The Mysteries of the Bestseller List
I was pleasantly pleased to discover that Towers of Gold made the bestseller list of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association this week. Towers of Gold was the #7 bestselling book for the week of January 25.

But I was puzzled, too, since the only event I did that week was at the private Metropolitan Club in San Francisco. I sold about 25 books after my talk, but the books all came from a nearby Borders, which is a chain store. So how did I end up on a list from independent booksellers?

What made this even more puzzling was the fact that when Towers of Gold was on the San Francisco Chronicle bestseller list for three weeks in November and December, it wasn’t on the NCIBA list during that time. And I know I sold a lot of books at independent bookstores during that period. I did readings at Book Passage, Mrs. Dalloways, A Great Good Place for Books, Copperfields, Readers Books, Clayton Books and Stacey’s.

So I sent off an email to Hut Landon, the executive director of NCIBA. And what he told me was surprising.

The NCIBA list is based on reporting from more than fifty bookstores in the northern part of the state. That is considerably more than the Chronicle draws from. The NCIBA polls stores by ratings rather than numbers, so if a book is the third-best selling title in a a variety of stores, it would get that placement on the list.

The Chronicle, in contrast, from what I understand, ranks books according to the sheer number of titles sold in the bookstores it polls. This tends to tilt the list toward authors who are having events since groups come in to hear them and buy at one time.

Landon thinks the NCIBA list shows something different than the Chronicle list:

“Our method rewards titles that are selling in more stores, rather than one where an author has a couple of big events but doesn’t sell much elsewhere. So making our list is sometimes harder, but the good news for you is that by making it at all you know that your book is selling “across the board”, not just in a few stores.”

I did make another list – Kepler’s Books – but this one I understand since I did a reading there on Jan. 27.

Of course the big mystery is the New York Times bestseller list and better minds than mine have tried to figure out how they calculate things. The way the list is classified is a trade secret.

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