It's every writer's dream to get his or her novel on The New York Times Best-Seller list, the most influential such list in America, which dates back to 1942. So how do you do it? No one really knows. The New York Times won't reveal what constitutes a best-seller, saying its methodology is a trade secret. We do know the newspaper asks chain bookstores, independent bookstores and wholesalers about their sales figures, but that's about it. The reason for the secrecy is supposedly that if the system was known, publishers could play around with sales data to their advantage.
It should be a relatively easy formula: A book that sells 'x' number of copies in a week or month or year is a best-seller. But one book that sells 32,000 copies can be named a best-seller, while another that sells even more is not. Times employees skirt around the issue, saying there are "official" best-sellers and "unofficial" best-sellers [source: Gould].
This trade secret has gotten the company into legal battles at times. In 1983, William Peter Blatty, author of "Exorcist,"unsuccessfully sued the newspaper for $9 million, saying that amount equaled his lost revenue when the paper didn't add his novel "Legion" to its best-seller list [source: Watson].