Thoughts on the NYT List and a Potential YA Split

A look at the NYT list suggests we might need to make like a banana and split

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This is something I have been thinking about for a while now, and since the weather was too bad to go to the zoo, I finally sat down and got my thoughts in order – and discovered a whole lot more.

That “New York Times Bestselling Author” is a coveted title, and naturally it goes on book covers and websites as soon as possible. It’s shorthand saying “lots of people bought me, so I must be good!” to new readers, just like quirky handwritten cover font means quirky YA contemporary or a bare neck means someone’s going to be bitten by a vampire. And of course it’s a status symbol: I sold lots and lots of books. I am successful.

With all the talk recently about seeing familiar faces on the list all the time I started to wonder: how many debuts have I actually seen crack that list?

The Current New York Times Young Adult Bestseller List

So I decided to take a look at the latest list and see how it might look if there was, in fact, a split list. How many familiar paperback faces, how many new hardback ones and where would each one go? But first, to look at the list as it was and just see what exactly it is saying.

Below I have replicated the NYT YA List for March 2, 2014 but with a few additions: the date of the original (US) publication of each book and the current formats available (HB = Hardback, PB = Paperback and E = Ebook).

NYT YA List: March 2, 2014

#TitleAuthorFormat(s)Original ReleaseWeeks
1The Fault In Our StarsJohn GreenHB, PB, EJanuary 10, 201264
2The Book ThiefMarkus ZusakHB, PB, EMarch 14, 200663
3Looking For AlaskaJohn GreenHB, PB, EMarch 3rd, 200564
4Hollow CityRansom RiggsHB, EJanuary 14, 20145
5Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenRansom RiggsHB, PB, E,June 7, 201140
6Paper TownsJohn GreenHB, PB, EOctober 16, 200850
7Eleanor and ParkRainbow RowellHB, EFebruary 26, 201314
8An Abundance of KatherinesJohn GreenHB, PB, ESeptember 21, 200623
9The Perks of Being A WallflowerStephen ChboskyHB, PB, EFebruary 1, 199963
10This Star Won't Go OutEsther Earl with Lori and Wayne EarlHB, E January 28th 2014 3

There you have it, the top ten best-selling (by the NYT’s methods, anyway) non-series YA books of the week. And people are right: we are seeing the same faces multiple times and just overall staying on the list.

Some things I noted while looking at this list and breaking it down:

  • There are six (primary) authors on this list: John Green, Ransom Riggs, Markus Zusak, Stephen Chbosky, Rainbow Rowell and Esther Earl.
  • Four are men, two are women. All but one (Markus Zusak, Australian) are from the United States.
  • Of the nine novels, six feature a male protagonist, two feature a female and one has both a male and female protagonist.
  • Of these protagonists, one is non-white (half-Korean)
  • Four books on this list are by John Green. All are standalone books and so will remain on this list rather than move to the series list.
  • Two books are by Ransom Riggs. A third Peculiar Children book will move Riggs off this list and onto the series page.
  • The oldest book is The Perks of Being A Wallflower which came out in February 1999 (and is the only book prior to 2000 on this list). The most recent is This Star Won’t Go Out, released January 29, 2014.
  • One book came out prior to 2000, four were released between start of January 2000 and end of 2009 and five released since January 2010.
  • Four books have been on the list for over a year, and a fifth is just two weeks away from the one year mark.
  • Six of these books are either contemporary YA or set in the recent past. One is a historical book narrated by Death. Two are dark fantasies. And the last is a combination of fiction, memoir, essays and more.
  • Perks of Being A Wallflower and The Book Thief had movie adaptations released in 2012 and 2013 respectively. The Fault In Our Stars has a release date of 2014. While no release date has been set, Tim Burton is attached to direct Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

The separate YA list was launched on December 16, 2012; prior to this there was a single list for children’s paperback books and a single list for children’s chapter (aka hardcover) books (which included Lego character encyclopedias?). Unlike the adult sections, with multiple lists covering hardbacks, paperbacks (of various kinds) and ebooks, the new YA list consolidated all print and electronic sales.

One problem with this is that the three formats – with their different price points and availability – are all competing. More people take a risk on a paperback rather than a hardback or discover an author’s latest book and then dive into their backlists. These authors sell better and stay on the list and get promoted which leads to more sales and so the circle continues.

Meanwhile people see a new author in hardback and see the price and either think “I’ll wait to get it in paperback” or just don’t get the book at all. Even established and well-recognised authors have trouble cracking the list with hardbacks and staying there, dropping out as soon as the pre-order rush is over.

And if YA legends such as Laurie Halse Anderson – whose novel Speak was so influential that Penguin named an imprint after it – can only crack the bottom of the top ten with a new hardback and struggle to stay on for more than a few weeks, what does that mean for debut authors without a massive platform, a massive publisher push or the support of a big name author?

How many new voices are we missing out on?

2 COMMENTS

  1. But let’s be honest, even a massive publisher push has failed books before. Look at Crewel, for instance, or beyond that into books like Shatter Me or Under the Never Sky or Origin. True, two of them have made the NYT list, but BARELY, while the other two had thousands upon thousands invested in their success only to fail. Origin especially.

    So, I think we can mostly remove that, even though it did work for Divergent. Otherwise? Not an especially big deal.

  2. I don’t actually pay much attention of NYT lists, or many other lists of this nature. I’m much more likely to read some reviews or watch some BookTube videos on a specific book than look up one of these lists. In fact, selling the most books is a reason I’ll let an author sit a little longer–because I rarely buy the hype.

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