The Books Behind the 2024 Academy Award Nominations

From Publishers Weekly:

It’s Oscar season! And while the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences makes no bones about its foremost love being for the cinematic arts, each year’s Oscar nods clearly indicate how deeply beholden the film business is to the business of books. To illustrate the point, we’ve rounded up our reviews of the books adapted into, or inspiring, this year’s Academy Award–nominated films, from Oppenheimer and Nyad to American Fiction and The Boy and the Heron.

American Prometheus

Though many recognize Oppenheimer (1904–1967) as the father of the atomic bomb, few are as familiar with his career before and after Los Alamos. Sherwin (A World Destroyed ) has spent 25 years researching every facet of Oppenheimer’s life, from his childhood on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and his prewar years as a Berkeley physicist to his public humiliation when he was branded a security risk at the height of anticommunist hysteria in 1954. Teaming up with Bird, an acclaimed Cold War historian (The Color of Truth ), Sherwin examines the evidence surrounding Oppenheimer’s “hazy and vague” connections to the Communist Party in the 1930s—loose interactions consistent with the activities of contemporary progressives. But those politics, in combination with Oppenheimer’s abrasive personality, were enough for conservatives, from fellow scientist Edward Teller to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, to work at destroying Oppenheimer’s postwar reputation and prevent him from swaying public opinion against the development of a hydrogen bomb. Bird and Sherwin identify Atomic Energy Commission head Lewis Strauss as the ringleader of a “conspiracy” that culminated in a security clearance hearing designed as a “show trial.” Strauss’s tactics included illegal wiretaps of Oppenheimer’s attorney; those transcripts and other government documents are invaluable in debunking the charges against Oppenheimer. The political drama is enhanced by the close attention to Oppenheimer’s personal life, and Bird and Sherwin do not conceal their occasional frustration with his arrogant stonewalling and panicky blunders, even as they shed light on the psychological roots for those failures, restoring human complexity to a man who had been both elevated and demonized.

Poor Things

Winner of the 1992 Whitbread Prize, Scottish writer Gray’s ( Something Leather ) black comedy uses a science-fiction-like premise to satirize Victorian morals. Ostensibly the memoirs of late-19th-century Glasgow physician Archibald McCandless, the narrative follows the bizarre life of oversexed, volatile Bella Baxter, an emancipated woman and a female Frankenstein. Bella is not her real name; as Victorian Blessington, she drowned herself to escape her abusive husband, but a surgeon removed the brain from the fetus she was carrying and placed it in her skull, resucitating her. The revived Bella has the mental age of a child. Engaged to marry McCandless, she chloroforms him and runs off with a shady lawyer who takes her on a whirlwind adventure, hopping from Alexandria to Odessa to a Parisian brothel. As her brain matures, Bella develops a social conscience, but her rescheduled nuptials to Archie are cut short when she is recognized as Victoria by her lawful husband, Gen. Sir Aubrey Blessington. In an epilogue dated 1914, cranky idealist Victoria McCandless, M.D., a suffragette, Fabian socialist, pacifist and advocate of birthing stools, pokes holes in her late husband Archie’s narrative. Illustrated with Gray’s suitably macabre drawings, this work of inspired lunacy effectively skewers class snobbery, British imperialism, prudishness and the tenets of received wisdom

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Lost City of Z) burnishes his reputation as a brilliant storyteller in this gripping true-crime narrative, which revisits a baffling and frightening—and relatively unknown—spree of murders occurring mostly in Oklahoma during the 1920s. From 1921 to 1926, at least two dozen people were murdered by a killer or killers apparently targeting members of the Osage Indian Nation, who at the time were considered “the wealthiest people per capita in the world” thanks to the discovery of oil beneath their lands. The violent campaign of terror is believed to have begun with the 1921 disappearance of two Osage Indians, Charles Whitehorn and Anna Brown, and the discovery of their corpses soon afterwards, followed by many other murders in the next five years. The outcry over the killings led to the involvement in 1925 of an “obscure” branch of the Justice Department, J. Edgar Hoover’s Bureau of Investigation, which eventually charged some surprising figures with the murders. Grann demonstrates how the Osage Murders inquiry helped Hoover to make the case for a “national, more professional, scientifically skilled” police force. Grann’s own dogged detective work reveals another layer to the case that Hoover’s men had never exposed.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Lessons In Chemistry

From Notre Dame Magazine:

I have a confession to make: I am a writer. I have a hard time reading a book just for the story. Often I’m peeking behind the curtain, sussing out the tools the writer uses to make that story — point of view, verb tense, the objective correlative — see what I mean?

Bonnie Garmus’ debut novel, Lessons in Chemistry, still on The New York Times’ bestseller list more than a year after publication, came into my life after a very long spell of my own not-writing, so I had the pleasure of reading the story for the story. I did not get hung up on tools or structure. And I had fun.

Garmus had me on page 1: It is 1961 and a mother is packing her daughter’s lunch, albeit in a laboratory and with the certainty that “her life was over.” 

The premise is believable. What mother hasn’t had a bad day? And despite that, she’s the one packing the lunch, getting the day started. Just, what was that part about in a lab? I’ve packed lunches in some unusual places, but never in a lab. And it’s 1961. How many women were there in labs? And her life is over?

I wanted to know what would happen to Elizabeth Zott. Spoiler alert: I am giving away the ending.

Zott is the host of an afternoon cooking show, Dinner at Six, that is famously famous. Even the American president has seen and glowed about it.

But before she became a television host, Zott was a graduate student in chemistry at UCLA. More intrigue. Not a lot of women were studying chemistry at that level in the 1950s — but this is the University of California, the geographication of liberal for American readers.

However, in Zott’s case, no degree ever follows. She is 10 days shy of graduation when her faculty mentor finds her in the lab late at night checking test protocols, which is to say, putting in the extra effort she knows she must make to stay on his otherwise-all-male research team. Again, things are tracking.

When Zott tells her mentor of an error she believes she has found, he is irritated and determines to cover it up. He starts by putting his student back in her place, which means he tries to rape her. She escapes by stabbing him with a pencil. While he is rushed to the hospital, campus police pressure Elizabeth over and over . . . and over to make a statement of regret. She finally does: She regrets not having more pencils. 

Clever, and all too real.

From there, Elizabeth finds a position in a lab. Male colleagues mistreat her. Only one does not.

The tragedy in Lessons in Chemistry never overpowers the story. Garmus is a genius at buoying inequality and trauma with humor, resilience and the stark reality of a character who has nowhere else to go but through. Even Zott’s dog is a full-fledged character with emotion, motivation and internal dialogue that is just, well, so very much dog. The writing is brilliant.

I eagerly bought into the fictional dream until the very end: Elizabeth is saved by a wealthy female benefactor.

Can women save women? You bet. Were there wealthy female benefactors in the early 1960s? Absolutely. Did I want Elizabeth to prevail in her field of choice due to her intelligence and ability? One hundred and ten percent.

Because women don’t actually need saving. Elizabeth is no damsel in distress. She is a woman emasculated — pun intended — by a system seeped in misogyny. When women outsmart the system . . . and change it? That’s the ending I want.

I do not want one opportunity to open up for one woman at one point in time. I want change. I want laws to change. I want men and women to change. I want society to change.

Perhaps, however, that revolution of change begins with one woman helping another woman. Perhaps it takes a deus ex machina kind of shift because that shift is so incongruent to society.

. . . .

Lessons in Chemistry is well worth the read not only for the insight and inspiration but also for Garmus’ sharp wit and excellent writing. It is a story that stays with the reader, encourages her to think. It encouraged me to look at what I can do, how I can support people on the margins in a meaningful way.

Link to the rest at Notre Dame Magazine

Money runs our lives: novelist Kiley Reid on education, excess and what makes us squirm

From The Guardian:

“I knew I wanted to write about young people and money,” says Kiley Reid, recalling the moment in spring 2019 when the idea for her next book came into view. She had finished editing her debut, the much-loved Such a Fun Age, and was completing her masters degree in fiction at the University of Iowa. She began interviewing undergraduates about their relationship to money, paying them $15 for 40 minutes of their time. She asked them about their interpretation of “load-bearing” words, like “classy”, and “trashy”. One student mentioned her dad’s habit of paying her “practice paychecks” from his office’s payroll, though she did not work for him. It seemed Reid had stumbled upon a creative way to practise corporate fraud; she also had the beginnings of a new novel.

. . . .

It must have been daunting to embark on a follow-up to Such a Fun Age though. Reid’s debut climbed the bestseller charts in the US and the UK, the actor and producer Lena Waithe nabbed early film and television adaptation rights and Reese Witherspoon picked it for her book club. Six months later, it reached another milestone when it was longlisted for the 2020 Booker prize.

Reid was in her apartment in Philadelphia when she got the call from her agent. “I was a little bit flabbergasted,” she says. “For it to be recognised in that way was really astounding.” She was concerned, however, about what people would say “about this very casual book making it to this very prestigious prize”. Interviewers asked her how she felt about her book being nominated for a prize that has a history of racism (the prize was first backed by the food multinational Booker McConnell, whose 19th-century English founders managed cotton and sugar plantations). “I’ve never seen white authors being asked the same question,” she says. “On the one end, it didn’t feel completely fair. And on the other, every university I’ve ever taught at has a racist past. It’s everywhere.”

It’s everywhere” is an enduring motif across Reid’s fiction, which highlights the ordinary social interactions in which larger forces – of class and racial inequality, financial and cultural capital – make themselves known. There are few outright villains in her stories; her characters often blunder along with good intentions, to comic and disastrous effect. “I love writing about instances where you go, ‘What are you doing?’” Reid says, with a laugh. Such a Fun Age follows Emira Tucker, a 25-year-old Black babysitter employed by Alix Chamberlain, a white feminist influencer who lives in Philadelphia and resents the fact that she’s not in New York. Alix soon develops a longing to befriend Emira. She introduces Emira to her own Black friends; emphasises her high-street purchases in an effort to seem more down-to-earth, and plies Emira with wine. Emira, meanwhile, is more focused on financially surviving in a country without universal healthcare.

While white liberal guilt and American east coast snobbery set the scene for Such a Fun Age, Reid’s new novel, Come and Get It, moves south to the city of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Set in a university, the racism is more overt, and the money exchanged and coveted with open hunger. The novel opens with Agatha Paul, a successful 37-year-old journalist and visiting professor, arriving at a dormitory to interview undergraduates about weddings. When the conversation turns to money – how much they would pay for a gown, what a “tacky wedding” looks like – Agatha finds herself “enraptured by these young women, their relationship to money, what they said and how they said it”. Afterwards, Agatha gives $20 to Millie Cousins, a fourth-year Resident Advisor (RA) who oversees dormitory life, as thanks for setting up the conversation. Millie adds it to her growing stash of questionably gotten gains (she also receives $20 from the dorm’s mean girl, Tyler, for swapping her old roommate – a socially awkward compulsive shopper named Kennedy – for a cooler one).

Agatha, Kennedy, and Millie form the basis of Come and Get It. “I wanted to explore three characters who have very different relationships to consumption and money,” Reid says. Agatha is recovering from a breakup and is “splurging on everything”. Kennedy “thinks she doesn’t have an in-depth relationship to money, but it definitely shapes who she is and where she feels safe. When she gets nervous, she goes to Target.” Millie, meanwhile, becomes obsessed with the idea of owning a home, and is laser-focused on saving money. As one of the only Black women in the dorm, she faces racism and is treated by the white characters with a mix of entitlement and guilt.

. . . .

The American college experience has long been mythologised in films, television, and campus novels. The images are familiar: raucous fraternity parties; sorority girls in mansions; lecture halls filled with hangovers and regret. In Come and Get It, however, the action is mostly contained within the dormitory, and focuses on the awkwardness and loneliness of the residents as they try to live up to the hedonistic ideal. “I wanted to show excess and loneliness, which I think consumerism provides for us. I think that college is one of those places that says you can be better: all you have to do is buy all this stuff.”

Like Millie, Reid spent a year as an RA at New York’s Marymount Manhattan College. She recalls the “feeling of always being on the clock”, spending many nights with the RA phone on her pillow, gripped with fear of sleeping through an emergency call. She studied acting, with a minor in religious studies. She was drawn to the subjects due to an “intense, deep obsession with storytelling” going back to her childhood in Arizona, where she remembers losing herself in books and writing her own stories.

Her acting career was short-lived. A year after graduating, Reid was working as a nanny when she filmed a commercial. “I shot it on my birthday. I thought ‘This will be the greatest.’ But I felt something severely lacking,” she recalls. What she really wanted to do was write. She lived in New York for nine years throughout her 20s, working as a receptionist and nanny, while writing as a hobby. When her husband, a legal scholar, was offered a job posting in at a university in Fayetteville, Arkansas, she moved south for a year, working as a coffee shop barista and freelancing writer while applying for graduate writing programmes. She received a round of rejections the first time, before Iowa called. “I was giving myself one last shot,” she says about the application that would change her life. “I wanted healthcare and stability for myself. I was telling myself I would go back to writing copy.”

. . . .

At graduate fiction workshops in Iowa, classmates observed that many of Reid’s stories featured discussions about money, and that it made them uncomfortable. The comments made her realise she was on to something important. “I love watching people try to be politically correct around money,” she says. “I think parts of their deepest selves are revealed in those interactions.” Equally revealing is the social discomfort of talking about money: “A doctor told me once that when you feel bad in your body, do a scan of how you’re feeling, and why you are feeling those things. I think I write about [times] where uncomfortable feelings come over characters, and they struggle in that moment to identify why and what it is that’s driving them there. A lot of it is social etiquette, and the history of racism and classism,” she says. “I think watching people in real time figure out why they’re sweating or feeling like they want to leave the room is a big part of the human experience.”

. . . .

“Money runs our lives in a way that is so deeply ingrained,” she reflects. She hopes that her novels will open a window into what an alternative world might look like. “I like when my fiction sets up readers to wonder, OK, what if we had healthcare? What if you didn’t have to buy a house, and you were just given housing?”

In a 2020 interview for Such a Fun Age, Reid was asked how she felt about publishing a novel that attracted such a huge amount of buzz and publicity. She described it as “surreal” before concluding that the meaning of some life moments only become clear after time. What does she make of it now? “I am bowled over and grateful that I now have a platform to tell stories. That is singular and spectacular. I can also recognise at the same time that putting a book out into the world is the antithesis of writing one.” There is a huge difference, she says, between the private act of writing – “you’re creating a refracted blueprint of what’s in your mind, no matter if you think it will sell” – and the public act of promoting the work. Though she is friendly and forthcoming in interviews, there’s still a sense of craving privacy and a discomfort with attention.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Big Five Domination of Adult Bestseller Lists Slipped in 2023

From Publishers Weekly:

The Big Five’s grip on the hardcover bestseller lists continued in 2023, as 84.8% of the 2,080 positions on PW’s weekly hardcover lists were occupied by titles published by major houses. But for the second year in a row, the Big Five’s hold on the lists loosened a bit, dropping roughly three percentage points from 2022, on the heels of a similar three-percentage-point drop that year compared to 2021.

Penguin Random House’s failed acquisition of Simon & Schuster in late 2022 didn’t prevent the nation’s largest trade publisher from increasing its hold on the hardcover bestseller lists last year, with its share of list positions rising to 36.7%, from 34.6% in 2022. Simon & Schuster (14.2% in 2023 vs. 14.3% in 2022) and Macmillan (7.7% in 2023 vs. 7.9% in 2022) had minimal declines, while HarperCollins (16% in 2023 vs. 17.5% in 2022) and Hachette Book Group (10.2% in 2023 vs. 13.7% in 2022) posted more significant drops.

The two independent publishers that did the most to chip away at the Big Five’s control of the hardcover lists were Entangled Publishing and Grove Atlantic. Entangled’s original edition of Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros was on the hardcover list for 33 weeks, and a special edition of the novel was on the list for six weeks, as was Yarros’s Iron Flame, which was published late in the year. Grove’s The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese also stayed on the list for 33 weeks.

The Big Five’s grip on the hardcover bestseller lists continued in 2023, as 84.8% of the 2,080 positions on PW’s weekly hardcover lists were occupied by titles published by major houses. But for the second year in a row, the Big Five’s hold on the lists loosened a bit, dropping roughly three percentage points from 2022, on the heels of a similar three-percentage-point drop that year compared to 2021.

Penguin Random House’s failed acquisition of Simon & Schuster in late 2022 didn’t prevent the nation’s largest trade publisher from increasing its hold on the hardcover bestseller lists last year, with its share of list positions rising to 36.7%, from 34.6% in 2022. Simon & Schuster (14.2% in 2023 vs. 14.3% in 2022) and Macmillan (7.7% in 2023 vs. 7.9% in 2022) had minimal declines, while HarperCollins (16% in 2023 vs. 17.5% in 2022) and Hachette Book Group (10.2% in 2023 vs. 13.7% in 2022) posted more significant drops.

The two independent publishers that did the most to chip away at the Big Five’s control of the hardcover lists were Entangled Publishing and Grove Atlantic. Entangled’s original edition of Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros was on the hardcover list for 33 weeks, and a special edition of the novel was on the list for six weeks, as was Yarros’s Iron Flame, which was published late in the year. Grove’s The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese also stayed on the list for 33 weeks.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The Former Navy SEAL Who Keeps Churning Out Hit Books

From The Wall Street Journal:

Some writers sell fantasy, romance or mystery. Former Navy SEAL Jack Carr trades in his precise knowledge of guns and battlefield tactics. 

In Carr’s latest novel, “Only the Dead,” battle-scarred James Reece opens a family trunk full of deadly weaponry.

He “reached inside and removed the 9mm Smith & Wesson M39 from the chest. Better known in the SEAL Teams as the Mk 22 ‘Hush Puppy,’ it had earned a legendary reputation in the jungles of Vietnam for silently eliminating sentries and guard dogs.” Soon, Reece is grabbing a box of “9mm Super Vel subsonic ammunition.”

That ultrarealistic detail is Carr’s signature. It’s part of the formula propelling him to success in a competitive genre, military and political thrillers, where few newcomers break out. Drawing on his experience, Carr spins tales about a SEAL who begins on a mission to avenge the deaths of his family and winds up unraveling terrorist plots and global conspiracies. 

Combined, his six books have sold about 3.3 million copies in all formats, according to publisher Simon & Schuster, with “Only the Dead” so far accounting for 300,000. His seventh, “Red Sky Mourning,” is expected to publish next spring.

His cumulative sales put him in a league reached by less than 1% of all authors, according to an estimate from publishing executives. Carr’s last two novels each made its debut at No. 1 on the New York Times  hardcover bestseller fiction list.

Tom Clancy was the father of military fiction, but he never served. Carr enlisted as a Navy SEAL in 1996 and saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan before leaving Naval Special Warfare in 2016.  

“I’m bringing the feeling and emotions of somebody who fought,” Carr said in an interview. “You can’t fake that, or if you did you couldn’t do it for long.” 

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Here’s a link to Jack Carr’s Author Page

The Greatest Novels of the 20th Century

Prompt:

List the 15 greatest English-language novels published in the 20th century, and what each novel was criticized for at the time of its publication and how the initial criticism is regarded today.

ChatGPT4:

Compiling a list of the “greatest” English-language novels of the 20th century is subjective, but here’s a selection based on their impact, popularity, and critical acclaim. I’ll also touch on their initial criticisms and how these are viewed today:

  1. “Ulysses” by James Joyce (1922):
    • Criticism Then: Deemed obscene and unreadably complex.
    • View Now: Its complexity is seen as groundbreaking, influencing modern narrative techniques.
  2. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (1960):
    • Criticism Then: Simplistic and sentimental portrayal of racial issues.
    • View Now: Celebrated for its moral clarity and character depth, though some critique remains on its racial perspectives.
  3. “1984” by George Orwell (1949):
    • Criticism Then: Seen as overly pessimistic and anti-socialist.
    • View Now: Highly regarded as a prescient and profound exploration of totalitarianism and surveillance.
  4. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925):
    • Criticism Then: Viewed as a trivial chronicle of the Jazz Age.
    • View Now: Acclaimed for its exploration of the American Dream’s corruption and its stylistic brilliance.
  5. “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov (1955):
    • Criticism Then: Condemned for its subject matter involving pedophilia.
    • View Now: Recognized for its literary artistry while still provoking debate over its themes.
  6. “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller (1961):
    • Criticism Then: Initially considered confusing with its non-linear narrative.
    • View Now: Hailed as a brilliant satire of war and bureaucracy.
  7. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley (1932):
    • Criticism Then: Criticized for its pessimistic dystopia and perceived anti-family and anti-religion sentiments.
    • View Now: Viewed as an important cautionary tale about technological and social control.
  8. “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger (1951):
    • Criticism Then: Considered controversial for its frank language and themes of teenage angst and rebellion.
    • View Now: Generally seen as an emblematic novel of teenage disaffection, though it remains divisive.
  9. “Beloved” by Toni Morrison (1987):
    • Criticism Then: Challenged for its complex narrative style and raw depiction of the horrors of slavery.
    • View Now: Widely acclaimed for its powerful storytelling and exploration of the African American experience.
  10. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez (1967):
    • Criticism Then: Some viewed its magical realism as overly fantastical.
    • View Now: Celebrated for its rich narrative and contribution to world literature.
  11. “Animal Farm” by George Orwell (1945):
    • Criticism Then: Seen as a blunt allegory and criticized for its dark view of socialism.
    • View Now: Regarded as a sharp critique of totalitarianism, not just of socialism but of political power dynamics in general.
  12. “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding (1954):
    • Criticism Then: Initially criticized for its portrayal of children as savagely and morally corrupt.
    • View Now: Now seen as a profound exploration of human nature and societal structure.
  13. “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie (1981):
    • Criticism Then: Its blending of fantasy and history was initially disorienting for some readers.
    • View Now: Celebrated for its magical realism and deep insights into Indian culture and history.
  14. “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac (1957):
    • Criticism Then: Criticized for glorifying a hedonistic and aimless lifestyle.
    • View Now: Regarded as an iconic representation of the Beat generation, though some criticism remains.
  15. “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck (1939):
    • Criticism Then: Accused of socialist leanings and exaggerating the plight of migrant workers.
    • View Now: Seen as a powerful and empathetic portrayal of the struggles during the Great Depression.

Each of these novels was groundbreaking in its own way, challenging societal norms and literary conventions of their time. The initial criticisms often stemmed from contemporary sensibilities and political climates, whereas current views tend to appreciate their artistic and thematic contributions more fully.

End ChatGPT4

PG is familiar with some, but not all, of the books listed, so he’ll be interested to see how visitors to TPV react to the list.

He was interested in reactions to how the AI described the criticisms of each book when it was first published and will be interested in opinions about the AI’s assessment of “greatest books” which, of course, is a very hazy description. He’ll also be interested in opinions about the “judgement” of the AI regarding what books to include and what books to exclude from the list.

Here’s a list of the best-selling books of the 20th Century that PG found online site that said it was sourced from The Guardian’s bestseller list (not a lot of overlap with the Greatest list):

1 Lord of the Rings. Author: J. R. R. Tolkien. Published in 1954-1955. Earned about 150 million.

2 Le petit prince (The Little Prince). Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Published in 1943. Earned about 140 million.

3 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 1997. Earned about 120 million.

4 The Hobbit. Author: J. R. R. Tolkien. Published in 1937. Earned about 100 million.

5 And then there were none. Author: Agatha Christie. Published in 1939. Earned about 100 million.

6 The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe. Author: C. S. Lewis. Published in 1950. Earned about 85 million.

7 Vardi Wala Gunda. Autor: Ved Prakash Sharma. Published in 1992. Earned about 80 million.

8 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 1998. Earned about 77 million.

9 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 1999. Earned about 65 million.

10 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 2000. Earned about 65 million.

11 O Alquimista (The Alquimist). Author: Paulo Coelho. Published in 1988. Earned about 65 million.

12 The Catcher in the Rye. Author: J. D. Salinger. Published in 1951. Earned about 65 million.

13 Think and Go Rich. Author: Napoleon Hill. Published in 1937. Earned about 60 million.

14 The Bridges of Madison County. Author: Robert James Waller. Published in 1992. Earned about 60 million.

15 You can Heal your life. Author: Louise Hay. Published in 1984. Earned about 50 million.

16 Cien años de soledad. (Hundred years of solitude). Author: Gabriel García Márquez. Published in 1967. Earned about 50 million.

17 Lolita. Author: Vladimir Nabokov. Published in 1955. Earned about 50 million.

18 The Common Sense Book of Babe and Child Care. Author: Dr Benjamin Spock. Published in 1946. Earned about 50 million.

19 Anne of Green Gables. Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery. Published in 1908. Earned about 50 million.

20 Il Nome Della Rosa (The name of the Rose). Author: Umberto Eco. Published in 1980. Earned about 50 million.

The 50 Best Books of the 20th Century

From The Intercollegiate Studies Institute:

Earlier this year, the Modern Library published a list styled The Hundred Best Nonfiction Books of the Twentieth Century. A list of significant books can make a compelling statement about how we are to understand an age. In judging the quality of a book, one necessarily judges the perception and the profundity which the book displays, as well as the character of the book’s influence.

Yet many were dissatisfied with the several “Best” lists published in the past year, finding them biased, too contemporary, or simply careless. So the Intercollegiate Review (IR) set out to assemble its own critically serious roster of the Best—and the Worst—Books of the Century. To assist us in this task, we relied on the advice of a group of exceptional academics from a variety of disciplines.

To make the task more manageable, our lists include only nonfiction books originally published in English, and so certain giants of the century such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn will not be found here, on two counts. We left the definition of “Best” up to our consultants, but we defined “Worst” for them as books which were widely celebrated in their day but which upon reflection can be seen as foolish, wrong-headed, or even pernicious.

There was broad agreement about a majority of titles, but there were also fierce disagreements. Several titles appeared on both “Best” and “Worst” lists. We have tried to be faithful to the contributions of our consultants, but the responsibility for final composition of the list lay with the editors of the IR.

What, then, do these lists reveal about the character of the Twentieth Century?

Our “Worst” list reveals a remarkable number of volumes of sham social science of every kind. The attempt to understand human action as an epiphenomenon of “hidden” and purportedly “deeper” motives such as sex, economics, or the Laws of History is a powerful yet hardly salutary trend in our century. The presumed “breakthrough” insight that professes to reveal the shape of some inevitable future has time and again proven to be profoundly misguided. And with human life reduced in these theories to a matter for technological manipulation, our century also reveals a persistent attraction to a dehumanizing statist administration of society.

Prominent on the “Best” list, on the other hand, are many volumes of extraordinary reflection and creativity in a traditional form, which heartens us with the knowledge that fine writing and clear-mindedness are perennially possible.

1. Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (1907)

Pessimism and nostalgia at the bright dawn of the twentieth century must have seemed bizarre to contemporaries. After a century of war, mass murder, and fanaticism, we know that Adams’s insight was keen indeed.

2. C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (1947)

Preferable to Lewis’s other remarkable books simply because of the title, which reveals the true intent of liberalism.

3. Whittaker Chambers, Witness (1952)

The haunting, lyrical testament to truth and humanity in a century of lies (and worse). Chambers achieves immortality recounting his spiritual journey from the dark side (Soviet Communism) to the—in his eyes—doomed West. One of the great autobiographies of the millennium.

4. T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, 1917–1932 (1932, 1950)

Here, one of the century’s foremost literary innovators insists that innovation is only possible through an intense engagement of tradition. Every line of Eliot’s prose bristles with intelligence and extreme deliberation.

5. Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History (1934–61)

Made the possibility of a divine role in history respectable among serious historians. Though ignored by academic careerists, Toynbee is still read by those whose intellectual horizons extend beyond present fashions.

Link to the rest at The Intercollegiate Studies Institute

The 50 Worst Books of the 20th Century

From The Intercollegiate Studies Institute:

Our lists include only nonfiction books originally published in English. We define “worst” as books that were widely celebrated in their day but that upon reflection can be seen as foolish, wrongheaded, or even pernicious.

Our “worst” list reveals a remarkable number of volumes of sham social science of every kind. The attempt to understand human action as an epiphenomenon of “hidden” and purportedly “deeper” motives such as sex, economics, or the Laws of History is a powerful yet hardly salutary trend in our century. The presumed “breakthrough” insight that professes to reveal the shape of some inevitable future has time and again proven to be profoundly misguided. And with human life reduced in these theories to a matter for technological manipulation, our century also reveals a persistent attraction to a dehumanizing statist administration of society. 

1. Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa (1928)

So amusing did the natives find the white woman’s prurient questions that they told her the wildest tales—and she believed them! Mead misled a generation into believing that the fantasies of sexual progressives were an historical reality on an island far, far away.

2. Beatrice & Sidney Webb, Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? (1935)

An idea whose time has come . . . and gone, thank God.

3. Alfred Kinsey, et al., Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948)

So mesmerized were Americans by the authority of Science, with a capital S, that it took forty years for anyone to wonder how data is gathered on the sexual responses of children as young as five. A pervert’s attempt to demonstrate that perversion is “statistically” normal.

4. Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (1964)

Dumbed-down Heidegger and a seeming praise of kinkiness became the Bible of the sixties and early postmodernism.

5. John Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916)

Dewey convinced a generation of intellectuals that education isn’t about anything; it’s just a method, a process for producing democrats and scientists who would lead us into a future that “works.” Democracy and Science (both pure means) were thereby transformed into the moral ends of our century, and America’s well-meaning but corrupting educationist establishment was born.

Link to the rest at The Intercollegiate Studies Institute

How Has Big Publishing Changed American Fiction?

From The NewYorker:

In 1989, Gerald Howard had been a book editor for about ten years, and his future filled him with dread. His primary fear, he wrote in a widely read essay for The American Scholar, was “a faster, huger, rougher, dumber publishing world.” He had entered the industry during a time of profound change. In the course of a few decades, American publishing had transformed from a parochial cultural industry, mostly centered on the East Coast, into an international, corporate affair. Starting in the nineteen-sixties, outfits like Random House and Penguin were seen as ripe targets for acquisition by multinational conglomerates like RCA and Pearson, which wanted to diversify their revenue streams, whether through oil, textbooks, calculators, or literary fiction. These parent companies changed the business of books, inciting an arms race that encouraged publishers to grow larger and larger, consolidating and concentrating the industry into a few giant players. Howard’s career had overlapped with this period of flux, and he saw before him a brutal, profit- and growth-obsessed landscape, inimical to his work. Corporate publishers like Penguin moved and grooved “to the tune of big-time finance,” he wrote. This dance was no “fox-trot; it’s a bruising slam dance,” he observed. “From down here on the shop floor, the results often look ludicrous and disastrous.”

Last year, shortly before the antitrust trial that successfully blocked a planned merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, Howard, who had recently retired, wrote for Publishers Weekly looking back on how the industry had changed in the course of his career. The slam dance had continued, its pace only more harried. The corporate houses had grown exponentially since the eighties, and swallowed up their competitors. Trade publishing was dominated by an even smaller group of companies that exerted an immense influence on the reading habits of Americans. When Penguin merged with Random House, in 2013, Howard took to calling the resulting behemoth Cosmodemonic Publishing. The scale of the company, the thousands of employees and hundreds of imprints, were, he says, “simply too large and abstract for a mere editor to get his head around.”

Howard still had hope for publishing; his “worst fears,” that the Cosmodemonic realm would engender a “race to the commercial bottom and a relentless quest for profits above quality,” hadn’t come to pass. Books were still good, the work still worthwhile, despite the stiff headwinds. But he admitted to a nagging unease: “At a certain point in my tenure at Penguin Random House I just gave up trying to understand a lot of the emails that arrived from corporate and would just hit delete, asking myself quizzically, ‘And the contribution this makes to the actual publication of actual books is . . . ?’ ”

That discomforting riddle—what these business machinations contribute to the actual publication of actual books—is the central question of Dan Sinykin’s “Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literature.” Sinykin argues that the corporate ethos that dominates the modern publishing house has exerted such an overwhelming influence on the way books are written and published that it has inaugurated a new epoch: “the Conglomerate era.” As he sees it, the consolidation of the industry that began in the nineteen-sixties and seventies transformed American fiction and “changed what it means to be an author.” The stakes of Sinykin’s inquiry are to explain “how we should read” fiction published in the U.S. during the past half century or so, a period during which every book, no matter its preoccupations or themes, could be said to reflect a greater entity: the corporation.

Sinykin’s study begins in the postwar years, when publishing was a smaller and more cloistered world. The companies were mostly family-owned and -run, bookstores and book critics were influential but far fewer in number, and costs were less daunting. The editor Jason Epstein recalls, at the time, an author could sell “six or seven thousand copies” and “make the average book profitable.” When Epstein joined Random House, in 1958, it was owned by its founders, Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer, a pair of cultured patricians who were famous for publishing James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” in 1934. The company was housed in a Gilded Age mansion that served as a second home for its writers. W. H. Auden felt comfortable enough to show up in house slippers to hand in his latest work.

Soon after Epstein started at Random House, Cerf and Klopfer decided to take the company public. The change had a tangible impact on the way the business was run. Epstein writes in his memoir “Book Business,” that Cerf, newly accountable to shareholders, “would chew the corner of his white linen handkerchief in anguish whenever the stock fell.” When Random House was privately owned, it could withstand a “slow season,” because publishers knew that selling books required patience. But the need to balance concerns of taste with sound financial decision-making made it harder to play the long game: enter the profit-and-loss statement, the five-year budget, and, eventually, the need to frame every book as a potential best-seller.

This same story was unfolding across the industry. In 1960, New American Library, one of the country’s largest and most successful mass-market-paperback publishers, was acquired by the newspaper company Times Mirror and then forced to reckon with a McKinsey-led reorganization. Another mass-market publisher, Pocket Books, went public that same year and merged with the trade publisher Simon & Schuster in 1966. A year after its I.P.O., Random House acquired one of its rivals, Knopf, and then the whole enterprise was gobbled up by the electronics conglomerate RCA, in 1965. Across town, Doubleday began a spending spree in the late sixties to keep up, launching a broadcast subsidiary and acquiring a number of radio and TV stations throughout the country. (In a little more than a decade’s time, Doubleday would buy a majority stake in the New York Mets.)

As publishers scaled up their expansionary aspirations, new powers emerged: forces like literary agents and chain bookstores, intricate marketing campaigns and high-stakes auctions, helped to forge a different way of doing business, a process of diversifying and rationalizing that led to a larger, more stratified, and more economically conscious sphere, dominated by daunting hierarchies of power and money.

Today’s publishing house is closer to a hedge fund than a tastemaker. Every book that it acquires is a bet on profitability. The financialization of the acquisition process functions like an index of risk, creating a “system in which homogeneity . . . is encouraged” to minimize bad bets. This system affects all houses, no matter their size. Every season, Big Five publishers are incentivized to pursue best-sellers, authors whose works can scale into a franchise or a movie. Meanwhile, independent publishers and nonprofits such as W. W. Norton and Graywolf Press seek to carve out their own niche in this ecosystem by focussing on books with small but ardent audiences (poetry, the literature of marginalized voices). Sinykin sidesteps the question of whether this system has made books worse. He wants to demonstrate something trickier: how the process of authoring a book has become subsumed by a larger and larger network of interests, changing what it meant to be an author. Critics and scholars, Sinykin contends, are uncomfortable displacing the author when studying literature. His book is an earnest attempt to focus attention on the non-authorial figures involved in a book’s creation. Instead of individual writers, he wants us to think in terms of a “feedback loop.”

If there is a villain in “Big Fiction,” it is the “romantic” conception of authorship—the idea that writing a book is as simple as an author sitting down and marshalling their creative forces. This sense of the author, Sinykin thinks, is “a mirage veiling the systematic intelligences that are responsible for more of what we read than most of us are ready to acknowledge.” By “systematic intelligences,” he means the coördinated efforts of the dozens of people who touch a book before it makes its way into the hands of a reader.

Before conglomeration, Sinykin asserts, writing a book “was a completely different experience.” Once, a would-be novelist’s chances of being published depended on “how easily you could get your book in the right editor’s hands.” As the number of those involved in publication expanded, authors had to meet new criteria. “Could marketers see a market? What would the chain bookbuyers think? Could publicists picture your face on TV, your voice on the radio? Could agents sniff subsidiary rights? Would foreign rights sell at the Frankfurt Book Fair? Might your story be remediated? Would it work in audio? On the big screen?”

Sinykin calls authors who successfully navigated the maze of agents, marketers, and booksellers “industrial writers.” This group includes chart-topping genre writers, such as Danielle Steel, Michael Crichton, and Stephen King, and also literary novelists who managed to work within the new system. Among Sinykin’s most succinct and persuasive case studies involves the career of Cormac McCarthy. In 1965, McCarthy’s first novel, an allusive Southern gothic called “The Orchard Keeper,” was published by a legendary editor at Random House named Albert Erskine. Erskine, who had been a steward for the company’s most distinguished writers, including William Faulkner and Ralph Ellison, found a manuscript by McCarthy in the slush pile and committed himself to fostering his career. Though McCarthy’s early books rarely sold, he was able to survive outside the market with the help of fellowships and grants secured through Erskine’s influence.

When Erskine retired, in 1987, McCarthy needed a new patron. He reached out to Lynn Nesbit, an agent who represented Robert Caro, among others. Nesbit passed McCarthy on to her protégée, Amanda (Binky) Urban. By chance, Urban was an admirer of McCarthy’s work. She made it her mission to insure that his next book would be a hit. She called up Sonny Mehta, who had recently been installed as the editor-in-chief of Knopf. Mehta sent McCarthy to an ambitious editor named Gary Fisketjon. As Fisketjon went to work on McCarthy’s prose, Mehta and his most trusted publicist, Jane Friedman, the woman credited with inventing the author tour, set about “aggressively marketing” McCarthy’s reinvention. They enlisted the photographer Marion Ettlinger to shoot a dashing author portrait and the designer Chip Kidd to create an enticing cover for his next book. That book was 1992’s “All the Pretty Horses,” which sold a hundred and ninety thousand copies in its first six months and was adapted into a Hollywood movie in 2000, starring Matt Damon. By 2007, when Oprah’s Book Club and the Pulitzer Prize anointed “The Road,” McCarthy was no longer perceived as a writer of difficult, obscure fiction but an approachable mainstream celebrity author.

Many of Sinykin’s claims about how fiction has changed in the past fifty years—that novelists are under pressure to bring in consistent profit, that literary writers have incorporated genre tropes into their work—are broadly true. But his account of how individual authors have responded to conglomeration requires us to take on faith many of his claims. We never see a manuscript page or editorial interventions that might illustrate these writers’ explicit acquiescence to the market interests of their stakeholders.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Kahlil Gibran: Godfather of the “New Age”

From JSTOR Daily:

In September 1923, Alfred A. Knopf brought out a slim, hundred-odd page volume. The publisher did little to promote it, yet its first print run (some twelve hundred copies) sold out within a month—unheard-of for a poetry volume, then and now.

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet was a slow but steadily growing burn, one that has continued, year on year, for ten decades.

Interspersing twenty-six short prose-poetic pieces with original illustrations, The Prophet has made Gibran the third-bestselling poet in history—behind Shakespeare and Lao Tzu. To date, The Prophet has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide (over 10 million in the United States alone) and has been translated into more than a hundred languages.

Yet The Prophet has always been and remains uniquely troublesome, and to call it the bestselling “poetry book” of its century might be misleading. Is it poetry? Or is it (in today’s language) Inspirational Fiction, wisdom text, a spiritual guide of New Age wellbeing or self-help? Perhaps (to deploy a paradox, Gibran’s favorite device) it is all these things and none of them.

Gibran wrote once of his desire “to write a book that heals the world.” The Prophet was that dream’s fruition. Yet his other work—eight English language collections and more books, poems, and other writings in his native Arabic—is largely ignored in the Anglosphere. The Prophet is thus a bestseller with an almost anonymous author. Gibran’s book has outlived him in more than one sense. Though it has had the kind of afterlife of which he himself can only have dreamed, there is in this a strange irony. Gibran was so successful in his likely aim—absorbed into the figure of “The Prophet,” imitating the unknown authors of scripture—that, for many readers and lovers of his book, he remains irrelevant.

Link to the rest at JSTOR Daily

Would You Turn the First Page of this Bestseller?

From Writer Unboxed:

Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page.

. . . .

Here’s the question:

Would you pay good money to read the rest of the chapter? With 50 chapters in a book that costs $15, each chapter would be “worth” 30 cents.

So, before you read the excerpt, take 30 cents from your pocket or purse. When you’re done, decide what to do with those three dimes or the quarter and a nickel. It’s not much, but think of paying 30 cents for the rest of the chapter every time you sample a book’s first page. In a sense, time is money for a literary agent working her way through a raft of submissions, and she is spending that resource whenever she turns a page.

Please judge by storytelling quality, not by genre or content—some reject an opening page immediately because of genre, but that’s not a good-enough reason when the point is to analyze for storytelling strength.

How strong is the opening page of this novel—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer?

Henry’s eyes are burning into me from across the living room. “Your summer is going to suck.”

There’s an echo of snorts from my teammates, the loudest coming from Mattie, Bobby, and Kris, who all told me something similar when I said no to joining them in Miami this summer.

“Inspiring words, Turner,” I shoot back at my unimpressed roommate. “You should become a motivational speaker.”

“You’ll be sorry you didn’t listen to me when you’re stuck doing manual labor and team-building activities at staff training next week.” Henry continues to flick through the Honey Acres brochure, his forehead creasing with a frown the further he gets into it. “What’s night duty?”

“I have to sleep in a room attached to the campers’ cabin twice a week in case they need anything,” I say casually, watching Henry’s eyes widen in horror. “The rest of the time I sleep in my own cabin.”

“It’s a no from me,” he says, throwing the brochure back onto the coffee table. “Good luck, though.”

“Could be worse,” Robbie muses from across the living room. “You could have to move to Canada this summer.”

Were you moved to want more?

This novel was number one on the New York Times paperback trade fiction bestseller list for October 22, 2023. Were the opening pages of the first chapter of Wildfire by Hannah Grace compelling?

My vote: No.

This book received 4.2 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Considering the “merits” of this opening page, I’m guessing it’s the author’s fans who propelled this to the number one spot. But would it have passed an agent’s muster if by an unknown writer?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG was about to opine, but was brought up short by the fact that he knows nothing about the romance publishing world after Romeo and Juliet, which he read when he was in college. William Shakespeare was a surprise guest lecturer and was terrific once you got past his heavy accent.

The Murky Path To Becoming a New York Times Best Seller

From Esquire:

Anyone who’s worked for a major book publisher in recent memory knows the energy that crackles through the office at 4:59 P.M. on Wednesday afternoons, right before the preview of next week’s best seller list arrives from The New York Times. After months of pitching reviews, planning marketing campaigns, doing bookseller outreach, and begging for budget, this is the moment when you find out if it was enough to earn your author a spot on the best seller list.

The New York Times best-seller list debuted in October 1931, reporting first on the top-selling titles in New York City before expanding in 1942. Over the years, what’s known in the industry as “the list” has come to comprise eleven weekly and seven monthly lists, covering paperbacks, audiobooks, and e-books (combined with print sales), as well as separate lists for children’s books, business titles, and more.

No one outside The New York Times knows exactly how its best sellers are calculated—and the list of theories is longer than the actual list of best sellers. In The New York Times’ own words, “The weekly book lists are determined by sales numbers.” It adds that this data “reflects the previous week’s Sunday-to-Saturday sales period” and takes into account “numbers on millions of titles each week from tens of thousands of storefronts and online retailers as well as specialty and independent bookstores.” The paper keeps its sources confidential, it argues, “to circumvent potential pressure on the booksellers and prevent people from trying to game their way onto the lists.” Its expressed goal is for “the lists to reflect what individual consumers are buying across the country instead of what is being bought in bulk by individuals or associated groups.” But beyond these disclosures, the Times is not exactly forthcoming about how the sausage gets made.

Laura B. McGrath, an assistant professor of English at Temple University who teaches a course on the history of the best seller, compares The New York Times’ list to the original recipe for Coca-Cola: “We have a pretty good idea of what goes into it, but not the exact amount of each ingredient.”

Kathleen Schmidt, president of KMSPR, a book publicity and marketing firm, speculates that The New York Times’ main data sources are Amazon, ReaderLink (a distributor for big box stores like Target, Walmart, and Hudson News), individually reporting stores, and BookScan (one of publishing’s main data providers). The Times denies the use of any services that aggregate data, but according to Schmidt, those in the industry believe otherwise. “I can’t imagine they do not use BookScan at all. They can’t simply rely on the individual stores,” she said.

. . . .

Eloise*, a book publicist I spoke to who spent several years working within the Big Five (the five largest publishing houses: Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan), theorized that The New York Times seems “to look for signs that a book is selling large quantities organically—that is, individual copies being purchased from a variety of booksellers… with an emphasis on independent bookshops and geographic diversity.”

She also believes that The New York Times uses data from BookScan, employing it to flag books with a large percentage of bulk orders that might detract from the paper’s mission to represent individual consumer purchases.

Although the list claims to be a numerical ranking with full autonomy from The New York Times Book Review, some of the sources I spoke with believe that an element of editorial curation must be at play. “To my knowledge, The New York Times tracks sales of books, and the sales are what is ‘supposed to’ decide where those books sit on the list. However, the truth is, it’s much more editorialized,” Sarah*, a book publicist who has worked at two Big Five houses, suggested to me. “There is quite a bit taken into consideration—i.e., are the book sales mostly bulk buys? Are they mostly indie bookstore sales? Are they mostly Amazon sales? Even which list the book would be considered for has a huge effect.” For example, whether a book is considered for the Hardcover Nonfiction weekly list or the Advice, How-To, & Miscellaneous weekly list might affect whether it becomes a best seller at all.

Sarah went so far as to suggest that the Times’s curation goes beyond a preference for books acquired at independent retailers—a theory posited by many I spoke to. “It’s frustrating when you get the actual numbers of what every book on the list sold and a book with lower numbers is higher on the list,” she said. “You know it’s because of connections or The New York Times preferring one read over another.”

Times spokesperson Melissa Torres denied in an email that any editorial judgments are involved in constructing the best seller list.

Tracy*, a freelance book publicist who used to work for a book public relations firm, also said that, in her experience, publicly available sales data doesn’t line up with what appears on The New York Times best-seller list. She said, “In the past, when I had access to BookScan, I sometimes did an exercise with authors where I’d show the sales figures for the books on the list in any given week. They often did not correspond to the position on the list—for example, the #5 book on the list may have sold fewer copies than the #9 book on the list.”

Asked why such a scenario might occur, Torres said, “As always, raw sales are only one factor in determining if or where a book might rank on our lists,” and directed Esquire to the best sellers methodology statement.

Like everyone I consulted, Tracy and Sarah both acknowledged that there’s no surefire way to know the list’s recipe. This is one of the reasons why those inside the publishing machine find The New York Times best-seller list so frustrating—it’s a data project full of contradictions.

Link to the rest at Esquire

(PG apologizes for his occasional digs at English majors. Be assured that PG’s undergraduate major was even less practical for real-world activities, especially income-generating activities than an English major would have been. After he went to law school to detox his resume’, no one ever asked him what his undergraduate major had been so he no longer had to tapdance around with his answer.)

PG wonders why anyone outside of The New York Times would think there were any rigorously objective underpinnings for the NYT bestseller lists. These folks are curators of culture, after all, and that self-generated role will not be seriously limited by something so tawdry as the actual number of books sold at places like Walmart.

Thumbs belonging to the right sort of people will always be applied to mere sales reports to generate a proper bestseller list.

Amazon’s Orange Banner: The Anticlimax of Achievement

From Jane Friedman:

In a world where success is often measured by external markers and symbols, the pursuit of status symbols can be alluring. Whether it’s the coveted “bestseller” label for authors, or a blue checkmark next to your name, these symbols often come with the promise of prestige and validation.

Confession: I was among these seekers, dreaming of how incredible it would feel to see that orange banner on my book’s Amazon page. Number one. Bestseller. It would be the peak of success, the culmination of years of work and energy.

A writer can dream.

And then I got it. One week after my latest book launch, I woke on a nondescript Wednesday to my novel as the #1 new release, orange banner and all.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t experience a rush of giddiness. I was on top—figuratively and literally. This was the same badge of honor that adorned so many of my favorite authors’ books. Legit authors with legit careers. Now I could say I was alongside them? Incredible!

And so I blasted it out to social media: Woohoo! I hit #1! [insert string of celebratory emojis]

Congratulations came pouring in, and I reveled in being on the receiving end after cheering on other authors for years. It felt good and fun and all the things.

You might think that’s where the story ends, on a high. Sort of. But not exactly.

Not long after posting my exciting news, a weirdness settled in my gut. Was I really making such a big deal about a silly orange banner? It felt a little like carrying a designer handbag just for the logo. You know it’s what everyone wants, but there are plenty of better bags out there.

I messaged an author friend. “Self-promotion is hard. I feel sort of icky.”

“Absolutely not,” she said.

Another friend expanded the sentiment: “Celebrate the crap out of that banner. You earned it!”

Had I? According to the algorithm, yes. Numbers-wise, my book was entitled to the label. But what did it mean? Was my book “better than” so many others? Better than my friends still riding the querying roller coaster or putting out independent titles?

In a word, no.

And that realization brought with it a swift helping of imposter syndrome. It suddenly felt braggy to be shouting my accomplishment from the rooftops. How cringey to be obsessed with a marker that could disappear the following day. To get it was one thing, but to outwardly promote it? Ew, gross. What I’d once envisioned would be such a pinnacle moment, felt anticlimactic once the high wore off, and if truth be told, I was a little embarrassed for putting so much stock in it. What did such values say about me?

For aspiring authors, the dream of becoming a bestseller is often a driving force that keeps them burning the midnight oil. The idea of seeing your book’s name on the New York Times bestseller list is a powerful motivator, and rightly so. Achieving such a status symbol signifies not only creative success but also the potential for financial gain and widespread recognition.

However, once the dream becomes a reality, authors often find themselves grappling with a sense of emptiness.

“Yeah, it was sort of weird,” a writer friend who’d experienced something similar told me. Turns out, the label of bestseller is, in many ways, fleeting. Books rise and fall on those lists, and the euphoria of hitting the top spot can quickly give way to the anxiety of maintaining that status or the realization that it hasn’t fundamentally changed much at all. We’ve all heard of the sophomore slump, right?

But back to the Instagram post with the ecstatic caption. In the age of social media and personal branding, self-promotion is unavoidable to a degree. After all, many authors view their writing and books as a business. While it’s a necessary part of the journey, it often comes with a sense of awkwardness. Around book launches, I find myself wanting to apologize: Yep, I’m posting my book link again, sorry! Sorry to bug you, but would you mind leaving a review?

Then I remember the words of my wise friend: Books don’t sell themselves.

So, what’s the antidote to the anticlimax of status symbols? It might lie in the pursuit of intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, rewards. For many authors, it means writing for the love of storytelling, not just the pursuit of bestseller status. For others, it might mean finding joy in the process, not just the end result.

All this to say, holding the #1 spot was a cool experience, and it felt damn good, but at the end of the day, I call to mind the hundreds of incredible books I’ve read that have never seen that orange banner. Do I think less of them? Certainly not. And that’s the reminder I carry with me moving forward.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

While the author of the OP seems like quite a nice person, PG suggests that she may be overthinking her Amazon best-seller banner.

PG would be surprised if any human being was involved in her book being designated as the #1 Amazon bestseller for a period of time (simultaneously calculated and displayed with a substantial cluster of other genre-based #1 bestsellers). When the computer determined her book was no longer the #1 bestseller, the designation would be moved to another book with no human judgment involved.

PG suggests to enjoy it while it lasts and feel free to use the designation for decades to come on your author pate and in other marketing/advertising materials

Fourth Wing

From Smart Bitches, Trashy Books:

f you are even remotely on bookish social media, then you are aware of Fourth Wing. It’s been much-hyped and sold out and everywhere I look online there are rave reviews for this YA-fantasy-romance.

I am not here to yuck anyone’s yum. If you read Fourth Wing and you loved it, I am totally happy for you. I want people to love what they read.

This was not a book that worked for me, though, and I suspect I’m probably not the only one who didn’t love it. I made it about 45% of the way though before I finally decided this was just going to be a slog for me and I gave up.

There were two main reasons I could not get interested in this book 

  1. The fantasy archetypes and tropes at work in the plot, and  
  2. The pacing

Fourth Wing is set in a fantasy world where the country of Navarre protects its borders with an elite army of dragon riders. When they are approximately of real-world college age, the young people of Navarre enter one of four quadrants in order to serve their country. Violet Sorrengail is small and accident prone, and by all accounts should enter the Scribe Quadrant. Instead, Violet’s mother, a general, sends her to the Rider’s Quadrant where she’ll probably be killed before graduation (side note: Violet’s mom is not great).

If Violet survives her time at the War College she will hopefully be selected by a dragon to be its bonded rider. 

I don’t fully understand why the War College is so invested in killing off its cadets (or having them kill each other). Fratricide is openly welcomed in order to weed out the “weak” recruits. At the same time we’re reminded frequently that there are fewer riders and fewer dragons every year, and I believe this is definitely a case of causation, not correlation. Also don’t they need people for other jobs? Who makes lunch? 

Violet shouldn’t be in the Rider Quadrant. She’s very academic and would have excelled as a scribe, like her father. It would appear that everyone in the Rider Quadrant knows this, and multiple people offer to help her find a way to get out and get over to the Scribe’s where, frankly, things sound a lot better. Violet refuses on the grounds that her mom would find a way to send her back (why?) and because she stubbornly wants to prove She Can Do It (why?).

. . . .

Sometimes, in the real world, you cannot do the thing even though you really believe in yourself. I have a friend who convinced herself she could accomplish a Tough Mudder through the power of belief and positive thinking, and then she broke some ribs. 

Cadet training involves something like the balance beam from hell as well as a Ninja Warrior course, all while the other cadets are trying to murder you. Somehow Violet makes it through, mostly because she’s clearly The Chosen One.

The Chosen One is a trope seen often in YA fantasy and it doesn’t really work for me. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with it; it’s just not a trope I particularly enjoy and this book relies heavily on it. For me The Chosen One trope allows the reader to accept that the heroine is somehow more special than her peers without actually doing much to prove it. In Violet’s case she’s clever and brave (if foolishly so IMO) but so are a lot of the other cadets. Violet even has the special hair (the ends are always silver regardless of how short she cuts it) that indicates a The Chosen One heroine. She won’t give up, she has fun hair, and two hot guys like her so she must be our heroine, I guess. 

The first half of the book is a boarding school book meets Hunger Games where alliances are formed, Violet injures herself a lot, and well meaning people worry after her, but she is determined to prove her mother wrong even though she hates it and will probably die anyway. It really crawled for me, probably because the stakes seemed so ridiculous that I didn’t care that much anyway. I mean, her first day of school is walking the balance beam of death while the guy behind her tries to stab her, and that’s a level of intensity I’m just not here for. 

Link to the rest at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

PG notes that an author can’t satisfy everyone. The author of Fourth Wing, Rebecca Yarrows, is a multi-NYT bestseller. When PG posted this, the book had an average of 4.8 stars on Amazon with almost 100,000 ratings and 4.7 stars on Goodreads with well over a half-million ratings.

Ken Follett Says Readers Still Like Epic Books

From The Wall Street Journal:

Ken Follett’s latest novel, “The Armor of Light,” concludes a wildly successful eight-volume series spanning 1,000 years of human civilization. Yet when he first switched to historical fiction decades ago, after years of writing bestselling thrillers, it was against the advice of his publisher.

Few would have predicted that the first book in the series, “Pillars of the Earth,” about building a medieval cathedral, would have wide appeal. But Follett, 74, got the last laugh. Published in 1989, it remains his most popular book. Despite its epic length—a trait of most of his novels—it still sells 100,000 copies a year in the U.S. “When a book is good, readers don’t want it to stop,” he insists. “The evidence is in my bank account.”

With his new book, out next week, Follett returns once again to the site of his cathedral, the fictional English town of Kingsbridge. “Readers like the familiarity and so do I,” he says. Set hundreds of years later, “The Armor of Light” traces the dawn of the industrial revolution in Great Britain in the 18th century, when machines began to enhance the work done by people in manufacturing and then to displace them. “The new machines created social conflict, and social conflict is dramatic,” he says over video from his country house in Hertfordshire, north of London, where he lives with his wife, Barbara. “I like dramas in my stories to arise not merely from my imagination but from historical change.”

Most of his books brim with war, sex, intrigue and battles of will. Yet Follett, who has sold around 190 million copies of his 36 novels in over 80 countries, says the trick for riveting readers is ensuring they care about his characters. “A book may be beautifully written, it may be clever, but if it doesn’t grab the reader emotionally it won’t sell,” he says.

“The Armor of Light” has clear resonances with the current moment. Its characters struggle with rising food prices, disruptive industries, variable weather, exploitative monopolies and an intractable war—in this case with France, to prevent the spread of revolutionary ideas to othermonarchies. Follett says it’s “inevitable” that contemporary concerns drive his stories, but he strives to keep his books apolitical: “Look, readers would know if I was skewing the facts to suit a particular point of view.”

Despite his own lavish good fortune—“I do know that money and success sometimes makes people unhappy, but not me, I really like it,” he says—Follett still plainly sympathizes with economic underdogs. “Perhaps it’s because my roots are in a coal-mining community in South Wales,” he explains. His own grandfather was an apprentice coal miner at 13—an experience Follett imagines at the start of “Fall of Giants” (2010), the first volume of his Century trilogy, which chronicled major conflicts of the 20th century through the interrelated lives of five families.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Colleen Hoover Was Queen of 2022’s Bestseller List

From Publisher’s Weekly:

It is something of an understatement to say that Colleen Hoover dominated the 2022 overall bestsellers list. Hoover had the top three books of the year, and her novels sold 14.3 million print copies at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. Of the 25 books on the list, eight were Hoover titles, and two, It Ends with Us and Verity, sold more than two million copies each.

Last year was a very good year for adult fiction overall, as evidenced by the 8.5% annual sales increase posted by the category (see “The Winning Streak Ends,” p. 8) and by its prevalence at the top of the overall bestsellers list. Fifteen of the 25 top-selling books were adult fiction, and another five titles were either juvenile fiction or young adult fiction. The top-selling nonfiction book was James Clear’s Atomic Habits,at #6.

The only other author besides Hoover to place more than one title on the top 25 list was Emily Henry, who scored with Book Lovers and People We Meet on Vacation,at #21 and #25, respectively. The strong showing by Hoover also crowded out some perennial chart toppers, including James Patterson, whose Run, Rose, Run (written with Dolly Parton) was at #26 (with about 515,000 copies sold), and John Grisham, whose The Boys from Biloxi sold about 495,000 copies, landing it at #29 on the overall list.

The list clearly shows that readers were ready for some escapism in 2022, after nearly three years of pandemic concerns and an ever more divisive political environment. The bestselling title related to politics last year was Red Handed: How American Elites Get Rich by Helping China Win by Peter Schweizer, which sold about 245,000 copies. The top-performing book critical of former president Trump was Maggie Haberman’s Confidence Man, which sold about 127,000 copies; former vice president Mike Pence’s memoir sold approximately 112,000 copies.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG checked the NPD BookScan numbers which provided the basis for the Publishers Weekly OP against Amazon’s list of best selling books for 2022 and it was almost identical.

NPD data is based on roughly 85 percent of trade print books sold in the United States through direct reporting from major retailers, including Amazon, so the overlap is almost inevitable. For PG, the overlap is an indicator of Amazon’s domination of the bookselling business.

The Year in Review Part 3: Bestsellers

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

In my Pocket Reader app, I stored a September article from BBC News as much for the article’s title as its content. That title? “When Is A Bestseller Not Necessarily A Bestseller?”

I think that’s been the burning question in publishing for the past ten years. Bestsellers haven’t entirely lost their meaning, but they’re not relevant the way that they were twenty years ago. Back in the day when traditional publishing controlled 99% of the books that we saw on shelves (before ebooks), a bestseller was the book that sold the best out of the myriad of bookstores.

Even then, those bestseller lists were rigged. I can’t tell you how many times I had colleagues who gamed The New York Times list (the easiest one to buy your way onto, if you had the list of “acceptable” bookstores). It was a relief to have USA Today base its list on actual reported sales across all stores, including the chains. Even those numbers were flawed, though, because they were self-reported by most of the publishers.

Data has never been traditional publishing’s strong suit.

Last week, I examined traditional publishing and the mess that it has become, a mess that has led at least one industry expert to conclude that the services traditional publishers provide are essentially meaningless.

The anecdotal evidence has existed for years. I know several Big Name romance writers who can no longer live off their royalties like they did twenty years ago. Fortunately, a lot of them were good at money management, so they have cash stashed away and their homes are paid for.

Last year, Kat Martin, at 20Booksto50K here in Las Vegas, stated,

I think [the backlist is] a real negative for traditional publishing. Once you sell them your book, they have your book and they own it for years. And they do pay you a nice fat fee up front, so it’s kind of a trade off, but it’s not a long-term, it’s not a retirement thing, because they’re making money off the backlist. You don’t. They give you a percentage, but…the big money, I think, for long term is probably in self-publishing.

. . . .

Because everyone comes to Vegas at one point or another, Dean and I had a lot of opportunities to talk with writer friends who are (or were) traditionally published bestsellers. Dean had lunch with a person whose work would be considered a major (mega) bestseller. That person expressed shock that the backlist, which once earned a tidy income, earned little more than a trickle now.

That person could no longer sell their books to the Big Five, despite the continuing good numbers on the backlist. The small publisher the person went with is going belly-up, and the author was looking at other ways to publish.

I can’t tell you how many conversations we have with writers in a similar position.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG started TPV nearly twelve years ago to talk about the book business with an emphasis on self-publishing.

For those with long memories, PG blogged about the 2012 antitrust litigation brought by the US Justice Department and 33 state attorneys general against Apple, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Books, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette Book Group, Inc., alleging that the defendants conspired to fix prices in the sale of e-books, primarily motivated by the challenge presented by Amazon’s price discounting of books to their traditional business model and agreement to keep ebook prices high to support their print book business and their close-to-exclusive access to prime shelf space in traditional bookstores.

Some of the major publishers caved and settled charges against them by paying large fines. Apple Penguin, and Macmillan didn’t settle and ended up losing at the trial level and in the US Circuit Court of Appeals. Apple tried to take its appeal the the US Supreme Court, but that court declined to accept the case, meaning that Apple, Penguin and Macmillan ended up losing and paying large fines to the US and the 33 states that joined in the antitrust suit.

In essence, Apple and Big Publishing tried to crush Amazon’s book business and, especially, its ebook business, an effort that flamed out in spectacular fashion. Amazon kept doing its thing and grew into one of the largest tech companies around, including selling more books than anyone else by a large margin.

Traditional publishers continued their long decline as self-publishing through Amazon kept growing. Unfortunately, Covid shutdowns finished off more than a few bookstores and nobody pays much attention to Barnes & Noble any more.

PG hasn’t seen anything about the physical bookstore business in the UK or Europe recently, but would be surprised if ebooks weren’t steadily increasing their market share in those places as well.

As for himself, PG reads about 98% of his book pages electronically. He has a hard time finishing the occasional physical book that comes into his hands because his Kindle allows him to read while his creaking spinal column is in a far more comfortable position.

International Bestsellers, October 2022

From Publishing Trends:

Every month, Publishing Trends runs fiction international bestsellers lists from four territories–France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. This month, our four regular territories are joined by two more: Thailand and the United Arab Emirates. Those books that have been published in English are listed with their official English-language title. All others are translated as literally as possible from the original. Where applicable, the US publisher is listed after the local publisher, separated by a “/”. The lists are taken from major newspapers or national retailers, which are noted at the bottom of each list.

. . . .

Link to the rest at Publishing Trends

Cormac McCarthy Returns

From The Wall Street Journal:

It’s a fundamental principle of quantum physics that an object can have no known properties until someone observes it. Most of us have been introduced to the concept through the parable of Schrödinger’s cat: you seal a cat and something poisonous in a box, where it exists in a dual-state, or non-state, of life and death until you pull the lid off and look at it. This isn’t a real experiment, since quantum phenomena occur only on the subatomic level.

But increasingly physicists are trying to impose the precepts of quantum mechanics, which is based in probabilities, upon the classical, measurable, firmly verifiable model of the universe. To do so consigns objectivity to the dustbin; reality itself becomes relative, since it requires a witness to bring it into being. Or, as Cormac McCarthy neatly phrases it in his novel “The Passenger,” “Nothing is anything unless there’s another thing.”

The Passenger,” out this week, appears in tandem with “Stella Maris,” to be published in December. These novels, arriving 16 years after Mr. McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winner “The Road,” have been rumored for so long that their own reality began to seem suspect. But the remarkable quantity of scientific theory they incorporate explains the delay. Together the books tell the stories of brother and sister Bobby and Alicia Western. Their father was a physicist who helped develop nuclear weapons with the Manhattan Project. Bobby studied physics, too, but dropped out to kick around the world before becoming, as we find him in “The Passenger,” a salvage diver in New Orleans. Alicia is a schizophrenic mathematics savant tormented by her ability to follow numbers to places that bear no resemblance to accepted reality. The two books stand in dynamic if often perplexing relation, each informing and undermining its sibling work. Frequently they read less like novels than illustrations of a long-contemplated hypothesis—like elaborate thought experiments demonstrating the strangeness (to Mr. McCarthy, the nightmare) of a universe governed by quantum uncertainty.

“The Passenger,” by far the more novelistic of the pair, begins with a plane crash. With a barebones salvage crew, Bobby enters a private jet submerged in the waters off Pass Christian, Miss. Everyone inside is dead, but one passenger appears to be missing, along with the pilot’s flight bag and the plane’s black box. In the days that follow, Bobby is questioned and trailed around New Orleans by shadowy G-men. Soon they’ve put a lien on his bank account, impounded his car and revoked his passport, forcing Bobby to live as a fugitive. In time it becomes clear that the mystery of the sabotaged flight is a MacGuffin that Mr. McCarthy does not intend to elucidate; what endures instead is the atmosphere of paranoia, and Bobby’s attendant loneliness as he is comprehensively stripped of his identity.

. . . .

Novels of ideas are not what one would anticipate from the author of the famously gore-spattered western “Blood Meridian.” So it’s worth pointing out that “The Road,” from 2006, is not in fact Mr. McCarthy’s most recent published writing. That would be a pair of articles from 2017 in the science magazine Nautilus, theorizing about the origins of language but also meditating on the workings of the unconscious. Since the 1980s Mr. McCarthy, who is now 89, has been a member of the Santa Fe Institute, a theoretical-research center known for cultivating unorthodox ideas. Readers who want to get anywhere with these two novels need to understand that they are partly the product of the author’s countless bull sessions with Nobel Prize-winning physicists. Such “lunches,” Mr. McCarthy says in one article, could run to 10 hours.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

What Counts as a Bestseller?

From Public Books:

Culture industries increasingly use our data to sell us their products. It’s time to use their data to study them. To that end, we created the Post45 Data Collective, an open access site that peer reviews and publishes literary and cultural data. This is a partnership between the Data Collective and Public Books, a series called Hacking the Culture Industries, brings you data-driven essays that change how we understand audiobooks, bestselling books, streaming music, video games, influential literary institutions such as the New York Times and the New Yorker, and more. Together, they show a new way of understanding how culture is made, and how we can make it better.

Laura McGrath and Dan Sinykin

In 1983, William Blatty—author of The Exorcist—sued the New York Times.1 His lawsuit alleged that the Times had incorrectly excluded his latest novel, Legion (a sequel to The Exorcist), from its bestseller list—the coveted ranking that purports to show the books that have sold the most copies that week in the United States. According to Blatty’s lawyers, Legion had sold enough copies to warrant a spot on the list, so its absence was due to negligence or fraud, for which Blatty was entitled to compensation. The Times countered with what might sound like a surprising admission: the bestseller list is not mathematically objective; it is editorial content, which is protected by the First Amendment. The court ruled in favor of the New York Times.

The Blatty case draws attention to a fundamental truth about bestseller lists, one that often gets forgotten amid the drama of their weekly publication: they are not a neutral window into what the public is really reading. Rather, they reflect editorial decisions about how and what to count. Changes on the list might reflect changes in counting procedure, rather than changes in the market. Despite their lack of neutrality—or, perhaps, because of it—these editorial and counting decisions can have a big effect on which books and authors get the honor of appearing on the list; in turn, they shape the public’s perception of what it is reading and what it should consider reading next.

In this piece, I want to explore one way such decisions have affected the Times list over its almost 90-year publication history: the separation of sales by book format (hardcover, paperback). In the 1950s and 1960s, the fact that the Times exclusively publicized hardcover sales meant that some of the most popular novelists of the time rarely appeared on the list, because they made most of their sales in paperback. Today, the Times publishes distinct lists for different formats, and the content of these lists often reflects status hierarchies associated with different genres and communities of readers.

It turns out, then, that “bestseller” is a more complicated category than you might at first think. Though its name seems to refer to something very straightforward, there are all sorts of weird historical factors and counting choices that affect whether a book might make the cut. Given the influence of the Times list, it’s worth examining the effects of the choices made when assembling it, and what they can tell us about the kinds of information about books we consider valuable.

Link to the rest at Public Books

PG notes lots of data follows in the OP.

Gen Z is driving sales of romance books to the top of bestseller lists

From National Public Radio:

Ask a Gen Z woman what she’s read recently, and there’s a good chance two names will come up: Colleen Hoover and Emily Henry.

“Gen Z is my favorite of all generations for so many reasons, and their love for reading is just one of the many,” Hoover said. “I love that they are consuming books and sharing books and recommending books. They’re reading so much – not only my books, but books across genres.”

For months, Hoover and Henry have occupied multiple spots on the New York Times paperback trade fiction bestsellers list. The success of these contemporary romance writers has been driven in large part by Gen Z readers – and social media.

“It’s the right person finding the book at the right time and then sharing it with the right people,” said Henry. Her novels Beach ReadPeople We Meet on Vacation, and Book Lovers are all bestsellers.

Hoover’s upcoming book, It Starts With Us – the highly anticipated sequel to It Ends With Us from 2016 – has more pre-orders than any novel in Simon & Schuster history – and there are still seven weeks to publication. Its pre-orders have surpassed Stephen King’s Dr. Sleep, which went on sale in 2013 – the publishing company’s previous leader.

What makes a romance novel a Gen Z hit

A decade ago, the main demographic for romance was women ages 35 to 54. But in the past several years, that has widened to include women 18 to 54, according to Colleen Hoover’s publicist Ariele Fredman.

“Gen Z is a huge audience for romance,” she said. “If you think about it, like millennials, their youth has been marked by global and social upset and unrest in many ways, so looking for a happy ever after or an emotional outlet in a book seems like a healthy way of coping.”

Kaileigh Klein, a 19-year-old college student in Ontario, Canada said she loves Hoover’s books for just this reason – for the big emotions she writes about.

“People [my age] gravitate towards her novels because they’re really emotional. I feel like even if you can’t express emotion in real life, reading it on paper, it’s really easy to connect to it and relate to it,” she said.

Sahar Kariem, a 22-year-old stylist from Maryland, said Emily Henry’s “balance of romance and life lessons,” as well as themes of coming of age, have cemented Henry as one of her favorite authors.

Meanwhile, marketing trends, like covering contemporary romance novel jackets with cartoon figures and bright colors, has also helped pull in a younger audience, according to Leah Koch, who co-owns The Ripped Bodice, a romance bookstore in Los Angeles.

“I don’t know that I’ll ever have a grasp on it, but I’d like to think they’re responding to the entertainment factor,” Hoover said. “The last few years have been wild in the best way, and I’m very grateful to readers who continue to share my books and the books of other authors on their social platforms.”

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

The Unlikely Author Who’s Absolutely Dominating the Bestseller List

From Slate:

This has been the summer of Colleen Hoover, a recent viral TikTok announced, editing together clips of young women at the beach reading books by the Texas novelist. Furthermore, just a couple of months ago we had a Colleen Hoover spring and before that a Colleen Hoover winter and before that a Colleen Hoover fall. On any given week for more than a year now, the 42-year-old Hoover has had three to six books on Publishers Weekly’s top 10 bestseller list. Currently three of the top five titles on the New York Times’ combined print and e-book fiction list are Hoover’s. The most popular of these novels, It Ends With Us, isn’t even new. It was published six years ago. A forthcoming sequel to that novel (or possibly a prequel, it’s not yet clear), It Starts With Us, will be published in October, its perch at the summit of both lists guaranteed.

Observers typically attribute Hoover’s success to BookTok, the segment of TikTok dedicated to authors and readers. And Hoover—known as CoHo to her fans, who call themselves Cohorts—is indeed the queen of BookTok, an adept TikToker herself, as well as the subject of countless videos in which young women appear clutching huge stacks of candy-colored CoHo paperbacks and proceed to rank their favorites among her 24 titles. But while Hoover might just be the ideal author to preside over TikTok, the platform is only the latest online vehicle she had ridden to fame and fortune. She sometimes presents herself as surprised by her own virality, but Hoover has been a savvy self-promoter since 2012, when she distributed free copies of her first, self-published YA novel, Slammed, to influential book bloggers. She was big on BookTube (the YouTube book community) and big on “Bookstagram” well before TikTok came along. Furthermore, her story—social worker and mom transformed into blockbuster author via whatever new technology of the moment is ostensibly revolutionizing the book business (self-publishing, blogging, Instagram, TikTok)—is catnip to traditional news outlets.

But a new technology can’t make readers love a book. It can only persuade people to read it. What is it about Hoover’s work that makes it so popular, so infectiously recommendable? Her novels do seem particularly well-suited to the currently ascendant TikTok because the platform favors big, grabby displays of emotion, as opposed to the tasteful lifestyle curation of Instagram, formerly touted as the hot new way to sell books. CoHo fans on TikTok record themselves sobbing, screaming, gasping in astonishment, and pressing her books to their hearts in winsome displays of adoration. Often, actual words are superfluous to communicating the reader’s response—in fact, they may be more of a hindrance than a help. Above all, BookTok conveys that Hoover’s fiction delivers power jolts of unadulterated feels.

Hoover’s books are more varied than the work of many bestselling novelists. You pretty much know what you’re getting when you grab a James Patterson thriller before boarding a long flight. But Hoover has written YA, romantic comedies, a ghost story, a gothic suspense novel, problem novels exploring such difficult issues as domestic violence and child sexual abuse, and steamy romances like Ugly Love, a novel about an affair between a nurse and an airline pilot that I estimate to be about 70 percent sex scenes. Not all of the Cohorts adore all of her books, but they’ve shown themselves to be willing to follow her into relatively uncharted territory and to appreciate what they find there. (Note to anyone reading further: There will be spoilers.)

Romance of one kind or another plays a role in every Hoover novel, and to judge by her TikTok fans, they speak to an audience with a well-developed awareness of the romance genre’s established—not to say shopworn—tropes.

Currently three of the top five titles on the New York Times’ combined print and e-book fiction list are Hoover’s.

Link to the rest at Slate

NPD Books on July’s US Print Market: 6 Percent Lower, Year to Date

From Publishing Perspectives:

The United States’ market’s print book sales declined by 1.6 million units in July by comparison to the four weeks prior, according to data from the NPD Group’s NPD BookScan update from Kristen McLean.

In her discussion, McLean writes, “Losses in July are historically normal and were a little shallower this year, resulting in 1-point year-to-date gain. July ended 6 percent lower for the year to date on a total print volume of 414 million units, which is 26 million units under 2021 but 51 million units over 2019.”

The upshot, then, is a steady field, “pretty consistent trends across the first seven months of the year,” McLean says. “I don’t expect any major change of course before Labor Day; it seems increasingly likely that we’ll see incremental market movements heading into Q4, and at the moment the larger economic volatility isn’t hitting too hard.”

. . . .

As far as bestseller charts, July’s bestsellers in the States were all fiction, McLean points out, and nine of the Top 10 were adult fiction.

Four of the Top 10 were frontlist titles—again, a point being carefully watched in the American market. The four frontlisted titles have their titles in blue below. Only one of those bestsellers is in hardcover.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that nine out of the Top Ten were trade paperbacks which typically have lower royalty rates than hardcovers and ebooks (and earn less for the publisher on a per-unit basis).

Amazon’s top sellers are hard to match with a monthly trade publishing top ten list because, to the best of PG’s knowledge, Zon updates its charts in close to real time. If Amazon posts a monthly top-ten list, PG doesn’t know about it.

However, here is Amazon’s list of the Top Ten Best-Selling Paper Books for the week ending July 24:

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing
  2. Verity
  3. It Ends with Us
  4. Reminders of Him
  5. Ugly Love
  6. Things We Never Got Over
  7. Portrait of an Unknown Woman
  8. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
  9. The 6
  10. The Hotel Nantucket

30-year-old retiree earned $97,000 in passive income from Amazon last year: Here’s how she got started

From CNBC:

In 2017, by age 24, Rachel Richards had already worked as a financial advisor and then as a financial analyst at a manufacturing firm. After picking up her license, she began working as a Realtor. No matter what kind of work she was doing, one thing remained constant: People in her life were constantly looking to her for help with their finances.

“I began to wonder, ‘Why aren’t they learning on their own? Why aren’t they reading books, or listening to podcasts or looking on websites?’” says Richards, now 30.

Then it dawned on her: Most of the financial books she’d come across were boring and esoteric, bordering on intimidating. And few were targeted toward young women. “So I thought to myself, ‘How can I make this topic sassy and fun and simple?’”

Richards began writing her first book, “Money Honey” in January 2017 and self-published on Amazon that September. By just about any measure, it was a massive success. In its first month, the book brought in $600. The next month it brought in $1,000. “After that, it was pulling in $1,500 a month pretty consistently,” she says.

. . . .

The robust income she earned from publishing didn’t hurt. All told, through the end of July 2022, Richards has sold about 25,000 copies each of “Money Honey” and her second self-published book, “Passive Income, Aggressive Retirement,” a 2019 release which details her strategies for early retirement.

In 2021, royalties from the two titles netted Richards more than $97,000 in profit. Here’s how she did it.

She self-published online

Richards, like many aspiring authors, dreamed of seeing her name in print through the window of her local bookstore. She also hoped that with a traditional book deal, the publisher would handle the labor-intensive task of promoting the book. That turned out not to be the case.

“The more I asked authors about their experience, the more I learned that publishers expect you to do 99% of the marketing and promotion,” Richards says. “If you’re an author with no platform, they’re not going to send you out on a national book tour.”

Once she learned she’d have to flog the book herself no matter what, Richards was far less inclined to give a publisher a big chunk of her royalties. “When you get a book deal, you earn a 10% to 15% royalty. When you publish on Amazon, you earn a 35% to 70% royalty.” (Royalty structures vary between different formats, such as e-books and paperbacks, and factor in costs such as shipping and tax.)

She also says that self-publishing guarantees creative control, even if it comes at a cost. Thinking her book wouldn’t sell and hoping to limit her losses, Richards spent just $561 to hire an editor and a cover designer for “Money Honey.” She says a more “realistic” minimum budget is at least $2,000 and ideally would include an interior formatter as well. She spent $3,500 putting together her second book.

Link to the rest at CNBC

Ten Best Selling British Authors

From IX Magazine:

1) Charles Dickens : The grandfather of British fiction Dickens has some of the most memorable titles to his name. ‘Great Expectations’, ‘Bleak House’, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, ‘A Christmas Carol’ to name a few.

2) Roald Dahl: Famous for his amazing and imaginative books for kids, many of which are also adult-friendly, such as ‘Matilda’, ‘The BFG’, ‘James and the Giant Peach’ and, of course ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’.

3) J.R.R. Tolkien: Tolkien is the incredible author that brought us ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings trilogy’. These books redefined the fantasy fiction genre and are still held in high esteem today.

4) J. K. Rowling: An author which everyone’s heard of these days, and if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the gripping ‘Harry Potter’ books you’re definitely missing out. A modern giant.

5) C.S. Lewis: Author of the amazing ‘Chronicles of Narnia’, Lewis’ other titles include ‘The Space Trilogy’, ‘The Great Divorce’, ‘The Problem of Pain’ and ‘The Four Loves’.

6) Sir Terry Pratchett: Famous for the ‘Discworld’ series, which are written in a parody-style of many of the fantasy genre’s great authors, such as J. R. R. Tolkien and H. P. Lovecraft.

7) Philip Pullman: Most famous for the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy, Pullman also has other works under his belt, such as the ‘Sally Lockhart’ books and his stand alone novels ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ and ‘I Was a Rat! or The Scarlet Slippers’

8 ) Ian McEwan: One of Britain’s best-loved authors with titles such as ‘The Child in Time’, ‘Enduring Love’ and ‘Atonement’ to his name.

9) John Le Carré: Famed for his espionage novels with real-world experience of working in MI5 and MI6, adding to his air of mystery. Some of his most popular novels include ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’, ‘The Constant Gardener’ and ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’.

10) George Orwell: The acclaimed author of some of Britain’s best known works, including ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, as well as ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ and ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’, both of which are based on Orwell’s own life.

Link to the rest at IX Magazine

Top Ten Richest Authors of All Time

From Slice:

  1. MacKenzie Bezos net worth: $36 billion (includes the value of Amazon stock received upon her divorce from Jeff.)
  2. JK Rowling net worth: $1 billion
  3. James Patterson net worth: $800 million
  4. Jim Davis net worth: $800 million (cartoonist – Garfield)
  5. Candy Spelling net worth: $600 million
  6. Matt Groening net worth: $600 million (cartoonist, The Simpsons)
  7. Paolo Coelho net worth: $500 million
  8. Rose Kennedy net worth: $500 million (One of those Kennedy’s – did write one book)
  9. Stephen King net worth: $500 million
  10. Danielle Steel net worth: $400 million

Link to the rest at Slice

PG notes that methods of ranking best-sellers, authors or books, vary from compiler to compiler. He further notes that determining the net worth of individuals is a very imprecise process.

The 10 Highest Grossing Book-to-Film Adaptations

From Luxatic:

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  2. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the Kin
  3. Alice in Wonderland
  4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  5. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  6. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2
  7. The Da Vinci Code
  8. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  9. Forrest Gump
  10. Life of Pi

Link to the rest at Luxatic

Best-selling Regularly Updated Books

From Wikipedia:

新华字典 (Xinhua Zidian / Xinhua Dictionary)Chief editor: Wei JiangongChinese1957567 million
Scouting for BoysRobert Baden-PowellEnglish1908100–150 million
The McGuffey ReadersWilliam Holmes McGuffeyEnglish1853125 million
Guinness World Records (published every year)Various authorsEnglish1955115 million
六星占術によるあなたの運命 (Rokusei Senjutsu (Six-Star Astrology) Tells Your Fortune)Kazuko Hosoki
Kaori Hosoki
Japanese1986101.2 million
American Spelling Book (Webster’s Dictionary)Noah WebsterEnglish1783100 million

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

Best-Selling Children’s Books of the 20th Century

From InfoPlease:

  1. The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943) 140 Million
  2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J. K. Rowling (1997) 120 Million
  3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (1865) 100 Million
  4. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis (1950) 85 Million
  5. The Adventures of Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi (1881) 80 Million
  6. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling (1998) 77 Million
  7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J. K. Rowling (1999) >60 Million
  8. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling (2000) >60 Million
  9. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J. K. Rowling (2003) >60 Million
  10. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J. K. Rowling (2005) >60 Million
  11. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J. K. Rowling (2007) >60 Million
  12. Heidi, Johanna Spyri (1880) ~50 Million
  13. Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery (1908) ~50 Million
  14. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell (1877) ~50 Million
  15. Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White (1971) ~50 Million
  16. The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter (1902) 45 Million
  17. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle (1969) 43 Million
  18. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame (1908) ~25 Million
  19. Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak (1963) ~20 Million
  20. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl (1964) ~20 Million

Link to the rest at InfoPlease

PG notes that various compilers of best-selling book lists don’t always use the same sources, metrics (number of copies sold vs. number of dollars, euros, etc., earned) or ranking process.

Best-Selling English-Language Nonfiction Books of the 20th Century

From InfoPlease:

  1. The Education of Henry Adams, Henry Adams (1906)
  2. The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James (1902)
  3. Up from Slavery, Booker T. Washington (1901)
  4. A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf (1929)
  5. Silent Spring, Rachel Carson (1962)
  6. Selected Essays, 1917–1932, T. S. Eliot (1932)
  7. The Double Helix, James D. Watson (1968)
  8. Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov (1967)
  9. The American Language, H. L. Mencken (1919)
  10. The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, John Maynard Keynes (1935–1936)
  11. The Lives of a Cell, Lewis Thomas (1974)
  12. The Frontier in American History, Frederick Jackson Turner (1920)
  13. Black Boy, Richard Wright (1945)
  14. Aspects of the Novel, E. M. Forster (1927)
  15. The Civil War, Shelby Foote (1958–1974)
  16. The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman (1962)
  17. The Proper Study of Mankind, Isaiah Berlin (1997)
  18. The Nature and Destiny of Man, Reinhold Niebuhr (1941–1943)
  19. Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin (1955)
  20. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein (1933)

Link to the rest at InfoPlease

Best-Selling Fiction of the 20th Century

From Knoow.net:

1 Lord of the Rings. Author: J. R. R. Tolkien. Published in 1954-1955. Earned about 150 million.

2 Le petit prince (The Little Prince). Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Published in 1943. Earned about 140 million.

4 The Hobbit. Author: J. R. R. Tolkien. Published in 1937. Earned about 100 million.

5 And then there were none. Author: Agatha Christie. Published in 1939. Earned about 100 million.

6 The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe. Autor: C. S. Lewis. Published in 1950. Earned about 85 million.

7 Vardi Wala Gunda. Autor: Ved Prakash Sharma. Published in 1992. Earned about 80 million.

8 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 1998. Earned about 77 million.

9 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 1999. Earned about 65 million.

10 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 2000. Earned about 65 million.

11 O Alquimista (The Alquimist). Author: Paulo Coelho. Published in 1988. Earned about 65 million.

12 The Catcher in the Rye. Author: J. D. Salinger. Published in 1951. Earned about 65 million.

13 Think and Go Rich. Author: Napoleon Hill. Published in 1937. Earned about 60 million.

14 The Bridges of Madison County. Author: Robert James Waller. Published in 1992. Earned about 60 million.

15 You can Heal your life. Author: Louise Hay. Published in 1984. Earned about 50 million.

16 Cien años de soledad. (Hundred years of solitude). Author: Gabriel García Márquez. Published in 1967. Earned about 50 million.

17 Lolita. Author: Vladimir Nabokov. Published in 1955. Earned about 50 million.

18 The Common Sense Book of Babe and Child Care. Author: Dr Benjamin Spock. Published in 1946. Earned about 50 million.

19 Anne of Green Gables. Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery. Published in 1908. Earned about 50 million.

20 Il Nome Della Rosa (The name of the Rose). Author: Umberto Eco. Published in 1980. Earned about 50 million.

Link to the rest at Knoow.net

I am always interested in why young people become writers

I am always interested in why young people become writers, and from talking with many I have concluded that most do not want to be writers working eight and ten hours a day and accomplishing little; they want to have been writers, garnering the rewards of having completed a best-seller. They aspire to the rewards of writing but not to the travail.

James A. Michener

The measure of a great writer

The measure of a great writer is not how many weeks his books spend on the best-seller lists, but how many years his books remain in print after his death.

Cal Thomas

8 Notable Attempts to Hack the New York Times Bestseller List

From The Literary Hub (2017):

The bestseller list is a surprisingly complicated creature. A good and thorough explanation is here, but basically, to get on any official list of bestsellers, you have to sell at least 5,000 books in a single week—which seems straightforward, except that it’s really hard to count books sold week-to-week, even harder to count books sold by non-traditional outlets, and also not everyone is looking at all the same numbers. Publisher’s Weekly uses BookScan, but BookScan doesn’t track everything. Other bestseller lists rely on reported data from bookstores (online and off), or a combination. The New York Times list is the most prestigious, of course, because it’s the New York Times, but also, at least in part, because it’s the most opaque. “The Times’s best-seller lists are based on a detailed analysis of book sales from a wide range of retailers who provide us with specific and confidential context of their sales each week,” a New York Times spokesperson told Vox. “These standards are applied consistently, across the board in order to provide Times readers our best assessment of what books are the most broadly popular at that time.” Which doesn’t tell us much, and the Times is notoriously hush-hush about which stores they track and how they interpret and arrange their data.

Despite all the confusion, it’s not super hard to buy 5,000 books in a single week—if you already have the money—which could send your book to the top of the charts, depending on the week in question. This isn’t illegal, but it is gaming the system, or even cheating, if you will, and the New York Times list will sometimes include a dagger next to books they suspect might owe their placement to “strategic bulk purchases.” Worse than that demure little dagger is the fact that you’ll likely be found out and raked over the coals, especially if you’re already a public figure. On the other hand, years after people have forgotten that you scammed your way onto the bestseller list, you’ll still be putting “bestselling author” in front of your name.

Not everyone will forget, though. Considering the recent spate of bestseller-list drama, here are eight notable instances of list-hacking in its various forms, from the very cynical to the very silly.

. . . .

In August, a book very few people had ever heard of shot to the top of the Young Adult Hardcover section of the New York Times bestseller list. The book, Handbook for Mortals, was published by GeekNation, a website launched in 2012, and if that sounds odd, it’s because Sarem’s book (and attendant movie franchise deal) was the geek culture site’s first foray into publishing. It all smells a little pre-packaged, honestly, and the fact that Sarem is JC Chasez’s cousin does not make it smell any fresher.

YA author Phil Stamper brought the oddity to the book world’s attention, tweeting, “I find it . . . strange that a mediocre website can decide it wants to be a publisher, and one month later hit #1 on the NYT Bestsellers list” and “A book that’s out of stock on Amazon and is not currently in any physical B&N in the tri-state area . . . A book that no one has heard of except for the two niche blogs that covered the [GeekNation] press release. Sells ~5,000 in the first week? Ok.” Soon, booksellers began writing to Stamper, reporting that they had been getting mysterious bulk orders of Handbook for Mortals—but only after the caller made sure that their sales were reported to the Times bestseller list. More evidence quickly began to stack up, and by the end of the day, the Times had changed the list. “After investigating the inconsistencies in the most recent reporting cycle, we decided that the sales for Handbook for Mortals did not meet our criteria for inclusion,” a Times spokesperson told NPR in a statement.

In an interview with HuffPost, Sarem said, “OK, I get it. I didn’t play by the normal YA rules. I didn’t […] send out galleys two years in advance, and I didn’t go talk to the people that thought I should come talk to them. I did it a different way. Do you only get to be successful in the YA world if you only do it the way that they think it’s supposed to be done?” Later, she complained, “People keep saying that they’re tired of hearing the same story over and over again. Well, start supporting new stories. Start supporting new artists.”

A couple of weeks later, she wrote an op-ed, also at HuffPost, in which she admitted to buying her own book in bulk to sell it at Comic Con events, but said this was “well within the rules” of the bestseller list. This isn’t really borne out by the evidence, though, which shows many orders and no stock to fill them with—that is, nonexistent books purchased by people who didn’t care if they ever received them.

Fun fact: Blues Traveler, whom Sarem used to manage, tweeted that they “fired her for these kinds of stunts. Her sense of denial is staggering.”

Donald Trump loves to brag about how he’s a great businessman, and how he’s a great bestselling writer, and how he’s a great bestselling writer of a great book about being a great businessman. The Art of the Deal is second only to the Bible, right? But recently in the New Republic, Alex Shephard reported that when it comes to the popularity of The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump may not be as great as all that. Shocker! Shephard reports that ex-Trump executive Jack O’Donnell’s 1991 tell-all Trumped! explains exactly how The Art of the Deal became such a big bestseller: the Trump organization bought “tens of thousands of copies on its own.” Shephard reports:

In his book, O’Donnell recounts buying 1,000 copies of The Art of the Deal to sell in the Plaza’s gift shop—only to be told by fellow executive Steve Hyde that it wasn’t nearly enough. “You’ve got to increase your order,” Hyde told him. “Donald will go nuts if you don’t order more books.” How many more? Four thousand copies, O’Donnell was told.

And it wasn’t just the Plaza Hotel that was buying the book in bulk. According to O’Donnell, Trump executives were instructed to buy thousands of copies for their properties. In typical Trump fashion, the boss pitted his top executives against each other: When Trump’s then-wife, Ivana, ordered 4,000 books for the Trump Castle Casino in Atlantic City, O’Donnell was warned that he needed to match her. “Hey, Jack,” a fellow executive cautioned him, “you better buy as many books as Ivana, or Donald will use it against you.”

To be fair, Shephard says, The Art of the Deal would have wound up a bestseller anyway. But only last year, Trump pulled the same thing with his book Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again (which I have never heard of), buying $55,055 worth of copies at Barnes & Noble. Again, not illegal—unless he gets any royalties from the purchases. “It’s fine for a candidate’s book to be purchased by his committee, but it’s impermissible to receive royalties from the publisher,” a representative of nonpartisan nonprofit Campaign Legal Center told The Daily Beast. “That amounts to an illegal conversion of campaign funds to personal use. There’s a well established precedent from the FEC that funds from the campaign account can’t end up in your own pocket.” Of course, that probably didn’t stop him. It’s Donald Trump, after all.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub (2017)

The convoluted world of best-seller lists, explained

From Vox (2017):

Over the past few weeks, scandal has rocked the august institution of the New York Times best-seller list. And it’s happened not just once but twice.

On August 24, an unknown book by an unknown author from an unknown publisher rocketed its way to first place on the Times’s young adult hardcover best-seller list. But as a scrappy band of investigators who congregated in the YA Twitter community discovered, it wasn’t because a lot of people were reading the book. Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem bought its way onto the list, they concluded, with the publisher and author strategically ordering large numbers of the book from stores that report their sales to the New York Times. Shortly thereafter, the Times removed the book from its rankings.

And on September 4, Regnery Books — the conservative publishing imprint that publishes Ann Coulter and Dinesh D’Souza, among others — denounced the New York Times best-seller list as biased against conservatives. Why, it demanded, was D’Souza’s new book The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left ranked as seventh on the Times’s hardcover nonfiction list when Nielsen BookScan’s data, per Regnery’s interpretation, suggested it should be first? Regnery concluded that the New York Times was actively conspiring against conservative titles, and announced that it would sever all ties with the Times.

To understand how any of this could happen — how different lists can contain different titles, in a different order, how an unknown book could buy its way onto a best-seller list, how a best-seller list could have a political bias — and why any of these things matter, you need to understand how the different best-seller lists work, what makes the New York Times’s best-seller list unique, and the purpose best-seller lists serve within the world of book publishing.

Why is it such a big deal for a book to be named a best-seller?

There are multiple best-seller lists out there, and getting named to any of them is welcome for most authors, but the New York Times best-seller list is widely considered to be the most prestigious, and it’s certainly the most well-known.

Becoming a New York Times best-seller has a measurable effect on a book’s sales, especially for books by debut authors. According to a 2004 study by economics professor Alan Sorensen, appearing on the New York Times’s best-seller list increased debut authors’ sales by 57 percent. On average, it increased sales by 13 or 14 percent.

Besides the list’s effect on sales, it offers prestige. If your book appears on the New York Times list — even just for a week in the last slot of the Advice, How-To & Miscellaneous category — you get to call yourself a New York Times best-seller for the rest of your life. You can put that honor on the cover of all of your other books. If anyone ever insults you, you can say, “Well, have you written a New York Times best-seller?” (Strategy not recommended if the person who insulted you was Danielle Steel.)

And for the rare book that manages to establish enough of a presence on various best-seller lists, a self-sustaining momentum develops. Not everyone who bought a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey expected to like what they read, but Fifty Shades became such a ubiquitous cultural force that lots of people wanted to have an opinion on it anyway. That inspired them to buy it, and that meant the book stayed on the list.

. . . .

At the end of the day, best-seller lists work as shorthand for readers: “Lots of other people liked these books,” they say, “so odds are good that you will too!” 

What does it take to be named a best-seller?

The general consensus is that if you want to make your way onto a best-seller list, any best-seller list, you have to sell at least 5,000 books in a week, or maybe 10,000. Beyond that, things get complicated depending on which list you’re looking to end up on.

That’s because the different lists don’t all use the same data. No one has access to all of the sales made by every single book published in the US in a given week. It takes months for publishers to assemble that data; it’s impossible to get it all in time to publish a weekly best-seller list. “At the end of the day, the publishers will have a hundred percent understanding of what was sold,” says Jim Milliot of Publishers Weekly, “but they won’t have it by the end of the week.”

So all of the different best-seller lists have established their own methodologies to gather sales data — and once they’ve got it, they break it down differently. They put the break between one week and another in different spots (ending on Sunday versus Saturday, for example); they use different categories to sort the lists; they weigh digital and print titles differently. Here’s a breakdown of how the five major lists — Publishers Weekly, USA Today, Indiebound, Amazon, and the New York Times — work.

Publishers Weekly, which Regnery has cited as the “benchmark” it will be following henceforward, pulls its data from the Nielsen service BookScan. BookScan is also the service that most publishers use to track their competitors’ sales, so it’s more or less the industry standard.

BookScan reports that it tracks 80 to 85 percent of the sales of printed books in the US, and although that claim has been contested, it certainly gets data from major sellers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, and Walmart, as well as a number of independent bookstores. (BookScan estimates that it collects data from approximately 16,000 outlets every week.)

Link to the rest at Vox (2017)

Amazon Best Sellers Rank Explained for Authors

From Tough Nickel:

As she looked at her book’s product page on Amazon, a new traditionally published author asked me what the Amazon Best Sellers Rank means. Did it tell her anything about how many sales were being made? Why are sales rankings always changing?

When it says “only 2 books left,” what does that mean? Though this author was traditionally published, many self-published authors struggle with figuring out what it all means, too.

So let me explain what all these confusing numbers and terms mean for authors.

Author Central

Whether you’re traditionally or self-published, you can claim your author profile on Amazon through Author Central. After your identity and claim to book titles are verified, you’ll be able to do the following:

  • Establish an author profile page on Amazon where you can post your bio, videos, and links to your blog or podcast RSS feed.
  • Access reports for Amazon Best Sellers Rank and NPD Bookscan rankings.
  • See the most recent customer reviews for your book without having to constantly visit your book product pages on Amazon.

Amazon Best Sellers Rank

The author who contacted me said she was checking “the numbers,” which I presumed was Amazon Best Sellers Rank, “a million times a day.” Dear authors, please don’t do this! Let me explain why.

For the Amazon Best Sellers Rank, sometimes referred to as “BSR,” the lower the BSR number, the higher you rank. Note that for your Kindle editions, your BSR shown on Author Central is for “Paid” books, meaning it doesn’t include Free Kindle Book Promotions. Also, note that this number tells you nothing about the number of books sold.

Your book’s BSR is a constantly moving target. The Amazon Customer Service documentation as of this post date had this to say about Best Sellers Rank:

The Amazon Best Sellers calculation is based on Amazon sales, and is updated hourly to reflect recent and historical sales of every item sold on Amazon. [Emphasis added for hourly.]

With hourly updates, your BSR could vary widely and wildly within the span of just one day. So unless you have the iron emotional stamina of a stock market day trader, basing the evaluation of your book’s success on Amazon’s BSR doesn’t help your physical and mental health.

Here’s something that freaks out authors. Your BSR can improve, sometimes dramatically, without you selling even one book. Or it can decline dramatically, even if you make sales, because there may be a flood of sales for other competing titles. This is because BSR is a calculation based on both recent and historical sales in comparison to other books, though KDP Support documentation says that recent activity is weighted more heavily.

I could not confirm on Amazon documentation if Kindle Unlimited KENP page reads impact BSR. What’s confusing is that KDP says sales ranking is based on “activity.” So are Kindle Unlimited reads considered “activity?” Logically, it seems like it might. But only Amazon knows.

In case you’re wondering, no, we don’t know the exact formula Amazon uses to calculate BSR. Like Google, they are not going to share that to prevent gaming of the system. Since BSR is a metric over which you have zero control, you should have zero worries over it.

. . . .

Different Format, Different Sales Rank

Something to also note is that your book title will have a separate BSR for Books, Kindle Store, and Audible, depending on which formats you’re offering. On the “Formats and editions” dropdown box next to your title on Author Central, you can choose which format’s BSR you’d like to view.

Sales rank can vary dramatically from edition to edition. Looking at mine for one particular day, I had a rank in the high 600K range for Kindle, 2.5 million for the paperback print edition, and in the 300K range for the audiobook.

Again, this tells you nothing valuable.

Historical Sales Rank

You can also click the “View historical Sales Rank” link for each of your titles on Author Central to see changes in your BSR over time for that title and each format. Let’s take a look at my first book, which I first published in 2011, then moved to KDP in 2014.

Looking at the graph of the BSR of the Kindle edition of my book, SWAG, for the period of 2014 to 2022, my highest BSR was in 2017 at 2,844. That’s pretty high! And that was three years after I published it on KDP. But it swings wildly from that high point, plummeting to rankings down in the millions.

Category Rankings

On your books’ listings on Author Central, you’ll see a link that says “See category rankings on Amazon.” This will send you to your book’s product page on Amazon. You’ll need to scroll down to Product Details to see your book’s ranking in topic categories and subcategories for each format.

This is where you’ll see how your book ranks in comparison to other books in your genre or topic. This is a more valuable ranking report than the placement in the overall BSR. Amazon shows where your book ranks highly within a few of the most popular categories.

Link to the rest at Tough Nickel

Why Frankenstein Still Sells 40,000 Copies a Year

From Jane Friedman:

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein remains an undisputed classic. It’s required reading in classrooms across the world, while artists, writers and filmmakers constantly reinterpret its man-makes-monster premise. The longer you look, in fact, the more extraordinary its success becomes.

First published in 1818, Frankenstein was released in a modest edition of just 500 copies. Some 200 years later, in 2021, a first edition sold at auction for $1.2 million, setting a new record for a book by a female author. Thomas Edison, Mel Brooks and Tim Burton all adapted Frankenstein for the screen, with the total number of film adaptations now well into triple digits. Fresh off the success of Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo Del Toro began pre-production on his own adaptation in the 2010s—his dream project, he said—only to have it killed by the studio. A huge Frankenstein mask still hangs in the entrance to his L.A. home.

There are Frankenstein-inspired dolls for sale at Build-a-Bear. Frankenstein Legos. There’s even a breakfast cereal you can buy seasonally at Target—General Mills’ Frankenberry. Any 19th century novel inspiring this many interpretations is a wonder. But maybe most enviable are the book’s “backlist” sales. As the Guardian reports, Frankenstein still moves an eye-watering 40,000 copies a year, which means it outsells 99% of all “frontlist” (or newly released) titles.

Authors dream of such long-term success. But how to pull it off? Is Frankenstein a freak, or can it show us how to make art that lasts?

“Write a classic” isn’t a strategy, obviously. It’s a goal, plus a highly contingent outcome. No one could recreate the conditions that gave life to Frankenstein—its famous origin story is itself a series of unlikely contingencies. In 1815, Indonesia’s Mount Tambor volcano exploded in the largest, most powerful eruption ever recorded. With so much ash still in the atmosphere, the summer nights of 1816 were gloomier than anyone could remember. It became known as the “year without a summer.”

Mary Shelley, then 18 years old, happened to be staying in a Swiss villa with her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley, next door to the poet Lord Byron and other literary friends. To entertain themselves in the evenings, they told ghost stories, and in the grand tradition of writers everywhere, tried to outdo each other. Later, Mary Shelley would claim a certain monstrous face and form came to her in a waking dream. Two years and three drafts later, Frankenstein was published, though Shelley, fearing scandal, didn’t put her name on it. Instead, the book was published anonymously, which meant that—notwithstanding differences in copyright law then and now—its premise could essentially be pirated in stage plays and elsewhere without attribution.

The novel caught on quickly in part for such perverse reasons. To explain its staying power, however, we have to look further, seeing how Shelley’s novel demonstrates timeless truths about “perennial sellers,” to use Ryan Holiday’s phrase. As he argues in Perennial Seller, “the more important and perennial a problem” that a book concerns, the better the chances it will survive the test of time.

Frankenstein practically bum-rushes the criteria. Its characters’ problems are timeless. Victor Frankenstein, a starry-eyed scientist, is blinded by ambition, leading him to an act of creation he comes to bitterly regret. Meanwhile the monster, like all of us, finds himself here, alive and breathing, without ever having been consulted. Stranded and alone, he craves love. Denied it, he plots revenge. Shelley’s shifting POV, which veers from creator to so-called monster, poses daunting questions: Don’t we all deserve love? If bad treatment creates bad actors, what is our moral responsibility to every person and creature around us?

Helping to make these questions extra sticky is how readers of all ages may identify with an abandoned, rejected child. Impressions from our early childhood stay with us, consciously or unconsciously. Since our parents’ love is key to our survival, all of us know what it is to need it—and far too many know what it means to get something rather less than what they’d hoped. When stories touch us on such universal fears and on longings so fundamental they virtually define our species, then they can survive beyond their own epoch, fascinating no less than an Edison or del Toro.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

How Agatha Christie Knew So Much About Poison

From Time:

Acquaintances of Agatha Christie could be forgiven for hesitating when she offered them a cup of tea. Christie was notoriously good at dreaming up undetectable poisons, and prolific with their use—at least in fiction. Out of her 66 murder mysteries, poison was the cause of death for more than 30 characters.

Her familiarity with lethal substances was rooted in real-life experience. Christie, born in the seaside town of Torquay, England, on this day, Sept. 15, 125 years ago, volunteered as a nurse during World War I and was stationed in a hospital dispensary after passing an exam to qualify as an apothecary’s assistant. Prescriptions were prepared by hand in those days, so Christie became intimately familiar with the dosages of a variety of drugs — and their toxic effects, according to Kathryn Harkup, [who wrote] A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie.

. . . .

Christie had the literary luck of studying under a pharmacist who seemed to be plucked from the pages of a mystery novel himself. In her autobiography, she writes that he once showed her a lump of a plant extract called curare, which he kept in his pocket, and which killed by inducing paralysis and asphyxiation. He explained that he carried it because “it makes me feel powerful,” per Christie.

The pharmacist later appeared, in thinly fictionalized form, as a character in her 1961 novel The Pale Horse, per Harkup. In real life, however, Christie may have used her knowledge of toxic substances to prevent him from killing people, albeit inadvertently. Harkup relates that the pharmacist once unwittingly prepared a batch of suppositories with ten times more medication than they were meant to contain. Christie wasn’t in a position to correct his mistake; instead “she pretended to trip and sent the suppositories crashing to the floor, where she trod on them firmly. After she had apologised profusely and cleared up the mess, a fresh batch was made, but this time at the correct dilution,” Harkup writes.

Suppositories, of course, would have been an awkward choice for a murder weapon; Christie’s plots relied more heavily on substances that could be slipped into something a British murder victim might eat or drink. The author and pharmacology professor Michael Gerald catalogues Christie’s favorite poisons, and their most effective deployments, in his 1993 book The Poisonous Pen of Agatha ChristieFor example, arsenic trioxide is a good fit for teatime, since even 20 times the lethal dose can’t be tasted in a cup of tea. Taxine, on the other hand, is too bitter to go undetected in tea, but mixes well with marmalade.

Christie was, however, understandably aghast when a real-world killer made use of one of her fictional concoctions. In the early 1970s, a British factory worker named Graham Frederick Young killed two of his coworkers by dosing their coffee and tea with thallium, “a tasteless, soluble and highly toxic substance that had never before been used on humans as a poison in Britain,” according to TIME. It had, however, been the murder weapon in The Pale Horse.

Unlike Christie’s fictional villains, Young was easy enough to incriminate without the super-sleuthing skills of Poirot and Marple. When police searched his house, they found “enough thallium to keep a pharmacy in business for an entire month,” 

Link to the rest at Time