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You Can Get on the Sunday Times’s Best-Seller List by Selling Fewer Than 2K Copies

I know everyone is upset that Mark Dawson has publicly admitted to buying his way on to a best-seller list, but I for one was surprised to learn that the bar was so low.

From The Guardian:

Take the case of Mark Dawson, a British writer who just over a week ago hit No 8 on the Sunday Times hardback list with his thriller The Cleaner, released by the independent publisher Welbeck at the end of June. This is a great achievement for any author or small publishing house, but Dawson had done something remarkable: he bought 400 copies of his own book, at a cost of £3,600, to push his sales high enough to make the top 10.

On the latest episode of his Self Publishing Show podcast, Dawson explained why he did it. When Nielsen released its midweek chart, Dawson had realised that The Cleaner was sitting at No 13, having sold around 1,300 copies that week – just outside the coveted top 10. He hit on the idea of buying the book himself in the UK, to sell to readers overseas. “We’d like to get to the top 10 … we’ve been trying to think of ways we can do that that would count those sales as sales for the chart,” he said.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t get past the fact that the book in the #8 spot on the Sunday Times best-seller list sold fewer than 2,000 copies in a week. That is a very low bar for making the list.

If that is really all it takes to make the list then the list is not actually a sign of popularity or quality. The best-seller list doesn’t mean anything, and if the list doesn’t mean anything then buying your way on to it doesn’t mean anything, either.

The reason why this is possible is that The Times’s has several lists, including separate lists for hardback and paperback. As we see in the photo Mark posted, almost the entirety of the paperback list outsold the hardback list:

In short, folks, making the top ten on the "Original Fiction" list is about as meaningless as the best-seller lists for the niche categories on Amazon. The books on that list aren’t actually best-sellers.

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Xavier Basora July 21, 2020 um 8:31 pm


So best seller is just a marketing ploy? Golly! I had no idea!


Nate Hoffelder July 21, 2020 um 8:58 pm


Lindsay Buroker July 21, 2020 um 9:52 pm

Well… the UK has a fraction of the population of the US so it stands to reason that there are fewer book buyers and it takes fewer sales to make a list there.

I believe it’s 10-12K sales in a week to hit the New York Times list these days, and that’s about the biggest most influential one in the US with our population of over 300 million.

Nate Hoffelder July 21, 2020 um 11:15 pm

The paperback list was showing that the number one spot had 21k sales, and the number ten spot had 6k sales. My point is that the hardback list that Dawson bought his way on to was never actually a best-seller list.

Disgusting Dude July 22, 2020 um 6:39 am

The NYT "bestseller" lists aren’t *best* sellers lists.
They made that clear years ago (repeatedly) as they openly excluded books lect and right. The last time they came right out and said (in Publishers Weekly) it was a list of new releases their staff annointed worthy of consideration and buying. A promotional tool for their advertisers. That was right after a year-old indie kids book that had been around for a year, picking up word of mouth recommendations and steadily growing sales until they hit the NYT lists with 35,000 sales in a week. They promptly rejiggered the list to keep such an abomination from ever happening again.

And Dawson is hardly the first to buy his way to "NYT BESTSELLER" book blurb. There have been repeated incidents of authors doing it and bragging afterwards. Dawson merely came in cheap; typically it costs about US$5000. The biggest practitioners of this art are the self-help and financial types who buy up a few tgousand copies that they then distribute at their paid speaking engagements. Politicians have supporters buy the books and then distribute them at fund-raising events.

It’s always been a joke.
A book can sell a million copies in a year and never show up, while a one-week wonder could get on the list for a thousand.

Even if the list were a true tally of what people are buying (instead of what the NYT gnomes think they should be buying if they were right-thinking folk), today’s book market is very different from centuries past because of the ready availability of used books (ABE BOOKS!), POD, ebooks and the eternal backlist, and Indies. The number of choices available to shoppers is inmense so there will never again be anything like 50 shades, much less the Michener books of old.

Today’s key word, boy and girls, is DILUTION.

me July 26, 2020 um 8:36 pm

This reply is more interesting than the blog post. Just seems like the world is becoming more and more depressing.

Nate Hoffelder July 28, 2020 um 3:59 pm

That’s nice, dear.

tired July 22, 2020 um 9:29 am

I haven’t heard of the Sunday Times but the Wall Street Journal’s list is actually based on sales data and is not just a marketing tool like the New York Times and apparently the Sunday Times.

Disgusting Dude July 24, 2020 um 11:48 am

B&M Bookstore sales data.
(Which boycott APub titles, which sell massively but not at brink and mortar.)
Not online and certainly not Amazon’s.
No list is accurate, they just pretend to be.
That includes Amazon’s, which are skewed by the default exclusivity of APub imprints.

Relying on popularity lists is far from a good discovery tool.

Allen F July 22, 2020 um 2:49 pm

Heh, another part of their game was they got tired of having to admit that several of the Harry Potter books were hogging their top ten slots week after week. 😉

bob h July 23, 2020 um 2:56 pm

reason is mispelled in the fifth paragraph.

Nate Hoffelder July 23, 2020 um 2:58 pm

fixed it, thanks!

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