Pub Rants

Category: New York Times

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.

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!

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.



Friday Funnies

STATUS: Sun popped out. Yay. I was worried it was going to rain.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? QUANDO, QUANDO, QUANDO by Michael Buble

This article totally cracked me up. Stop the New York Times Presses. Huge news flash.

New York City agent moves from Manhattan to….

Brooklyn..

And can still do his job as a literary agent!

I’m still chortling.

NYT Bestseller List Has Been Very Good To Us This Year

STATUS: I’m not sure I believe all this good news but it is, indeed, all true.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE MODERNIST by Steve Davis

Yesterday I didn’t get a chance to blog because I did a guest blog over at thelitcoach. All of my blog readers are super savvy on all this query pitch paragraph stuff but maybe some new readers might want to check out the post.

And even if you are an old pro at query letters but generally hate them, this post teaches you the shortcut on how to write a terrific pitch blurb in your query letter. Always worth repeating I think.

But now on to the amazing news of the day!

Back in April, I blogged about hitting an Agency milestone by having 3 authors all on the NYT bestseller list at the same time.

Well, guess what? It’s happened again and even more delightful, it’s the same 3 authors. How wild is that? But very cool.

So huge congrats to Jamie Ford (48 consecutive weeks on the NYT list and at #19 this week), Gail Carriger (coming in for the second time this year at #20), and Simone Elkeles (also coming in for the second time this year at #6).

Color me happy!


,

Only The Good Write Young!

STATUS: So thrilled today.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THIS IS THE DAY by The The

Actually, I’m not exactly sure what that means except to say that Ally is still young and it sounded like a great title for this blog entry.

All I really want to say is CONGRATS ALLY! On coming in at #6 on the New York Times Series bestseller list and your best out of the gate sales numbers ever!

If any of the reviews on Amazon and BN are to be believed, this is the best Gallagher Girl book to date! We heartily agree.

Another Agency Milestone!

STATUS: I’m having a terrific day with lots of good news!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? GEORGIA ON MY MIND by Willie Nelson

Okay, I know you guys are probably getting sick of these announcements but I have to celebrate when milestones happen and what better way then to announce it on the blog.

This year has been an amazing one for Nelson Literary Agency and the New York Times List. We’ve had two authors debut for the first time on the list (and in the same month to boot!). Jamie Ford’s Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet has literally been on the regular NYT list or the extended list for 6 months straight.

I mean, holy cow.

Then today marks a new milestone. Today I have 3 authors on the NYT list at the same time. This has got to stop as the bar is getting raised seriously too high. Still, I’m grinning.

And for those of you who wonder how the NYT list works, the bestseller list is announced the week before it hits publication so today I’m getting the news for the May 9 list.

Huge congrats to:

Simone Elkeles at #3 for a second week in a row.

And to Gail Carriger who is back on the extended list at #33 after having one week off. That’s three weeks on the list.

And to Jamie Ford who is on the extended list at #32 (although for the last two weeks we’ve been really close to breaking the top 20 titles (as you have to be #20 or above for regular list).