Today, I’d like to chat about the New York Times Bestseller List and how it’s viewed by authors and readers. For me, the list has always been the holy grail. I’m inspired by authors who achieve it, awed by ones who dominate it. While making the list is not something that either of my books has attained, it remains something I’d love to someday add to my resume. But as I’ve learned more about the publishing industry, my perception about this revered list has changed. Here’s why.
In my pre-author days, I thought that, quite simply, the NYT list highlighted the most popular, best selling books in the country. In reality, the way the list is compiled is fairly complex. I’m not going to go into details here, but if you’re interested in reading more you can check out this post by Heather Maclean:
Suffice it to say that the list merely highlights the best selling books in certain locations for a specific one-week period. So, if an author has steady sales over months, she or he still may not hit the NYT list. On the flip side, a title could enjoy an early surge and make the list, even when sales over the long run prove lackluster.
So, let’s agree that the NYT list—despite its appeal—shouldn’t be the only measure of an author’s success. To maintain a writing routine, we need to develop other motivations—things that will keep us writing through good times and bad. I’m a goal setter by nature, so this has been fairly easy for me. But if you’re just starting out as a writer, you’ll want to spend some time reflecting on your own goals and how and when you want to accomplish them. What will keep you motivated on the journey? How will you measure your own success? Here are some possible options that might not put you on the NYT list but that have their own, often sweet, rewards. Because, after all, writing is not just for the pros.
1. Writing as a hobby.
Maybe you just enjoy making up stories and writing them down. Or keeping a diary. Or maintaining a blog for no reason other than the sheer enjoyment of it. There’s nothing wrong with writing for fun. Writing is an amazingly cathartic experience, too. So, if you’re going through a rough patch in your life, writing can clear your head and help you gain some wisdom and perspective. If you write as a hobby, you may never let anyone else read your work. Or perhaps you share it only with a few loved ones. As a blogger, you may have a dedicated cadre of followers. But the key is that you aren’t in it for the money. The NYT list is not in your future. But peace of mind and the joy that comes from doing something you love may be reward enough for your efforts. And one day, who knows, you may decide to go a step further and pursue a career as a writer.
2. Writing memoir or family histories.
Perhaps you’ve had some interesting or challenging experiences you want to capture. Or you’ve spent your life listening to your parents, grandparents, or close friends tell fascinating stories that you’d like to preserve. Many researchers claim that stories make us who we are—they shape our perceptions of ourselves, others, and the events we encounter. They can even help us cope with the challenges life throws our way. When you write to preserve stories, you’re acting, in a small way, as a historian. Self publishing a family history and passing it out at your next family reunion, or offering it as a holiday gift, might bring a great deal of enjoyment to a number of people you care about. My husband was recently told by a cousin about a book like this. It was written years ago, by an individual in the small Texas community where his father grew up. It has all sorts of interesting personal facts about his father’s family that he never knew. I’m sure the author is long gone from this world, but I wish I could tell him how much his little community-history book is still being enjoyed!
3. Writing as a ministry or mission.
Are you passionate about something—a philosophy, religious or political beliefs, a particular lifestyle? Often people turn to writing because they feel strongly about something and they want to share their knowledge. I’ve been to business meetings where speakers freely offer up their expertise, including a book they’ve self published, in order to augment their teachings —how to successfully grow a small business, how to build a website, etc. Not everyone who publishes a book plans to make money off it. Some people are happy to share their ideas and tips with others in a professional format.
4. Publishing for the love of it.
Not all writers make a lot of money. There. I said it. I once had a coworker argue this point with me. He was convinced that if a book was in Barnes and Noble, the author had made a ton of money on it. Hmmm. I’m here to say not so. There are authors who write good books—great books—and never get anywhere near the NYT Bestseller List. Not only that, they may not even make enough to quit or cut back their day jobs. Yet they keep writing. They find an audience and write to them. Consistently. Why? Because they love to write. They love to see their books in print. And meet with readers online and in person. And talk about books. For them, the thrill of holding their words—either in digital or print form—in their hands and knowing someone paid them for it and that people are reading it is reward enough.
As a reader, I learned a long time ago that many rich, wonderful books can be found outside the bestseller lists. So, next time you’re looking for a good read, give a new author a try. Read blogs—like this one—for some ideas. Or spend a rainy afternoon at your local bookstore or library. There are so many wonderful authors to discover, but you will never find them if you limit yourself to what the NYT presents each week. So, keep reading ... and, if you’re so inclined, writing. And maybe one day in the future we’ll find each other on the bestseller list!
About the Author
One of my earliest memories is of being read to by my mother, who was an avid reader herself, and of going with her to visit our local library. I loved—and still love—libraries, where I can find books by my favorite authors and discover new ones. For me, the library is the closest I’m apt to get to a time machine—past, present, and future all catalogued, dusted, and placed within easy reach.
I had an early and enduring love of mysteries, thanks to the shelf of blue-bound Hardy Boys books left over from my older brothers, and Arthurian legends, due to the fact that I grew up in a subdivision named Camelot on a street called King Arthur’s Court. From the Hardy Boys, I moved on to Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden and plans one day to start my own detective agency. The fact that I was scared of the dark was surmountable, I thought. I was an optimist.
Today, I am not a private detective, though I am still an optimist. When I’m not writing fiction, I work for a laboratory equipment manufacturer, solving mysteries of another sort, mostly during daylight hours—which is fortunate since I’m still afraid of the dark. I enjoy reading and discussing books, both fiction and engaging nonfiction. I garden, walk, kayak and ice skate near Athens, Georgia, and love everything about my beautiful state except for the mosquitoes.