A position on the New York Times Best Sellers List is coveted. But what does it take to get there? And what are the two golden rules for earning a spot on the list?

What is The New York Times Best Sellers List?

The New York Times Best Sellers List is widely considered the go-to list of best-selling books in the United States. Since October 12 1931, The New York Times Book Review has published the list weekly.

According to their website, the lists are “authoritatively ranked lists of books sold in the United States, sorted by format and genre.”

Published weekly, best sellers are sorted by a range of categories including hardcover fiction, paperback trade fiction, combined print & e-book fiction and young adult.

In 2022, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was the most frequent best seller of the year, with 12 weeks at the top of the list.

How do you make it on the list?

Most authors dream of earning themselves a spot in the weekly rankings. But in order to get there, The New York Times (NYT) has a number of rules, standards and procedures that must be met.

In other words, they control who’s allowed in, and who’s left out.

Rule 1: You must sell 5,000 – 10,000 copies in one week.

Rule 2: The book sales must be diverse. This means the sales must not originate from one entity. For example, if Waterstones sells 8,000 of your books that won’t count as diverse sales. Instead, it needs to be a split of X amount of copies through social media, your website, Amazon and Waterstones, for example.

The golden rules

The NYT has two golden rules when assessing whether or not a book is eligible for a spot on their best sellers list.

Rule one: Books must be traditionally published, not self-published.

Rule two: A minimum of 5,000 copies must have been sold within a week.


What is traditional publishing?

Traditional publishing means a book has been published by an establishing publishing house.

A publisher will offer an author a contract and in turn, prints, publishes, and sells their book through booksellers and other retailers. The publisher essentially buys the right to publish the book and pays the author royalties from the sales.

And in order to understand how books make it onto the list, it’s important to note another couple of things:


    1. Cumulative sales are not tracked. This explains why the Bible, the bestselling book of all time, will not appear on the list. 
    2. Certain types of book sales are more favourable than others when being ranked. Bulk sales will count towards best seller status, but E-books sold by an individual vendor will not.

How long can a book stay on the list for?

Technically, forever. There’s no limit as to how long a book can stay on the bestseller list for, as long as it continues to meet the requirements the NYT has set. And once a book has made it on the list, its popularity is often boosted, leading to further sales.

According to Guinness World Records, the book with the longest duration on the list is The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. On April 14 1995, it reached its 598th week on the list and over five million copies of the book have been printed.

More popular titles with long runs on the list include Greg Heffley’s Diary of A Wimpy Kid, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

So what’s the key to making it to the list? Sell a lot of books quickly, through a range of different platforms.

You can view the current NYT bestseller list here.

If you liked this post then read The history of The International Booker Prize or our interview with NYT bestselling author, Kathleen Glasgow, next. 

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Yasmin Wakefield

Yasmin Wakefield


Yasmin is a third year journalism student at The University of Sheffield, specialising in feature writing. She has previously written for the Sheffield Tribune and women’s magazine Pick Me Up! She is particularly interested in how mental health issues are portrayed in fiction.

Favourite genres: Romance, Crime and Thrillers.