Here are some fun facts about the New York Times Bestseller List:
1) According to the New York Times, the bestseller list is curated. The methodology is considered proprietary, and has not been disclosed.
2) A 2004 study by economics professor Alan Sorenson found on average, appearing on the list increased a book’s first-year sales by 13%-14%. For first-time authors, appearing on the list increased sales by 57%.
3) Since 12/31/17, 22 books by first-time authors have hit the NYT Bestseller list for YA Hardcovers.
4) Of those, exactly one was by a Black author.
5) We need to talk about the list.
For this analysis, I recorded 129 weeks’ worth of data from the NYT Bestseller list for YA Hardcover.
This was not as time-consuming as one might think, because most of it was simply copying and pasting from the previous week.
All of the data used is publicly available via the New York Times’ own website; none of my findings are based on proprietary or confidential information. I also accounted for books with multiple authors, and authors who had multiple books hit the list.
Debut titles for this period are defined as the author’s first traditionally-published work, with a release date between 12/24/17 (the week prior to the 12/31/17 list) and today (6/8/20). For example, while The Hate U Give is noted as Angie Thomas’s debut novel, it is not counted as a novel that debuted in this time period.
I would like to acknowledge the imperfection of assigning broader race categories to authors from a variety of backgrounds, but it was necessary to provide a clear picture with a limited data pool. To the best of my ability, I assigned authors based on their own self-identification and available information to one of the following categories: Afro-Latinx, Black, East Asian, Latinx, Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, South Asian, Unspecified, or white. ‘Unspecified’ was used in instances where a pen name was used, and in the case of an author who stated they did not identify with any one race.
There is no category for Indigenous authors because no titles by Indigenous authors, debut or no, made it onto the list.
I primarily focused on three metrics: books that hit the list, authors whose books hit the list, and number of weeks a book occupied a spot on the list. Each of these has been broken out by race. Furthermore, I also collected data on the publishing imprint and parent publisher, so as to better identify publisher-specific trends.
Figure 1: Industry totals. Not promising.
Figure 2. We should probably discuss this.
Figure 3. We should definitely discuss this.
Figure 4. This is just absurd.
These numbers are, in my opinion, indefensible. Even the strongest statistic for Black authors — representing 27% of the weeks spent on the list — is deceptive.
As an experiment, I took the four authors representing the most weeks spent on the list, which were two Black women and two white women. I temporarily assigned their race to “Unspecified.”
That reduced the white proportion of weeks on the list from 58% to 41.6%.
It reduced the Black representation for weeks on the list from 27% to 3%.
Figure 5. An embarrassment.
Let me repeat that: removing the two white authors with the highest representation on the list merely knocked overall white representation down to just under half of the list.
Doing the same to the two most highly-represented Black authors reduced overall Black representation on the list from 27% to 3%.
When it comes to debut titles, the numbers are similarly grim. Of 22 debut titles that hit the list since 12/31/17, four are from East Asian authors, one is from a Black author, one is from a South Asian author, one is from a Southeast Asian author, two are from Middle Eastern authors, and one is classified as ‘Unspecified’ (the students of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School).
Twelve of the debut authors who hit the list are white.
No Indigenous, Latinx, or Afro-Latinx debuts made it to the list.
Figure 6. I would once again like to remind you that debuting on the list was found to boost sales by 57%.
I did say I broke these out by publisher as well.
A quick guide to the column headers:
Books — Titles that hit the list between 12/31/17 and 6/13/20
Authors — Authors who had a title hit the list in the same time range
Weeks on the list — Cumulative time spent on the list in the same time range
Debuts—Debut books that hit the list between 12/31/17 and 6/13/20
Industry share — How much a publisher contributes to the overall statistic. For example, Penguin had 26 titles by white authors hit the list in the time range. That represents 29% of the white authors who hit the list in the time range. (Yikes.)
Industry avg — what the industry average is, compared to what the publishing house’s statistic. For example, 80% of the Macmillan authors who made it to the list are white. The industry average is 70%. (Big yikes.)
Simon & Schuster
(Imprints listed on NYT YA Hardcover Bestseller List entry: Sourcebooks Fire, Soho Teen, Freeform, Bloomsbury, Scholastic, Disney, Titan, Marvel, Amulet)
More Fun Facts:
- Between 12/31/17 and 6/13/20, John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down spent 53 weeks on the NYT YA Hardcover Bestseller List. That’s exactly as much time as every East Asian author combined!
- Eleven imprints represent 62% of the titles on the list, and 62.5% of the authors:
- Again, all of this is sourced from public data provided by the NYT. If you’d like the compiled version, I’ve provided the base data here for your own analysis. I apologize for any discrepancies; I am just one person with a few hours on their hands.
- In the last two and a half years, twelve white authors have debuted on the NYT YA Hardcover Bestseller list. Of these, four titles only appeared on the list once. Of the titles that appeared once, two debuted at #2, then did not appear in any subsequent weeks.
- Since 12/31/17, no Latinx, Afro-Latinx, or Indigenous debut authors have made it onto the list. No Black debut authors have made it onto the list since Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, over two years ago.
- We need to talk about the list.
Edit: Since there have been multiple questions about this, I would like to note that per Elizabeth Acevedo’s website, The Poet X should not be considered her debut title, and has not been counted towards the debut titles in this time period. It should, however, be counted towards the metric of “books that should have their own statues,” but that’s for another article.