has, if the next time it comes down to her and someone else who sold roughly the same number of books, who do you think they will put on the list? The one who called them liars or the one who didn’t? Everyone knows the list is wonky. She didn’t have to take one for the team on that.

          • +1, Patrice.

      • She said she first contacted them and was very polite because she thought it was an error. She presented all her figures.

    • Way to throw a fellow Indie under the bus…more like onto the third rail.

      • How did I throw her under the bus? By saying she is shooting herself in the foot with the NYT by calling them liars in public? I’m a huge supporter of my fellow indie authors and have consoled many a friend who should’ve made the list and didn’t for whatever reason. None of them felt the need to call the people behind the list liars.

        • And perhaps if they had, the manipulation of the NYTimes list would be better known, and the situation might have changed by now.

          • ^^ THIS. By sitting in silence and letting them continue to manipulate to their own secret standards, we get nowhere. Autumn clearly states in her post that she realizes she won’t make the list again by speaking out, but she’s doing it for the greater good. I wish more people did that than just sit on their hands.

  16. One of the most interesting things I find on PV are people. There are so many authors whose books I immediately go give a shot and then others that I memorize the names of equally immediately for the opposite reason.

    Curation…it’s not just for the NYT BS list.

  17. I hit NYT last year in Sep with 13k in sales, so clearly, it does not take far more than 20k to do so. Maybe my cover was pretty or maybe I brushed my teeth in the right direction that day. Who knows what goes on behind those closed doors?

    What I do know is that freedom of speech should be the most important thing to authors. If Autumn wants to share the truth, then great. A lot of newer authors are unaware of these things. And since Autumn is a highly intelligent woman, I’m quite certain she considered any consequences that might come of her post. I’m also quite certain she decided she didn’t care.

  18. I must admit I have a different take, and it is more about philosophy than analytics. More like KISS principles…never assume a vast conspiracy against you, full of malice aforethought and weekly meetings, if simpler explanations are possible. Lee Child has reported one, and the letter from the senior editor said the same.

    However, separate from reporting errors, there is some legitimate question if her book would have qualified in the first place. First, she bundled three works into an omnibus…it wasn’t a bunch of shorter works, like the example she used, or a collection of short stories, or some poetry, it was just an amalgamation of three other titles. It might have set off bells for them…that doesn’t mean the previous one was okay, it might have been they considered it in a different light or didn’t catch it.

    Secondly, they were all previously published works who had never even come close to the list before. That would raise red flags for anyone looking at the list to find out if it is truly representative of the book’s value or some other reason.

    Thirdly, she dropped the price to 99 cents to boost sales for the week and game the system. They knew what she was doing, she knew what she was doing, so it’s not a “debut” bump like one of Child’s that has pre-sales which are perfectly legitimate (you can’t buy a book that isn’t out yet), this is a deliberate attempt to game the system and boost sales. That alone may have made them deem it ineligible.

    Personally, I would exclude all omnibuses or reissues of previously published materials. I’d also be extremely leery of people reporting books that bumped only because they had a sale that week.

    All that I read above, and the original coverage, makes me think two things — one, she set out to show that “she could play a game too” to make the list, and they said, “sorry, if you play with the system just to make the list, we don’t count your sales.” Amazon has done this with authors themselves when they tried to game reviews, etc. However, it may be that the reporting vendors also felt they weren’t legitimate sales in their view, or “normal” sales, and didn’t report them with the rest.

    I’m not sure if the story reinforces that the NYT are attempting to bring some rigidity to their rules or that it just underlines how ludicrous the lists are for telling anyone anything about a book.

    Child could have Reacher spend most of a book reading a phone book, and 100K of us would probably still buy the damn thing on opening day.


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