Best-Sellers: The New York Times and Me
Blogger: Michelle Ule
Location: Main office, Santa Rosa, CA
Those of you who have been following my writing saga on the Books & Such blog may be interested in hearing the latest wrinkle. After releasing on September 1, 2011, A Log Cabin Christmas Collection hit #34 on The New York Times bestseller list for the week ending September 17.
To call me astounded would be an understatement. I keep repeating the words, “New York Times best-seller.” They still ring like a fantasy.
Maybe not even a fantasy; these are words I never even dreamed. So what does that make them? Fantastical? Improbable? Mythical?
Whatever. But, technically, true.
I realize A Log Cabin Christmas Collection is on the best-seller’s list because of the lead author: Wanda Brunstetter. Wanda has several other novels on the list this fall. But still, in small letters on the bottom of the cover appears, Michelle Ule–or my alias on the list: “et al.”
Some of my incredulous family members are suspicious. “How many copies of a book do you have to sell to make The New York Times Bestseller list?”
The answer varies between, “I don’t know,” and “it’s complicated.” But a more nuanced answer goes like this:
The New York Times first published their best-selling books list in 1942. The list is generated through the News Survey Department, which has nothing to do with their fine book review. The department uses weekly sales reporting samples of chain and independent bookstores, along with sales results from book wholesalers. It does not take into account Amazon’s sales or those of big box stores such as Costco or Wal-mart (which carries A Log Cabin Christmas Collection), or even Target—which also carries my book online.
It may be worth noting that only about one percent of books make it to the NYT best-seller list.
It also might be worth noting that the highest ranking A Log Cabin Christmas Collection hit on Amazon was 9,522.
Cynical family members also wonder if the NYT list could be manipulated. According to Wikipedia, it has been tried. In 1995, authors bought 10,000 copies of their book, The Discipline of Market Leaders, claiming it was an excellent marketing investment for them. The book stayed on the list for 15 weeks and while not illegal, most publishers believe the authors’ purchase and skewing of the figures was unethical.
I didn’t do that.
The big question, of course, is what makes a book a best-seller? No one knows how to guarantee that a title will make the list, even though marketers promise they can get your book on the list. It basically winds down to catchy titles, intriguing book covers, creative marketing, hot genres, an author who has appeared on the list previously, and selling to all sorts of different people–crossover appeal.
In our case, A Log Cabin Christmas Collection is aimed at a niche market–Christmas stories in a historical setting–and is gorgeous. The greenery on the cover is embossed, and the pages are ragged-edged like a pine log. Novellas, short stories about 60 pages in length, make for quick reads, and of course these particular novellas are inspirational–one of the areas in publishing that is growing.
Sales were helped by Wanda Brunstetter’s name, but we had several other well-know writers in the mix: Jane Kirkpatrick and Margaret Brownley, not to mention Kelly Eileen Hake, Liz Johnson, Liz Tolsma, Debra Ullrick and Erica Vetsch.
All in all, it’s been a wonderful, fun experience. And in my own case, friends are laughing with me and asking a really hard question: “If your debut novella winds up on The New York Times bestseller list, what will you do next?”
Think of best-sellers you’ve enjoyed. What led you to that particular book? Did it make a difference that it was on The New York Times or some other bestseller list? What role do best-selling lists play in your choice of reading material? Should a list make that big of a difference? Do you think quality determines whether a book will be on a list?
Part 2 of the series: What Puts a Book on the List?