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.