Friday, February 3, 2017

Bestseller Lists and Gender

Have you heard about the changes the New York Times is making to its bestseller lists? As reported in Publishers Weekly on January 26, the newspaper will eliminate several of its bestseller lists—primarily online-only bestseller lists. Or in other words, e-book only bestsellers. A category in which romances make up the biggest part.

Which means that many romance authors, especially self-published ones, will no longer "make" the New York Times bestseller list, because their e-book sales will no longer "count." Which in turn means fewer romance authors will be able to use "New York Times bestseller" or "New York Times bestselling author" tags when they promote their books.

With all of the political madness ripping through our country right now, why should you care about whether or not romance novels appear on the New York Times bestseller lists?

Because the connections between genre and gender matter.

On Tuesday, January 30, Romance Writers of America issued the following statement:

As a trade association representing more than 10,000 writers of romance fiction worldwide, Romance Writers of America (RWA) is deeply disappointed by the decision of the New York Times to change its bestseller criteria.

Romance authors, most of them women, have dominated the best-seller lists in mass market and e-books for years. To dismiss these authors and the millions of readers who buy their books is to ignore what "bestseller" truly means. Each year, consumers buy more than $1.3 billion worth of romance fiction. If the New York Times eliminates the mass market and e-book lists, they are proving that they are out of touch with what consumers actually buy. Further, the dismissal of two formats dominated by women can't help but feel sexist.

RWA strongly urges the Times to reconsider its decision.

I don't know for certain, but I'm guessing that the word "sexist" hasn't appeared very often, if at all, in official statements from RWA in the past. Though some RWA members have expressed discomfort with this language, feeling that the Times' decision was not intentionally sexist, most members who have commented on listservs that I subscribe to applaud RWA's highlighting of the implicit sexism of the change. I join them in thanking RWA for taking such a strong, vocal stance.

RWA is also working with other organizations to draft a joint statement that points out the detrimental effect the Times' decision is likely to have not only on many women writers, but also on writers from historically underrepresented groups.

What are your thoughts about bestseller lists? How do they effect your romance purchasing choices?


  1. The joint statement's out now and one part of the statement I found particularly significant is:

    "mass-market paperback and e-book formats provide an entry point into publishing for new voices of every kind: women writers, writers of color and ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender writers, young writers, and writers who are creating new genres."

  2. Here's the joint statement:

    As organizations representing adult fiction authors, the undersigned believe the New York Times is making a tremendous mistake by abandoning its mass-market paperback and e-book bestseller lists. With this change, the Times is choosing to ignore a significant percentage of US book sales. Further, mass-market paperback and e-book formats provide an entry point into publishing for new voices of every kind: women writers, writers of color and ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender writers, young writers, and writers who are creating new genres. This decision serves no purpose in fostering a thriving, inclusive fiction market or strengthening the state of publishing. Additionally, the change will make the lists less relevant to authors and readers, as well as the entire publishing and library community.

    On behalf of more than 20,000 members and their millions of readers, we strongly urge the Times to rethink its extremely limited definition of what constitutes a bestselling novel.

    Total members

    Horror Writers of America


    Mystery Writers of America


    Novelists Inc.


    Romance Writers of America


    Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America


    Sisters in Crime


  3. I often think of the NYT Bestseller List like I think of the Oscars - it's usually a list of stories I'm not going to enjoy. I have rarely felt that the Times represented the stories I like to read. Maybe it's because I don't read what is popular or because I just read a lot of crap. Who knows but it's never where I go to look for authors and books. Blogs like yours are more apt to encourage me to pick up a particular book because I get a more personal invitation to read the book than the bestseller list. (To be honest, I can't remember the last time I even looked what was on the list.)

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