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How Do You Make A Sunday Times Bestseller?


How Do You Make A Sunday Times Bestseller?

The title of today’s newsletter is a question that we writers wish we knew the answer to – how do you make the Sunday Times Bestsellers? If only there were a magic formula because here’s the thing, publishers don’t know either, that’s why they bet-spread across their lists every year, hoping that one of the books (particularly the one they’ve paid the big bucks for) will make it to that hallowed Sunday Times Bestsellers’ List.

As you know, myself and Wendy Mitchell were there just a matter of weeks ago with our second book WHAT I WISH PEOPLE KNEW ABOUT DEMENTIA. Our first, SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW, also made it to the Sunday Times Bestsellers. In fact, both books did in both hardback and paperback.

And this week, great news for friend of The Book Room, Jennifer Saint, who has stormed into the charts grabbing the number one spot for her new book, ATALANTA.

You may remember that Jennifer put together a curation of the best books on Greek myth for The Book Room, you can watch my interview with her here, and buy the collection of books here.

And you may also remember that Jennifer will be taking part in The Book Room’s Greek Myth Writing Retreat in June at The Rook Retreat, find out more about that here.

Speaking of which, there are still a couple of spots available for our first retreat with HAGS author Victoria Smith in May, one of the rooms that is left actually sleeps two so you could buddy up with a pal and share the cost. Find out more about our feminist writing retreat here.

Anyway, back to my initial question, what makes a Sunday Times Bestseller? Well, we might not have a magic formula to figure out exactly how to make it happen, but we do know how it happens, and this week I thought you might be interested in hearing about that process.

The way it works is this, each week booksellers across the UK and Ireland submit their sales figures to a market research company called Nielsen’s Bookscan. This must happen each week within a very small window, something like between 10pm Sunday and 10am Monday. It must also be submitted in a very specific way, a csv file that is analysed by a computer and the information fed in to create the results. Late entries are not accepted, and so authors and publishers are really at the mercy of booksellers to submit that data to be in with a chance of making the bestsellers’ list.

Unlike some other market research, Nielsen’s is accurate to within 3-4%, and an incredible 95% of booksellers feed this data into this mainframe computer every week, that includes giants like Amazon, chains like Waterstones, indie bookstores, and even a little (currently) online store like me.

In return for our efforts, each Tuesday at 3pm, Nielsen’s announces which books have been the big sellers that week, and participants known as The Panel, are able to view this data which helps them figure out which books they should be stocking, or restocking.

The process is so important to get right in terms of accuracy that even when booksellers join, they have a run in few weeks of practice runs, just to make sure they are submitting in the right way before their data is accepted and included.

Of course, until I started selling books myself, I had only ever been on the receiving end of this 3pm Tuesday reveal, I remember on publication of SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW getting an email halfway through my workshop on UEA’s MA course, and sharing the news excitedly with my fellow workshoppers – after all it was the stuff of dreams for us to have our fiction appear on that list.

What I didn’t know when I started out was that to be part of The Panel you need to contact Nielsen’s and get your sales counted. This might not feel like a priority, but when you’re selling huge numbers, like I was of HAGS, it can be the difference between an author making the Sunday Times Bestseller lists or not. The number of copies you need to sell in any week to make that infamous top ten changes each week depending on what else is moving – sometimes it might be 1000 hardback non-fiction books, other times it might be 1,800. A book that would have made the top ten one week, might not the next depending on what else is being sold. And as only solid sales are counted, it doesn’t matter how many copies you’ve got sitting on your shelves as a shop, the sale is only counted once it’s crossed over the counter, virtually or otherwise, from retailer to consumer.

So if a book has made it into the top ten, you know it’s pretty special, and its had to work blinking hard to get there.

Congratulations again to Jenny then, I haven’t actually read ATALANTA yet, but by all accounts – if we go by sales alone – it’s a great read and I can’t wait!

• There are various ways that you can support THE BOOK ROOM while I wait to find a place to reopen my physical shop. Firstly, you can buy a gift subscription for £5 a month, which not only shows your appreciation of my writing, but grants you 10% off purchases in my online shop with your own unique discount code.

Give a gift subscription

You can also order from THE BOOK ROOM, you might not find something you want here in this newsletter, or even in the online shop itself, but you can send me a CUSTOM ORDER and I can usually get any book to you within 48 hours.

You also might be interested in joining one of THE BOOK ROOM’S WRITING RETREATS. Places are booking up on our next three author-led retreats and I’m thrilled that we are hosting incredible authors like Victoria Smith, Jennifer Saint and Monique Roffey. Find out more about each retreat and book here.

And if you haven’t got any money and you still want to support, then sharing this newsletter might persuade some others to sign up as subscribers or buy a book themselves!


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