We’re all familiar with the concept. You pick up a book and splashed across the front cover are the words New York Times Bestseller! or Sunday Times Bestseller! These proclamations are meant to entice us into buying or reading the book by convincing us that the book is extremely popular. Absolutely everyone must be reading it, so I should too, shouldn’t I? I mean, it is a bestseller after all!
At the end of the day, how much of that concept is true? What does it take to get onto one of these ‘bestseller’ or ‘Top 101’ booklists? And how can every second book you see actually be a New York Times Bestseller? Below is a summary of the more common lists and what boxes have to be ticked for a book to make the cut.
New York Times best-seller list
There are several different categories maintained by the New York Times – fiction, non-fiction, and monthly lists but for this article we’re going to stick with fiction. The requirement to make the list is to sell between 5000 – 10,000 copies (print, eBook, hardcover, or trade paperback) of your book in the week between Sunday and the following Saturday. The sales must be diverse, from numerous different entities. If Amazon sold 5000 copies in a week but you only sold 100 copies elsewhere, your book wouldn’t make the cut.
For well-known authors with an established fan base, 5000 copies isn’t that much of a challenge so you can see why so many of them consistently make the NYT best-seller list. As for the Sunday Times Best-Seller list, which is based in the UK, the number of books needed to sell in the week is much lower at about 1500 copies. This has led to numerous scandals with authors making bulk purchases of their own book in order to make this list.
Dymocks Top 101
Each year, Dymocks ask their Booklovers to vote for their favourite books (they can chose up to 10) and then the top 101 results are published as that year’s Top 101 list. This is purely a popularity contest and the only stipulation is that the book must be sold by Dymocks (if it doesn’t appear on their catalogue, you can’t vote for it). This means that some books appear on the list year after year and in 2022 there were only 52 new books on the list with the other half having repeated from previous years.
Goodreads Choice Awards
As you can probably guess from the name, the Goodreads Choice Awards are also determined by readers. Goodreads will nominate books that were published that year and readers can vote for their favourites. They can also nominate books of their choosing but the author has to be a verified Goodreads author. There are approximately 20 categories and the winner gets a shiny banner on their page declaring them the winner.
Wikipedia list of best-sellers
This is simply a list of the bestselling books and series as reported by reliable and independent sources. Religious, philosophical, and political texts are excluded. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes is the bestselling book in the world with over 500 million copies sold, whilst the Harry Potter series takes the win for best-selling series. Surprisingly, the next best-selling series is Goosebumps by R. L. Stine which came as a bit of a surprise to me.