A copy of the New York Times newspaper sits open and horizontal on a white table with a cup of black coffee next to it.

Cracking the Code of the NYT Best-Seller List

What is the secret combination to unlock a spot on the coveted New York Times best-seller list?
Believe it or not, there is a certain formula to finding your book amidst some of the nation’s best-selling authors, and it’s not just huge sales numbers. While success is not guaranteed, a behind-the-scenes look demystifies the ever-enigmatic selection process of the New York Times (NYT) best-seller staff.
Every Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time, the New York Times best-seller list is published online. It’s then published in print eleven days later. While sales numbers are a factor in making the list, according to the best-seller staff at the New York Times, they also employ investigative journalism and other subjective measures to dole out the highly selective spots on the list.
Here are the basic facts of the list straight from the Times:

1. Each week, several thousand vendors confidentiality report sales data in myriad genres and interests in the United States. Large press, small press, and self-published titles are eligible for the list.

2. Data on millions of titles is reported from bookstores (including independent), online retailers, and specialty stores.

3. Print and/or ebook titles can be included; both formats are allowed. Audiobooks are included, based on the combination of both physical and digital copies.

4. Sales are defined as completed purchases by the buyer.

5. Books such as perennial sellers, class books and textbooks, journals, crosswords, ebooks available exclusively from a single vendor, etc., are not included in the list.

6. There are eleven weekly lists and seven monthly lists.

7. A book can be featured on the best-seller list and not in the Book Review, and vice versa.

8. Books published during a busy publication week face harder competition than books published during down times.

9. The best-seller staff is responsible for employing investigative journalism in order to detect manipulation or fraud. Parties frequently buy bulk orders of books in order to skew sales data. This practice is not illegal, but the NYT actively investigates circumstances to more accurately reflect the sales data.

10. The best-seller staff does not read every book they choose to reflect and rank on the charts; according to the NYT, sales data is the only factor.

However, in a lawsuit, the New York Times was sued for neglecting to reflect certain books on the charts. Their response is a direct hit at the claims of objectivity: “The list did not purport to be an objective compilation of information but instead was an editorial product.” Therefore, it must be noted that even after the vetting and research, the New York Times best-seller list is ultimately an editorial—subjective—list, rather than an all-encompassing objective reflection of current book consumers. The confidential reporting aids in reducing pressure on booksellers, but it still shades the number of actual reports the Times receives.
While not reported by the Times themselves, here are a few other “tricks” to get on the list as reported by Entrepreneur:

a. Preorder campaigns are extremely valuable. In order to reach the list, it is generally understood that a book needs over ten thousand preorders for consideration.

b. While five thousand copies purchased after publication could mean a spot on the list, most times five thousand does not apply for new and/or unknown authors. Further, those numbers over a week of sales mean more than the gross total of sales in a year.

c. The more mainstream press coverage a book receives, the more likely it is to be featured.

d. Legitimate bulk sales of books may flag the title as fraudulent during the NYT investigative process.

e. It is also reported that more reported sales selected by the Times come from independent bookstores rather than storefronts or online retailers. This can skew the readership, since books purchased at an indie bookstore could differ from what the masses are purchasing elsewhere at different prices.

Some best-seller lists include the Wall Street Journal and the USA Today best-seller lists. The former requires around three to five thousand copies, makes it easier for nontraditional published works to get featured, and is purely based on sales. The latter is more similar to the New York Times list in that it is curated to an extent, but it can include books excluded on the NYT list like cookbooks and game books.
Overall, award list notoriety can be dazzling, but it can also be a disappointment if that is the only baseline for success. For indie books, it is often better to focus on smaller literary awards, local awards, or other local press. The New York Times best-seller list is a good baseline for seeing what is selling from week to week, but it is not the end-all-be-all of the current publishing landscape. There are several thousand books that will never make the list, but will still win awards, win hearts, or just win support from your closest friends and family.

Marketing Romance Through the Ages

Everyone is familiar with the stereotypical cover of a romance novel. Generally, it’s a white man and woman, partially nude, staring into one another’s eyes with the wind blowing through their hair. Think Nora Roberts. Think Ilona Andrews. Think Nicholas Sparks. These are all household names to the casual romance consumer. Everyone is also familiar with the stereotypical romance reader. These people are thought to be “middle-aged women who are bored in their marriages and want to fantasize about hard, chiseled men,” explains a writer for HuffPost. But after about ten minutes of internet research, one can figure out that in today’s world, this stereotype is simply not true.

The romance genre is one of the oldest-known styles of writing in the world and has only progressed throughout centuries. Many believe the first example of a mass-market romance was Pamela, written by Samuel Richardson in 1740, which led to the style developing many subgenres and niches that have only broadened its readership. That being said, some argue that late twentieth and early twenty-first century romance readers have witnessed one of the most major evolutions in the subject matter and marketing strategies of the romance genre.

The rise of Harlequin during the 1960s in the publishing world allowed for a wider readership in sensual mass-market romances that were quickly nicknamed “bodice-rippers.” These forms of romance novels led to marketing strategies that give us the stereotypes we have today, which have pigeon-holed these books. It did come with some perks though.

One word: Fabio.

But with the dawn of the twenty-first century came the push for representation of more modern relationships. For example, a heterosexual relationship with greater equality between the man and woman. A relationship that explored what it meant to be an LGBTQ+ couple and the complexities of living in a heteronormative society. A biracial relationship that explored what it meant to be a minority. It also came with Fifty Shades of Grey, but we’re going to ignore that for right now.

The massive tech boom of the 2000s sent the entire publishing world reeling. The everyday consumer no longer searches for the latest books in magazines or newspapers, but on social media or the internet. A publishing house needs to be able to catch a reader’s eye as they swipe through Instagram or Twitter—hence the push for brightly colored book covers and less intertwined limbs.

Readers’ desire for realistic couples and the technological explosion left romance publishing houses scrambling for a better way to market to an evolving audience. We now see less writhing bodies on book covers and more pastels and drawings. Think Crazy Rich Asians. Think Simon vs. The Homo Sapien Agenda. Think Me Before You. These books are all within the romance genre, yet are marketed toward the general public as funny, inspirational, and even relatable. It’s opening the door for the Average Joe (or Jane or J) to fall in love with romantic fiction.

Some claim that the romance genre is the most progressive of the literary industry, and it’s hard to disagree. It has learned to develop with its readers as the world continues to change. So what’s next for the romance genre? One can only hope it will just keep getting better.

Think more inclusion. Think love for all. Think bright future.

Pairing Ooligan Titles with Documentaries

During the cooler months here in the Pacific Northwest, many of us can be found taking refuge indoors from the harsh weather raging outside, bundled in layers of sweaters or (comfortably, safely) smothered under blankets. And, if you’re anything like me, your reading list and Netflix queue are dwindling as you burn through them faster than logs in a fireplace. Fear not, my chilly children, for I have compiled yet another list, this time to help you fill those drizzly, blizzardy, blustery days. Following are my suggestions for how to pair some Ooligan Press titles with documentaries.

  1. Book: Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before
    Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before revolves a teenage girl coming to terms with her sexuality during a time particularly turbulent for those in the LGBTQ+ community. It’s only fitting that the documentary I picked was made in the 1980s as Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before takes place in 1989.
    Documentary:
    The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
    The Times of Harvey Milk follows Milk’s career as the first openly gay elected official in the US through till the end, including the trial after Milk’s assassination (which included the infamous “Twinkie defense,” if you remember) and the candlelight march through San Francisco in memoriam of Milk’s life.
  2. Book:
    Sleeping in My Jeans
    Sleeping in My Jeans tells the story of a teenage girl and her family who find themselves suddenly experiencing homelessness.
    Documentaries:
    Lost in America (2017)
    Lost in America documents the journey of Rotimi Rainwater, a former homeless youth himself, as he travels across the United States in order to highlight the often ignored epidemic of youth homelessness.
  3. Book:
    A Heart for Any Fate
    A Heart for Any Fate follows a family as they face many trials and tribulations while travelling on the Oregon Trail from Missouri to Oregon.
    Documentaries:
    New Perspectives on the West (1996)
    New Perspectives on the West is a fairly classic PBS documentary that covers the evolution of the Western part of the US. Episode two, “Empire Upon the Trails,” covers the Oregon Trail.
  4. Book:
    The Ninth Day
    The Ninth Day tells the story of a girl living in Berkely in the 1960s whose plans to be part of a singing competition could be ruined after she takes part in the Free Speech movement.
    Documentary:
    She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry
    She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is a documentary that explores the history of the women who were part of second wave feminist protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It’s not about the free speech movement, I know, but with all of the strong women characters in this novel, I felt that focusing on a women’s movement in the same time period was fitting for my documentary choice. If you’d prefer one more relevant to the reading selection, PBS has a documentary title Berkley in the Sixties that you can watch instead (or in addition).
  5. Book:
    50 Hikes in the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests
    50 Hikes in the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests is a guide providing information about hikes you can do in the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests brought to you by the Sierra Club.
    Documentary:
    The National Parks: America’s Best Idea
    Learn the history of national parks in this six-episode docu-series produced by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan. I suggest putting this one at the end of your list, right before you’re ready to thaw out—you’ll want to take that copy of 50 Hikes in the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests and start hiking as soon as you finish.

Go forth, frosty friends! Like a cozy bear in a cave living off of its stored up fat, consume this media and let it give you life during your hibernating months. I’ll see you when the sun starts shining.

The Ultimate Coffee Table Book

Trendy coffee shops have sprung up around the Northwest almost as quickly and mysteriously as the hipsters did. Where did they come from? What do they want? And what, pray tell, are they going to do next?

Regardless of whether or not these haunting questions will ever be answered, there was one curious thing I noticed all these shops had in common: stacks of books. Some are intended to be read, while some are simply used as decoration. Many of these books have ancient covers, stacked intentionally to look unintentionally left behind. Some are placed conveniently for customers to read and pass the time away; some are placed so far out of reach no one can even read the titles.

What I wanted to know was what genre of books these coffee shops are choosing to shelve, whether there was a noticeable pattern, and whether or not we as publishers should start to look into this as a serious marketing strategy. This trend has already shown up in Penguin Random House’s decision to publish a series of classics with beautiful ‘vintage’ covers. We’ve all seen them. You know you want to spend next month’s rent on them. (Yes, they do cost that much.) They are, essentially, meant for coffee shop decor.

I decided to go on a hunt. I went to five popular coffee shops in downtown Salem: Broadway, IKE Box, The Gov Cup, The Beanery, and Archive. Only three of these shops had actual books as opposed to just newspapers. Of these three, I looked for what books they shelved, where they were placed, and what their intended function seemed to be.

Broadway Coffee House

Broadway is located just north of downtown Salem and is owned and operated by Salem Alliance. I went in expecting to find religious texts stacked in some corner. What I found, however, was a small stack of classics atop a fireplace—almost completely out of reach. The shop was busy at the time of my examination, so I’m sure there were more than a few looks at the strange girl standing on her tip-toes to grab a piece of what was obviously decoration from the mantle of the unused fireplace. The stack included an anthology of Shakespeare’s plays, The Jungle Book, a volume of mysteries, and an ‘old’ copy of The Unredeemed Captive. These novels were clearly not for readers passing through.

IKE Box

The next stop was the IKE Box, a nonprofit coffee house located close to the YMCA, just on the fringes of the main downtown area. Upon walking in, I did not immediately see any books lying around. After asking at the counter, however, the manager led me up a set up stairs behind the barista area to the second floor, where they keep their rooms for large meetings and conferences and general volunteer hang-outs. He pointed me to a shelf of books they kept for those who passed the time up there. The shelf consisted of self-help, spiritual, and children’s titles. None had that typical worn look used in decor. These were obviously intended for people to read.

Archive

My final stop was my personal favorite, a place that I knew had a plethora of material, located in the very heart of downtown Salem. Archive is decorated to look like just that: an archive of knowledge. Massive shelves stretch to tall ceilings on either side of the shop, stacked with sets of old encyclopedias. Tables line these walls as well, and I have on more than one occasion pulled down a book or two from right beside me to read. My favorite is a collection of National Geographic magazines from the early 1900s, all compiled neatly between worn gray spines with red lettering on the cover.

The books found at Archive, then, could really function for either side of the equation: nerds like me could read them, or they could sit unnoticed, a thing of quiet beauty.

At each location, the books served a different function. I feel it is important to take note, however, that books were still being bought and used, regardless of whether or not they were being read. For Broadway, the books are what I like to refer to as DCs: dust collectors. Both Archive and Broadway used old, worn-out editions. All three locations had books with interesting content: Broadway took a pop-culture approach, IKE Box had novels meant for their specific clientele, while Archive went for a nonfiction route, using titles that both served the intention of the shop while garnering interest of customers who greatly enjoyed reading. Archive’s titles ranged from all the way back to the 1800s to more modern novels published with an older-style cover.

Should we then, as publishers, be paying more attention to coffee shops as a means of marketing? Would more upper-class shops be willing to display, or even review, some of our titles? Or is it inevitable that those owners will continue to sneak into Goodwill, bargain shopping for books that are worn, falling apart, and unwanted? Is it even worth putting our books in places that were intended to be ignored?

In a fast-paced, ever-changing market, perhaps it is time we start seeing the places that have so far been unseen.

Are Big Books Better? Why the Long Novel is Here to Stay

I recently noticed that novels seem to be getting longer, so I did what any twenty-first century inquiring mind would and googled it. My search uncovered Publishers Weekly‘s “Fiction Gets Supersized” (2004), The Millions‘ “Is Big Back?” (2010), The Daily Beast‘s “Are Books Becoming Too Long to Read?” (2012), Salon‘s “Why We Love Loooong Novels” (2013), Vulture‘s “When Did Books Get So Freaking Enormous? The Year of the Very Long Novel” (2015), and The Independent‘s “If This Is the Year of the Mega-Novel, It’s Going to Be a Very Long 12 Months” (2015). It seemed safe to conclude that long novels are having a moment, yet it led me to wonder why that might be.
Salon writer Laura Miller implies that long novels are popular because one can be “swallowed up by a long novel, immersed in the world its author has created in a fashion that no other medium can rival.” While a shorter novel can certainly be immersive, time dictates that it simply cannot be as wholly immersive as a long novel. For example, assuming one reads at the average pace of two hundred words per minute, reading a short novel like Zora Neale Hurston’s 63,783-word Their Eyes Were Watching God would take 5.32 hours, while reading George R. R. Martin’s 298,000-word Game of Thrones would take 24.83 hours. It’s the difference between going on two dates with someone versus twelve. Plus, George R. R. Martin’s novel is part of a much longer series, which, if included, extends the word count to 1,770,000 or, put another way, 147 hours. In this case, it’s the difference between spending a day with someone versus spending a month with someone. Moreover, Game of Thrones was made into a successful HBO television series, which allows readers another avenue into the world he built so completely. This kind of extensive worldbuilding led me to wonder if the long novel is thriving because of the ways people consume media today. In other words, are worldbuilding and binge-viewing leading to longer novels, series formats, and binge-reading?
Market research supports the notion that readers are indeed binge-reading and that books may have better sales if all of the books in a series are made available at the same time so that readers have the opportunity to binge-read. Long novels are able to support the “Netflixication” of media, with the most iconic example being J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The seven-book series (comprised of three short novels and four long novels) has sold more than 450 million copies worldwide and has spawned a successful movie franchise, along with computer games, toys, and even a theme park. Narrative incubators, like the approximately five-thousand-page Harry Potter series, are able to capture the attention of readers who can find the series in multiple ways across multiple mediums, from Lego Harry Potter on an iPad to a print version of one of the books in the library to Rowling’s Pottermore on the World Wide Web. Of course, not all novels can replicate the success of Harry Potter, but well-written and compelling long novels have the potential for promoting binge-reading and -viewing by creating worlds just as comprehensive as Harry Potter.
Long novels are not for everyone. They require a bigger financial and temporal investment from the writer, the publisher, the reviewer, and the reader. Not everyone is willing to spend the kind of time or money a long novel demands. Yet the long novel lends itself to literary immersion and detailed worldbuilding, which, in turn, facilitates the practice of binge-reading—a viable sector for market growth. In considering the future of the business of book publishing, it’s imperative to heed changing media-consumption practices. These practices suggest that the long novel not only encourages binge-reading but also provides an opportunity for growth and profitability because the long novel is able to meet the demands of readers who grow increasingly accustomed to instantly accessing captivating and complex stories. Finally, the long novel’s propensity for worldbuilding allows for the possibility of the propagation of the storyline into other formats, thus increasing the profitability of the book and making a well-written and compelling long novel worth the gamble.

Marni Norwich Guest Poet Post: “Why I Don’t Write”

Every Thursday, Ooligan Press invites a poet whose work is included in Alive at the Center, our forthcoming anthology of poetry from Pacific Northwest writers, to blog for us. This week, we are pleased to feature Marni Norwich, a poet from Vancouver, B.C. Please enjoy her post!

Why I Don’t Write

So many good books have been written on the subject of why to write, and none on the important question of why not to, that I think it is high time to redress the imbalance. Hence my current book-length project: Why I Don’t Write. This important contribution to the literature is not to be overlooked! In it, aspiring writers will find reams of accessible lists (arranged alphabetically and according to subject for easy finding) and chapters full of solid arguments against writing.
No more feelings of guilt, shame, laziness and dishonor from writers who simply don’t want to write! Writers need never trouble their minds in search of valid excuses when they can simply lick a finger and open the swelling pages of my tome. I always say that any reason is a good reason not to write, and done are the days when we need  seek validation for our still pens from outside sources!
From being under-inspired to being too inspired (why threaten that fabulous feeling?), from being intimidated by the great writers who have gone before to feeling superior to them (I could out-write Emily Dickinson in my sleep! Now, off to clean the bathroom!), this book will affirm your every withhold and add to the mix with compelling argument and rock solid logic.
In the current era, with its emphasis on creativity, process, and the “calling of our art,” so many people are racing to pick up notebooks and pens in the quest to express themselves. Everyone and their sister are busy writing poems, short stories, novels, and plays, and the market is flooded with books telling us why and how to write.
Write write write! That’s all I hear, wherever I go! Even while I sat innocently at a café, trying to get a moment’s peace with a cup of tea, the women at the table beside mine were speaking loudly about their “journal-writing process” and how fulfilling it was for them. After a few minutes of this, I couldn’t stand it any longer and had to turn to them and say, “Excuse me. You probably mean no harm, but there are people in this café who are successfully avoiding writing after years of hardcore activity and months of withdrawal, so could you please keep your inflammatory conversation down!”
Gratefully, they spoke in hushed tones after that, and—as you can imagine—I was much relieved. I softened and even considered talking to them about the upcoming launch of my book, Why I Don’t Write, but they left before I could gather my business cards.
To the old adage, “Those who cannot do, teach,” I add “Those who do not write, preach,” and by this I mean that those who have moved beyond the need to engage in this pernicious activity have an obligation to the lesser-advanced to drag them from their misbegotten inkwells to the light of day, and sometimes into public scrutiny! For shouldn’t the reading public be the final arbiters in the question of who is permitted to contribute to a global literature that affects us all?
What would our literarily demure forefathers have thought of today’s “democratization” of the written word? How would they have tolerated the plentiful and low-grade pulp fiction and comic books, the detective novels and fashion magazines? The answer, clearly, is not at all well!
My point is simple. For every reason a person can think of to write, there are twenty reasons why it is actually a very bad idea. My friends, I have a secret to share with you: Writing seems like such frivolous activity, but I have it on experience that it connects us with the deep underpinnings and unexplored yearnings at the very base of our beings! If you think that kind of unearthing will not kick up a storm of every magnitude, you have another think coming! If for no other reason than to preserve the untouched integrity of what is and the predictable unfurling of the human story as we have known it, I beseech you not to write!  Drop your pens now, before the stirrings of your souls herald a burst of change at a magnitude beyond the scope of imagining, encompassing yourselves and the entirety of this lumbering, multiform planet—this huge, blue-green spiraling notebook!


Marni Norwich is a Vancouver, British Columbia writer, editor, writing workshop facilitator, and author of the poetry collection Wildflowers at my doorstep (Karma Press, 2008). She’s been reading and performing on Vancouver stages for eight years, sometimes with the accompaniment of dancers, choreographers and musicians.
Marni’s poem “Hang On,” which was inspired by a ride on Vancouver’s 20 Downtown bus, will be featured in the complete Alive at the Center anthology as well as the Vancouver edition. Both books are currently available from your favorite local bookshop or online retailer.