Last weekend I was running a series of workshops on behalf of Relax & Write http://www.malagaworkshops.co.uk/id14.html about writing a bestselling non-fiction book.
Naturally, the question arose about how many copies do you have to sell until you can claim you have a bestseller?
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t straight forward. It all depends … upon how many otherbooks are being bought at the same time.
Book sales data is collected by Nielson Bookscan http://www.nielsenbookscan.co.uk/controller.php?page=48 who compile their own bestseller lists, which many of our newspapers then reproduce on their book pages. Data is collected from till points across the UK, including most bookshops and many online stores, although they don’t collect sales data from every retailer with a book offering (think of the garden centres, tourist gift shops and even card retailers who sell books). However, they certainly collect a vast amount of data from a wide variety of sources, so their data is a fantastic indicator.
To be on the bestseller lists a book needs to perform well compared with other books out there in the market. What this means is that what might be a good sales performance one week is not enough for the following week.
In December 2003 my book, One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human reached number 7 in the top ten non-fiction paperback bestseller lists. To reach that position on that particular week it had sold 5,335 copies. The book in the number 10 slot had sold just over 4,600 copies during the same week. (Number 1 was Stupid White Men by Michael Moore, which sold 11,479.)
The following week my book reached number 3 (I did the happy dance that week, I can tell you!), because it had sold 9,445 copies in the previous seven days.
However, whereas in the previous week it was necessary to sell just over 4,600 copies to make the number 10 position, in this week the book in tenth place had sold just over 6,000 copies. So, in the previous week sales of 4,600 saw the author on the bestseller lists, but the following week 4,600 sales wasn’t enough to claim bestsellerdom.
In the third week of December I reached number 2 of the non-fiction paperback bestseller lists (Yay!), having sold 12,815 copies. Tenth place was taken by a book that had sold 7,310 copies: nearly 3,000 more copies than the tenth placed book two weeks previously. (And for those who want to know, because I know you will, first place on this particular week went to Michael Moore, again, who’d sold 17,262 copies.)
So it’s all a question of relativity. And remember, the examples I’ve given here are for the run up to Christmas, the peak sales period for books. The book at the tenth position on last week’s non-fiction paperback bestseller lists had sold 2,698 copies.
As you can see, having a bestselling book is not just about how good your product is, but also about how well everyone else’s books are selling in comparison to yours, and what the overall demand for books is generally.
Of course, you can’t have a bestseller until you’ve written a book. And no author sits down to write a bestseller. Because no-one knows that magic ingredient that will make a book a bestseller. But what every bestselling author does is sit down to write a book. So if you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo on 1st November, don’t think about bestsellerdom. Just concentrate on getting the book written first.