Pub Rants

Category: bestseller lists

On August 25, 2021, Richard Chizmar’s debut novel Chasing the Boogeyman hit the New York Times Bestseller list at #10. It was a huge milestone in my agenting career, an achievement I never imagined when I opened NLA in August 2002. It was my 50th New York Times bestselling client title. Amazing indeed, but self-congratulating isn’t much of an article. A good article is divulging just how a book might hit the NYT bestseller List. And sharing now what I wish baby Agent Kristin had known then. 

First, a caveat. Talking about the NYT list is kind of like talking about unicorn sightings. The real science behind why a title hits the list is not transparent to publishers, agents, or authors. The NYT algorithm and tracking methods are proprietary information, so to be clear, I actually don’t know why or how any given title lands on the bestseller list. This article is simply a compilation of my observations after having 50 client titles hit that list. 

Velocity, Volume, Interval

If memory serves, my very first title to hit the NYT bestseller list was Ally Carter’s I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You in 2006—just four years after I opened the agency. For baby Agent Kristin, that NYT appearance was a complete surprise. I had no clue it was even a possibility, which just makes me laugh at my own naiveté. As an agent now, I have a very good sense of whether or not a title has the potential to hit the list. Certain factors have to be in play for even the possibility of a hit, and it all relies on velocity, volume, and the interval. 

In other words, in order for a book to hit the NYT list, that title needs to quickly sell (velocity) a high number of copies (volume) during a one-week time span (interval). If a book does those three things, it has a very good chance of hitting the list. 

The Indicators

As an agent, what gives me an inkling that one of my client titles may be positioned to make an appearance on the list? Four factors:

  • Print run. A title needs a high number of physical copies going out into the world so that physical sales can happen. And yes, I know folks reading this article would love exact numbers (just how big does the print run need to be?), but honestly, this varies a lot. I’ve seen titles hit with a 100,000 print run (the bigger the number, the better), but I’ve also seen titles hit with only a 30,000 print run. There is no magic number here as other factors come into play.
  • Reprint before publication. If a publisher has to reprint a title before it’s even published in order to fill early demand, this indicates that excitement and interest for a title is building.
  • Pre-orders. The higher the number of pre-orders a title has, the better the chance. The pre-order number varies greatly depending on whether a title is set up to the hit the adult-hardcover list, the adult-paperback list, or the children’s list. With King, Patterson, Moriarty, Childs, and Steele all taking up regular space on the adult NYT list, and with those authors’ titles selling 20,000+ copies a week (according to Bookscan), you can start to get a sense of just how many copies of a book need to move in the first week to land on that adult-hardcover list.
  • Marketing spend. Awareness of a title has to happen for momentum. In publishing, marketing is where the publisher spends money to create awareness for a book. Publicity is exposure that is free. The bigger the marketing budget is for a book out of the gate, the better the chance. However, this isn’t always true…

The Surprises

Publishing is full of wild-card moments. That’s what makes this industry so much fun, impossible to predict, and full of joyful surprises. One of my bestselling YA titles of my career is Simone Elkeles’s Perfect Chemistry. This title had a modest beginning with a small print run and a minimal marketing budget. But that original cover and fan love propelled this series to selling over a million copies. I also think a lot of fans think Perfect Chemistry is a New York Times bestselling title, but the reality is that it was book two, Rules of Attraction, that hit the NYT list for the first time in 2010. When Chain Reaction released a year later, that put the trilogy on the series NYT bestseller list. Technically, the first book never actually hit the list. 

Twenty-six editors turned down Jamie Ford’s debut novel Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. That book went on to spend 130 consecutive weeks on the NYT bestseller list. That’s 2.5 solid years on the list. I still can’t wrap my head around that. 

The Naiveté 

When I was a baby agent just starting out in the biz, I thought a New York Times bestseller meant the title was selling King, Winfrey, or Rowling levels. I also assumed that hitting the list would ensure riches for both author and agent. 

Wow, was I clueless. An NYT hit is fabulous, and often it does mean that the client will earn out the initial advance. It is not, however, a guarantee that earn-out will happen. And although for some clients hitting the list has led to financial stability in writing as a career, it does not automatically equal life-changing riches.

The Movie Effect

With the “New York Times Bestseller” moniker, instead of happening at once, sometimes it happens at last. Bird Box by Josh Malerman is that one client title that I felt in my bones should have hit the list out of the gate in 2014. I was just flat out wrong. It would take four years, Netflix, and Sandra Bullock to make that title into the NYT bestseller that I always knew it to be. 

Publishing. A giant mystery. Thank you for letting me celebrate 50 with you. I have a sneaking suspicion that number 51 might be just around the corner.

Creative Commons Photo Credit: Carol VanHook

If I was looking for evidence of how powerful Amazon has become in the book-selling market, then I don’t need to look much further than the news I received yesterday! Gail Carriger’s Finishing School Series hit the New York Times young adult series list. [ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE, CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES, and WAISTCOATS & WEAPONRY]

So what you might ask. Agent Kristin always has titles hitting the NYT list (Ha! I wish that were true.) But it happens often enough that I’m guessing folks aren’t surprised to hear the news. So why is last night’s news a big deal?

It’s big because of the timing of the hit.

As a general rule, unless a title is a big perennial seller, titles don’t hit the list except during release week and the immediate weeks following. That’s when any given title is going to have the most number of sales (in a short period of time) to catapult it on to the NYT list.

But in Gail’s case, Waistcoats & Weaponry was the last title to be released and that happened in November 2014. It’s months after the release. So then the question becomes, what caused it?

I’ll tell you. It was the Kindle Daily Deal for Etiquette & Espionage that happened last week. Thousands and thousands of ebook copies sold during a short period of time. As we can now see from yesterday’s news, it was enough to propel the whole Finishing School series onto the NYT list. (FYI – once there are three books or more in a given series, then an individual title can no longer appear on the regular NYT list. It can only hit the NYT on the Series List.)

Hubby and I went out to dinner to celebrate my 35th New York Times bestselling title/appearance. I do tally the first appearance of a series on the NYT list, attributing “the hit” to the last release in terms of my title count. Otherwise I’m not sure quite how to do it.

Regardless, it’s news worth celebrating.

But only for you readers who are smart enough to grab the hardcover of SCORCHED when it hits the shelves on September 2.

Hidden DragonCover

 

 

And, I have a cool pre-order special if you’ve been thinking of doing just that!

In the changing landscape of publishing, it’s all about pre-orders these days. The actual sales racked up before release day can seriously make a difference on whether a book will land on the NYT or USA Today list or not. So publishers are getting creative in tempting readers to buy early. And sourcebooks is going all out for SCORCHED.

A Gift for You, for Pre-Ordering SCORCHED by Mari Mancusi

We have a special offer for U.S. and Canada YA fans for the release of SCORCHED by Mari Mancusi in stores in a little over three weeks! If you pre-order the book, we will send you an exclusive dragon charm—perfect to wear as jewelry or to decorate an accessory. You have until September 2 or until quantities run out.

DragonCharm

Here’s how to get your charm:
1. Pre-order the book (print or eBook) through any retailer (Barnes & Noble, Amazon, your local independent bookseller/Indiebound, Books-A-Million, Hastings, etc.)

2. Email your proof of purchase (receipt or picture of the receipt) to teenfire@sourcebooks.com. Put “Scorched Pre-Order” in the subject line. Don’t forget to include your home address (US & Canada only please) so we can send you the dragon charm! If you’ve already pre-ordered this book—not a problem! Send us your receipt!

3. You will get an email back confirming when the items have been sent out.

4. Enjoy Scorched when it comes out in September!

Optional: take a pic of you and your dragon charm and share it with Mari Mancusi or Sourcebooks Fire on Twitter! You can find Mari @marimancusi and Sourcebooks Fire @sourcebooksfire.

Last week my author Jana DeLeon, who has been digitally self-publishing her backlist titles, hit the USA Today Bestseller list at #98 for the very first time and for the very first novel she ever published: Rumble On The Bayou (originally published in 2007). And the big question is: How did she do that?

It’s a great question. More and more digitally self-published titles are hitting the lists. I’m certainly not a liberty to reveal all the genius marketing ideas Jana has been pursuing but I can tell you one thing that is public knowledge. She’s not doing it alone.

Over two years ago, Jana and 9 other digitally self-publishing authors formed a marketing co-op where they pool ideas, platforms, and resources. Together this group creates aggressive strategies and they’ve seen remarkable results for every member of the co-op.

It gives a whole new meaning to “it takes a village.” I imagine most authors who are digitally publishing tend to go it alone. I’m seeing the real efficacy of marketing in numbers. And I also don’t think grabbing any old person will do. Each member of the group needs to be equally invested and savvy about what it takes to market digital titles.

On a side note, RUMBLE was originally published by the now defunct Dorchester back in the day. I had quite the battle to arm wrestle the rights back when they stopped paying royalties three years  ago. Obviously that was worth doing!

Rumble-#98_UsaToday-BSL

A Sad But Celebratory Day!

STATUS: Mixed day! I feel like I’m still catching up on emails.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? REALIZE by Colbie Caillat

It had to happen eventually. Today Jamie Ford is not on the New York Times bestseller list–ending our phenomenal run of 130 consecutive weeks on the list. That is two and half years without dropping off.

Wow. Just wow.

Maybe I shouldn’t be having a blog entry announcing this fact but you know what, Jamie? It’s an incredible achievement no matter how I talk about it.

So I raise a glass of champagne to you and your wonderful debut novel: Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter & Sweet.

For us, there has been no bitter.

And I have a feeling that this week isn’t the end and that we will be popping back on in the not-so-distant future.

Cheers!

A New NLA Milestone!

STATUS: Having a great afternoon.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? YOU CAN CALL ME AL by Paul Simon

I rarely post twice in one day but I can’t resist.

For the week of March 18, Gail Carriger’s TIMELESS is sitting at #17 on the NYT list and at #98 on the USA Today. Definitely worth celebrating.

But what’s really fun?


SOULLESS The Manga graphic novel just hit #2 on the NYT Graphic novel list.

That’s a first for NLA!!

The NYT Children’s Series List

STATUS: I’m back from vacationing Down Under! And it’s official. Australia has the cutest animals on the planet. There is just nothing to compare to the Koala, Wombat, tiny Blue Penguin, and the Wallaby. Squee. I couldn’t contain myself there was so much cuteness.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? SOMEONE LIKE YOU by Adele

While down under, I met with quite a few Australian Editors so I have some interesting notes to pass along to my readers. I promise I’ll do that tomorrow.

Today, I just have to take a moment to say CONGRATULATIONS Simone Elkeles for hitting the NYT Children’s Series List this week (#8).

I couldn’t post the news last Thursday (Wednesday in USA) because I had literally just come off the The Great Barrier Reef where I had been snorkeling. A text message was waiting for me and alas, no internet connection.

Hitting this series list is tough to do–especially when you only have 3 books that have to compete with total sales from series with more than 4 or 5 books in them.

So take a moment to revel in it Simone!

Simone also hit the USA Today bsl coming it at number 77. Since that’s ALL books in all any format, that’s huge too.

All for a series that editors told me wasn’t “big enough” while on submission because it was a contemporary YA with no paranormal elements. I don’t know about you guys, but feeling big enough to me. *Grin*

Only Once In An Agent’s Lifetime?

STATUS: Even though I look absolutely ridiculous doing a happy dance, I’m doing it anyway! White woman overbite. Here I come.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE LOAD OUT by Jackson Browne

This is just getting impossible. If I keep hitting crazy milestones, what will I have to look forward to? Last year, I had 3 authors on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time.

Then it happened twice in one year. Fabulous. Where to go next?

How about 4 authors on the NYT list at the same time? And 3 of them on the top 150 USA Today Bestseller list at the same time as well.

Yep! That’s the news that hit my inbox about an hour ago. And here they are.

At #19 on the Trade Paperback list and #146 on USA Today

At #9 on the Children’s list

At #11 on the Mass Market paperback list and #109 on USA Today

At #13 on the eBook listand #59 on USA Today

When I got into this biz, this wasn’t something I ever imagined so the reality is not quite real. Maybe it will sink in tomorrow…

News Flash: UNLOCKED hits USA Today and NYT Bestseller List!

Status: Giddy with excitment!

What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? nothing at the moment


I usually get the weekly NYT list around 6 in the evening but alas, it didn’t hit my inbox until 9:30 tonight but whoa, a huge surprise was waiting for me.


HUGE CONGRATS Courtney Milan!


You, my dear, are now officially a New York Times Bestselling author as well. Today, not only did your novella UNLOCKED hit the USA Today list coming in at #36, you also hit the NYT eBook bestseller list coming in at #6.


And sheesh, right during RWA 2011. That’s timing. I couldn’t be more thrilled for you.



One Picture Really Can Say It All

STATUS: Today is MLK holiday! I’m only in for the morning and then heading out to do a nice hike as the weather is good here.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? VALENTINE by Kina Grannis

Hey readers. Sorry about the blog silence starting on Wednesday. I had to go out of town unexpectedly for a funeral and there really was not time to write. I actually didn’t even open my computer except on the plane ride to and from.

On a MUCH lighter note. Jamie Ford attended the Pulpwood Book Queens 11th Anniversary Girlfriend Weekend Author Extravaganza!

I pretty much think this picture says it all!

Jamie (on right) with Sam Barry of Rock Bottom Remainders

Need more great shots? Click here.

And if that costume wasn’t enough, we just found out on Friday that Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter and Sweet made the USA Today’s Best-selling Books: The top 100 for 2010 list.

Hotel came in at #84. Huge Congrats Jamie!

For that, I’d put on an Alice and Wonderland costume….