Scratching my head over bestseller lists

In the UK, it’s easy.  There’s one list, and it’s based on hard numbers compiled by Nielson Bookscan, a computerized tracking system that records the majority of actual sales.  There’s no fudging of numbers, no weighing of literary vs. non-literary.  Numbers rule.

Here in the U.S., bestseller lists are mysterious things, compiled using a combination of real numbers and voodoo magic.  Some lists include young adult fiction, and others restrict it to only adult fiction.  Finally, there’s the USA Today list, which includes all books, in every format.  So not only do the lists compile their numbers differently, they also may include different combinations of books.

The first week’s position of THE BONE GARDEN on various lists is a good illustration of how variable these lists can be.  Here’s the rundown for the book’s first five days on sale:

Bookscan: #4 (adult fiction hardcover.  Method is equivalent to UK’s Bookscan; covers about 65% of actual sales.)

Publishers Weekly: #4 (adult fiction hardcover)

USA Today: #40.  (#5 adult fiction hardcover)

Wall Street Journal: #13 (list includes young adult fiction)

New York Times: #10 (adult fiction hardcover)

As you can see, the numbers are all over the place.  The one list everyone really cares about is the New York Times — and yet, I suspect it’s the least accurate in terms of raw numbers actually sold since it gives extra weight to literary books sold in independent stores. 

This second week, my book goes onto Co-op in Barnes and Noble, so it will be interesting to see the effect of co-op on sales there.  In the past, it’s been my observation that co-op increases sales by at least a third, but I based that estimate on the drop in sales after my books went off co-op.  This year, I’ll be able to see the effect the other way around. 

7 replies
  1. Kyle K.
    Kyle K. says:

    Well, that’s just completely ridiculous. You would figure that bestsellers WOULD be based on actual sales. You should definitely be #4 on the NYT, or higher depending on if there are YA books ahead of you (I don’t mind having two different lists in THAT instance).

    Why was the co-op for your book arranged for the second week of sales? Wouldn’t it have been better to start it last Tuesday, right away?

  2. drosdelnoch
    drosdelnoch says:

    Congrats Tess, just wondering how the fan feedback is going about the change of style. As to the washing front, never has there been so good an excuse to go shopping, is there no way you can fexex the washing home and get “him indoors” to do it and then get it fededed to another hotel. LOL

  3. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    tess-are institutional sales considered?because every library purchase represents the availability(and presumably the reading) of the book by multiple individuals-so a sale to a library should count for more than one,or does this get too complicated?i was in b&n today and the book was not on the bestseller rack,but was on new arrivals at the front of the store and there was only one left

  4. Tess
    Tess says:

    Joe,
    sales to libraries don’t count on the Times list. And yet, it’s a huge part of the market. There are quite a few sales venues that don’t get factored into the Times list, which is why it’s really only a reflection of a segment of sales.

    Gareth,
    I’m getting some of the nicest fan mails ever about this book!

  5. naomi
    naomi says:

    I do think it’s silly how we have all these lists with different criteria one must meet to qualify for each list. Silly. Sales alone should be the dictator and this should include all sales. That’s my uninformed opinion, at least.

    I just finished The Bone Garden. My friend had you sign a copy for me at a signing you did in the DC/Virginia area *thanks april!* I truly loved this book and think it’s innovative and your story telling compelling. Kudos on a job well done!

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