Books Forward BFFs June Influencer Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter for our Books Forward Friends. This issue features highlights of our BFFs, fun titles available for review, and special opportunities for our friends.

Download the June 2023 newsletter here!

What does it mean to be a NYT bestselling author?

For many authors, writing a book that becomes a bestseller is their dream goal. But what does it really take to become a bestselling author?

In the most broad strokes, you’ll want to sell at least 5,000-10,000 books in a single week in order to be considered by any of the major bestseller lists. Unfortunately, there’s no magic number of sales that will guarantee you a spot on a list.

And when you focus on the New York Times bestseller list in particular — which is perhaps the most well-known and considered by many to be the most prestigious — things get even more hazy. 

The NYT bestseller list isn’t representative of pure sales data alone. After all, recording every sale of every book within the U.S. in a single week is an impossible task. So, there’s some wiggle room as far as accuracy goes. But, there are also other factors that appear to work for or against certain books.

Right away in the against category, we have certain genres that are excluded from the list. At the time of writing this article, NYT states that “the categories not actively tracked at this time are: perennial sellers, required classroom reading, textbooks, reference and test preparation guides, e-books available exclusively from a single vendor, journals, workbooks, calorie counters, shopping guides, periodicals and crossword puzzles.”

If not all genres are created equal in the eyes of The New York Times, the same can be said about retailers. 

NYT has said it receives sales reports from some, but not all, independent bookstores, along with (we assume) major retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Since not all stores report to The New York Times, some sales may go unrecorded.

It’s also been rumored that diversity in sales will work in a book’s favor. The idea is that if sales are coming in from retailers in different regions across the country, and if the retailers vary from indie stores to big-box chains, this will increase an author’s chance of hitting the list.

This approach has caused some authors who sell the majority of their books on Amazon, and who appear to have met sales quotas, to question why they’ve not been featured in the NYT’s list. It’s possible that NYT favors sales from indie bookstores and that these carry more weight than sales via Amazon. This could be for legitimacy reasons, as NYT tends to be suspicious of authors or publishers who try to game the system.

As far as we know, a list of all indie stores that report to The Times is not publically available. That said, many authors will try to identify stores they believe report to NYT, and then they will arrange events with those stores, hoping to boost their rankings. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this strategy. It’s always a good idea to connect with indie bookstores, and if they happen to report your sales, even better! But, some authors have taken to more aggressive sales-boosting strategies that NYT frowns upon.

For example, some authors have admitted to purchasing bulk orders of their book from NYT-reporting stores with the intention of hands-selling them later on. But, if a book’s sales appear to be artificially inflated by bulk orders, The Times may not count those sales at all. Or, if they do, they’ll place a dagger next to the book’s title to denote that the sales numbers may have been given an unfair boost.

We get why authors are keen on making the NYT bestseller list. It usually results in increased sales and it’s excellent for branding. It’s an honor that you can carry with you throughout your career. Any book you publish in the future can have the words “NYT bestselling author” on it!

However, there are no shortcuts to making the list. Many authors who appear to have done everything “right” by getting the 5,000-10,000 sales they hoped for are left disappointed when they don’t make the list. 

Instead of making bestseller status your primary goal, try setting your sights on the stepping stones that may lead you there, such as building strong, lasting relationships with indie booksellers, or growing your fanbase and running a successful pre-order campaign. 

You may surprise yourself by all you can accomplish, and after each milestone achievement, you may even find yourself an unexpected bestseller. 

Books Forward BFFs May Influencer Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter for our Books Forward Friends. This issue features highlights of our BFFs, fun titles available for review, and special opportunities for our friends.

Download the May 2023 newsletter here!

Books Forward BFFs April Influencer Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter for our Books Forward Friends. This issue features highlights of our BFFs, fun titles available for review, and special opportunities for our friends.

Download the April 2023 newsletter here!

Books Forward BFFs March Influencer Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter for our Books Forward Friends. This issue features highlights of our BFFs, fun titles available for review, and special opportunities for our friends.

Download the March 2023 newsletter here!

Books Forward BFFs February Influencer Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter for our Books Forward Friends. This issue features highlights of our BFFs, fun titles available for review, and special opportunities for our friends.

Download the February 2023 newsletter here!

January Authors Forward interview with Mark Ellis and Chris Lloyd

Welcome to our Authors Forward series, where our innovative and talented Books Forward authors interview other great, forward-thinking voices in the industry.

For January, author and crime writer Mark Ellis interviews Chris Lloyd, author of the award-winning Occupation series.

  1. What inspired you to become a writer?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing stories as a kid, but I can vividly recall the moment I realised that that was what I wanted to do, when the idea that I wanted to be a writer entered my head and stayed there. My mum gave me a copy of The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier when I was ten and I was hooked. I was captivated by the book’s ability to tell a universal story that resonated across time and place through a small, personal tale of a refugee family in World War Two Warsaw trying to find each other after the devastation of the war.

That was the starting point. I was very lucky to grow up in a house filled with books – it was my mum who encouraged me to read, and my dad who encouraged me to write – but then life and all its tricks got in the way, until I somehow found myself writing travel books. After the initial fun of that began to wear thin, I realised the problem was that I needed to write my stories, the stories inspired by that moment when I was ten years old. And that’s when I took the plunge and rediscovered the path that finally led to me becoming a fiction writer.

  1. You are just about to publish the second in your wartime detective series set in Occupied Paris. Why did you choose that setting?

Many years ago, I wrote my degree thesis on the Resistance movement in the Vercors region of France, and one of the aspects that most surprised me was the amount of in-fighting and factions within the Resistance. That stayed with me and steadily grew, as I questioned how people as a whole reacted to occupation. I read a statistic that said that 3% of the population actively resisted and another 3% actively collaborated. I immediately wanted to know what the remaining 94% did and I came to the realisation that they simply tried to survive as best they could. Also, what exactly did the terms ‘resistance’ and ‘collaboration’ mean? There must have been huge grey areas between them, and times when an individual was forced into one or the other through circumstance.

I’ve read a lot of novels set during the Occupation, and the great majority look at heroic acts of resistance or are set among the upper echelons of the Occupiers. I wanted to explore what life was like for ordinary people, the ones trying to get by and keep their jobs and a roof over their head at the most challenging of times. This led to my wondering how a police detective would fare, trying to solve everyday crimes while all around him, far greater crimes were being committed. The obvious setting for this was Paris, a huge city with its attendant levels of crime, but also the seat of the Occupation and one that would allow me to look at both the bigger picture of Nazi rule and the everyday aspects of ordinary people and the dilemma they faced between acts of resistance and acts of collaboration.

  1. Historical crime fiction is booming. Why do you think that is?

I think that setting a crime novel in a historical period is a way of trying to understand and explain an unfamiliar era through a familiar type of narrative. The crime novel, its structure and intent, is something we all know and one where we have expectations that are usually fulfilled. That makes it a very good and accessible framework on which to hang something that is often less familiar. That might be a police procedural or a medical intrigue, or – in our case – a place and time in history. This specific historical era may be widely studied, as the Second World War is, but there are always aspects that are not so widely known or others that have become distorted through the retelling. It’s our job as historical crime novelists to pass on the history as truthfully and as honestly as we can while telling a story based on it that is engaging and satisfactory. We take a global history and turn it into an individual story, making it more manageable, more relatable today, and possibly easier to comprehend, and I think that’s something that resonates with readers.

  1. As a writer myself I am always fascinated by other writers’ working methods. Can you please describe a typical working day?

For a long time, I worked as a freelance translator, and no matter how organised I tried to be, writing inevitably became something I did in my spare time, an escape from the day job, so there was always a catch-as-catch-can element about it. Now, though, I’m lucky enough to be writing full-time, but I have to confess I’m still very much feeling my way into that. Writing feels very different when it’s an escape and when it’s what you do, but I’m steadily getting there.

Essentially, I start the day with a walk along the cliffs or the seafront where I live so that I can start to immerse myself in the story, see things differently, imagine scenes and dialogue, and perhaps spot plot holes. Then, I go back home and write all morning, from 9am to 2pm. I write in 30-minute blocks and aim to get 300 words written per half-hour session. In between blocks, I get up and walk about, make a cup of tea or coffee, do the vacuuming or something mundane, which all helps the story thoughts swirl around inside my head.

The first part of the afternoons is for admin – writing emails or social media posts, marketing, things for Crime Cymru (a collective of Welsh crime writers I’m a member of), and so on – while the second part is for research. Because the books are set in Paris during the war, they require a lot of research, and I often get drawn into all sorts of rabbit holes, so that part of the day can become fairly open-ended, but it is immensely enjoyable.

  1. Who are your favourite authors?

I would say that Josephine Tey, with The Daughter of Time, opened my eyes to the extraordinary potential of historical crime fiction, so she has to be somewhere near the top. In terms of other historical writers, I have immense respect for Robert Harris for his ability to set authentic stories across a range of periods, Philip Kerr for paving the way for WW2 noir, Andrew Taylor for the depth of atmosphere in his books, Laura Shepherd-Robinson for the layers of complexity and Vaseem Khan for opening up a period I knew little about.

Growing up, the writers that laid the foundations of my love of reading would have to be PG Wodehouse, Robert Graves, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Dorothy L Sayers, Dashiell Hammett, PD James, Edmund Crispin and Margery Allingham. Writers in non-historical crime and other genres that I admire include Jonathan Coe, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett for their love of language, and I’m a recent convert to Mick Herron, who has the extraordinary ability to make you care about the most unpleasant of characters.

Celebrate national puzzle day with a bookish puzzle

What’s better than a hot beverage, an excellent audiobook and a new puzzle? National puzzle day is January 29, and we put together a list of some great bookish puzzles to check out to celebrate. And keep an eye on our Instagram page for a giveaway that may be coming up!

  1. Visit the NYPL on a dreamy, snowy day
  2. Jane Austen lovers will love this hunt for some of her most iconic scenes and characters 
  3. Check out the bright colors of this idyllic bookstore front
  4. Let’s get together and read quietly
  5. A quintessential shelf filled with books and cats
  6. The first line of a book can tell you so much about it, and this puzzle is filled with great ones
  7. Any reader would be happy to move into this house filled with books
  8. Who else started their reading journey with Nancy Drew?
  9. Stacks of diverse spines to fill your 2023 TBR
  10. Some of the most recognizable classic covers
  11. If you’re in a book club, you’ve probably read one of these titles
  12. You’ll remember these bedtime stories fondly
  13. There are some surprises to find in this bookstore
  14. Take a trip up the ladder in front of these enormous shelves
  15. This bookstore has lots of levels to peruse
  16. What’s better than spending a day at the bookstore?
  17. A shelf filled with books and imagination
  18. Book lovers browse these illustrated shelves aside some plants
  19. This looks like a great set up for a bookstagram photo
  20. Spend a beautiful spring day at the library


How do pre-orders affect release day sales?

What are pre-orders and why are they important?

Pre-orders are early purchases of your book that will be fulfilled on publication day. 

Historically, pre-orders have been viewed as a predictor of a book’s success by retailers. If your book is making waves before publication day, booksellers may increase their initial orders and provide your book with more exposure, which, in turn, may increase your odds of hitting bestseller lists. 

This is in part why marketing campaigns typically kick off months before publication day—because early buzz for a book can help alter its trajectory for the better!

How do pre-orders affect release day sales–and bestseller lists?

As it stands, the relationship between pre-orders and bestseller lists is far from linear. 

Pre-orders through booksellers and traditional retailers can often increase your chances of hitting a bestseller list, as these numbers count toward your first week’s sales. 

However, on Amazon, pre-orders are recorded the day of purchase, rather than on release day. So, any pre-orders you receive here will not count toward your ranking on publication day.

So, do Amazon pre-orders not count?

In terms of bestseller lists, pretty much, since lists from the New York Times and USA Today are usually based on your sales rankings for the first week of publication. 

However, you will still be paid for these pre-orders, of course, and they will still count toward Amazon’s internal rankings.

This is why some “Hot New Releases” you see on Amazon haven’t actually been released at all. If a book receives enough pre-orders to climb Amazon’s rankings, it can be named a Hot New Release, even before pub day.

What’s the best Amazon pre-order strategy for me?

For established authors, pre-order campaigns are usually a given. However, for debut authors, it may take a bit more thought to determine which strategy is best for you. 

Readers love the instant gratification of receiving a book right away. Amazon knows this, which is why they offer 2-day shipping and instant Kindle delivery for book buyers. This desire for instant gratification is also what makes pre-order campaigns difficult—for any author, but especially for debut authors.

New authors are faced with the unique challenge of getting readers to commit to purchasing a book by an author they’re unfamiliar with, and then waiting, weeks or even months, for that book to arrive. 

For a series author with a dedicated fanbase, however, pre-orders are more likely to come in, especially if the earlier books in the series have been well advertised and are selling well. When readers are hooked on your storytelling, they’ll be all the more eager to order ahead.

If you’re on the fence about setting up a pre-order, remember: since your book gets a sales ranking as soon as your pre-order starts on Amazon, pre-orders can actually weaken your sales charts for publication week on the platform. This, in turn, can reduce the amount of exposure Amazon is willing to give to your book at that time. Their algorithm has been shown to primarily help books that are already selling well by featuring those titles in bestseller rankings, also-boughts on other book pages, and in marketing emails.

For this reason, many debut authors choose to run a short Amazon pre-order campaign or skip it altogether.

How long should my Amazon pre-order last?

Many authors set their pre-order for somewhere between 90 days and two weeks before publication day. To determine what’s best for you, consider your marketing plan: how many weeks will you be doing outreach on social media, to your email list, and through advertising? You can tailor the lifespan of your listing to match you or your publicist’s efforts.

What about early reviews?

Amazon doesn’t allow reviews pre-publication day, which, like most things, can be a positive or a negative aspect of the site, depending on your vantage point. If you’re worried about how your latest book might be received—perhaps you took a risk and ventured into a genre your fan base isn’t used to seeing from you—then pre-orders can actually be to your advantage, because you won’t have a fast reader leaving a negative review and deterring others from buying a copy and coming to their own conclusion.

Recap: To pre-order or not to pre-order?

Although every author will have a unique strategy that works for them, here are some quick tips to help with your decision:

  • On non-Amazon sites, pre-orders are always a good idea, as they’ll count toward your first week’s sales, and set you up for success in myriad ways.
  • On Amazon, pre-orders are typically a good idea for series authors and authors with strong, established fanbases.
  • For debut authors, pre-orders can be worthwhile as long as you’re running them in conjunction with a predetermined marketing strategy, with a timeline and objectives in place.
  • If your goal is to sell as many copies as possible in a short few days in order to appease bestseller lists and the Amazon algorithm, consider skipping or shortening a pre-order campaign.

A pre-order strategy, while important, shouldn’t cause you tremendous stress. You can always chat with other authors and learn from their experiences, and be sure to monitor how your strategy performs so you can tweak it for your next release if needed. Trial and error is often the name of the game, so the more observant and curious you can be, the better!

Happy selling!

An interview with Dana Swift of Books & Books

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

I love the children’s area. There is something truly magical about this colorful place where kids of all ages come to discover a new book or discover the joy of reading. It isn’t always some portal into fantasy or adventure either. The children’s area can also be where a historian picks up their first biography or botanist their first book about plants. The real magic happens when kids learn something new about themselves.

What author have you been starstruck to meet, or have you gotten to host a fun virtual event?

Being starstruck has become part of the job description because Books & Books hosts such wonderful authors. At my first event, I worked with one of my all-time favorite authors, Brigid Kemmerer. That experience set a high bar. However, most recently, I’ve gotten to introduce and help Maggie Steifvater sign copies of her books. While doing so, a nice customer inquired if Maggie was an author, and I began as any fan would gushing about Maggie’s books. That customer turned out to be Victoria Beckham, a fact I only registered after a fellow bookseller told me who I had been talking to.

What are some misconceptions people have about working in a bookstore?

My immediate response is to say something about the physical labor with hauling books, heavy books to be exact. But I also find the daily struggles are when customers think I can and have read everything in the store and thus ask me for recommendations in genres I don’t pick up as much. However, that’s my favorite part of working with other bookworms, who can find your next great read.

What is your least favorite bookstore task? Favorite part about working in a bookstore? 

My absolute least favorite part of the job is not being able to find a specific book for a customer when our systems say we have it. It’s down-right heartbreaking if a title has only been misplaced. On the other hand, I absolutely LOVE handing a customer a book they are excited about. There is nothing better than watching a customer’s face light up. Another favorite part of my job involves seeing my books in the bookstore every day. I was a bookseller years ago while I wrote my first novel and being a bookseller once again with my series on the shelf is indescribable. 

What’s the best dedication or first line of a book that you can remember?

I love first lines, but I also hardly recall all my favorites unless they entangle themselves into pop culture. For example, the opening of Pride and Prejudice feels like a staple of literature. One of the first lines I keep coming back to is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. It begins, “There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” There’s something about the simplicity and voice of the narration that shouts interesting.

However, I’ll leave you with this –– The first line to anything I’m re-reading is especially thrilling. For it means I’m once again going to be swept into a good story.

What’s YOUR favorite indie bookstore that you’ve visited, besides your own!

This is such a good question. I will say the list is mighty and varied. The first indie bookstore I ever encountered was Toadstool Bookshop in New Hampshire, a small pocket of joy I can easily sink into when I think of childhood. In Austin, Texas there are two bookstores I adore –– BookPeople for how large and diverse their selection and BookWoman, the first place I ever read my own fiction aloud to a group of strangers. For that’s the wonder of indie bookstores. They aren’t simply storefronts. They are experiences and connection and community wrapped in the love of literature. And I’m so glad to call Books & Books my home away from home. 

Dana Swift is the children’s book buyer at Books & Books in Miami.