Bestseller Lists

It’s hard to imagine that, for quite a long time, there was only one bestseller list — the one in Publishers Weekly. That period lasted from 1900 to 1942 when the New York Times deigned to add a hint of commerce to their book coverage by tracking sales. Now, of course, we have a multitude of lists, each with its own approach.

If you’re trying to “Give ’em What They Want,” you hope that the titles on the lists are not a surprise. But, every once in a while, something pops up that you don’t expect, such as the debut novel, The Historian, which made history by being the first debut novel to hit the list at #1 during its first week on sale. At EarlyWord, we focus on titles appearing on Amazon’s list, since it is more current than printed list. We highlight only those titles that libraries have missed or underbought.

We also regularly note the titles new to the USA Today bestseller list, which appears on Thursdays and to the NYT lists.

For those of you who like to track the lists, below are links to all the national bestseller list. If you want to make a real study of the lists, it’s worth the $20 a month to sign up for Publishers Marketplace. It offers a nifty service that rounds up a multitude of bestseller list. It also lets you look at what is unique to specific lists (less useful than it seems, since some of these unique titles are ones that are waning in sales) and a consensus list. You can click on each title to get the full bestseller history and reviews from most over 60 newspapers and magazines.

Remember that rankings are relative. The #1 title on a list in the fall, the heavier sales season, sells many more copies that a #1 title on a February list, when fewer people are in the stores. Also, most lists don’t show you the difference in sales levels between titles. The number two title could be selling 50%, 33% or 25% as many copies as number one. The only lists that gives insight on relative levels of sales are from the Wall Street Journal. Their “interactive” bestseller list, shows how each title is selling relative to 100. Thus, a title with a rank of 50, is selling twice as many as a title with a rank of 25.

USA Today

Other than the Amazon list, this is the only one that shows a single ranking of books regardless of format or age level, giving a clearer snapshot of relative popularity (it’s the only print list that showed Harry Potter outselling adult titles). The weekly list is posted every Thursday and appears in print that day. Sales are through the previous Sunday. USA Today‘s “Book Buzz” column (under “Headlines,” scroll to “Book Buzz”) gives insights on the list.

New York Times

In the public’s eye, the Times list is the one that defines bestsellers (in truth, a book can appear for just a week on any national list and still be called “a national bestseller”). The Times excludes some classes of books. For instance, Eat This, Not That, a bestseller for weeks on the USA Today list, never appeared on the Times list because they consider it a calorie counting book, which they do not track.

Like USA Today, the Times runs a column, “Inside the List,” with commentary on the current list (it’s generally a week out of phase on the site because of anomalies of the print publication schedule).

On the Web, the lists are available one week before the print edition and include the “extended lists,” which go beyond the number that appear in the print version. 

LA Times
San Francisco Chronicle
Washington Post

These lists sometimes reflect the interests of their particular region. The LA Times is often the first to show books of interest to Hollywood, the Washington Post often reflects inside-the-beltway interests in politics, and the San Francisco Chronicle list reflects strong interest in local authors.

Each list is published on Sunday.

Wall Street Journal

The Journal is the only newspaper list to have a separate business list. As mentioned above, it is the only list that shows relative sales for each title.

Updated every Friday, it reflects sales through the previous Saturday.

Indie Bestsellers

Published by the American Booksellers Association, this list shows top sellers in independent bookstores.

Christian Booksellers Association

The CBA’s monthly list of the Top 50 Books reflects titles selling in Christian bookstores. They also have separate lists for Bibles, Christian Living, Fiction, and Childrens and YA Titles.


A monthly list of bestselling titles in African-American bookstores.

800 CEO-READ — Top 25 Business Books

As the name implies, this is a good source for tracking business books. The Wall Street Journal has a weekly business bestseller list, but with fewer titles (15) and some of them are not necessarily of specific business interest (such as Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which has been on for many weeks). 800-CEO-READ was founded as the corporate sales division of  the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in Milwaukee. The retail stores were closed March 31, but CEO-READ continues to operate.