Are Book Club Picks the New #1 Bestseller?

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What’s more important – being a bestseller or being lauded as the latest celebrity book club selection?

On the one hand, your book sales have satisfied – if not exceeded – the requirements to be added to a prestigious list.

On the other hand, your book was preciously hand-selected and separated from all the others and a real person shares with their millions of fans how it made them feel. Your name and novel are catapulted into the social media spotlight.

And sometimes, you even get both.

I started thinking about this as I browsed reviews of a #1 New York Times Bestseller that I’m currently reading and realized, a lot of people don’t agree with these popular book selections.

Have you ever picked a book with “#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER” emblazoned across the front or it had one of those tell-tale little round circle stickers that said “so-and-so’s book club” but when you read it, it left you feeling a little… lackluster?

Because SAME.

It feels slightly deceptive. This book is someone’s first choice! This book sold thousands of copies! I trusted theses total strangers’ judgement.

Over time, I have developed certain predispositions about these categories.

“#1 Bestseller” makes me think of dark-hued paperbacks about FBI agents and special forces men returning to do one last job.

“Book club” makes me think of colorful hardbacks with strong female leads promoted by internet-famous influencers.

How these notions specifically, developed, I can only speculate.

This post will not help you write a bestseller or be one of the bestseller books of 2020. But I hope it makes you think about if and why being a bestseller matters. Or why it matters to be a book club pick.

What are your thoughts on this? I would love to hear from a writing or publishing perspective. Read on and comment below!

What makes a book a bestseller?

Greenleaf Book Group says “Books are traditionally considered bestsellers when they meet one of three unofficial requirements: 1. placement on the New York Times bestseller list; 2. placement on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list; or 3. placement on the USA Today bestseller list. And, if we’re being frank, the highest prestige comes from making the illustrious New York Times list.”

The New York Times doesn’t list specific sales requirements on their About the Best Sellers page. Apparently, they are a little more secretive about the specifics.

In this article on the Wall Street Journal, the author claims that the timing matters.

USA Today lists their top 50 books in print and the top 150 online, and aims to combine the totals of hardcover, paperback, and e-book sales. “For example, if Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice sells copies in hardcover, paperback and e-book during a particular week, sales from each format are combined to determine its rank. The description of a title and the publisher name refers to the version selling the most copies in a particular week – hardcover (H), paperback (P) and e-book (E).”

In an article by the co-founder of Scribe Media (previously Book in a Box), the author says that being on a bestseller’s list (in this case, specifically the New York Times Bestseller’s List) shouldn’t be a main goal for someone who has a pre-existing income.

While the article definitely leans one way in its opinions, it also makes this valid point: “… it does make a lot of sense for professional writers to focus on bestseller lists. It is a status marker for the writing and publishing industry, and it does help them get better deals from publishers in the future.”

This opinion piece says, “Since the publishing industry still shows great deference to these lists, finding your name on them significantly impacts the advance on your next book contract.”

In the days of newspaper-only news, being a bestseller would have been a huge deal because that’s where people would find that information.

I don’t know how many people are skimming a New York Times or Wall Street Journal or USA Today to look at their list of bestsellers. (Although I will say that after reading about them, I am now most interested in USA Today’s list.)

While doing some Google searches on this topic, there were so many book titles that were bestsellers that I had never heard of.

To me, it seems one of the cons of being a bestseller is that the title gets lost in the crowd, but I imagine it would still feel special to be known as a bestseller.

So while it feels like there is a shift in progress, getting your book on a bestseller list still has its perks.

What about book clubs?

Oprah is credited with starting the first celebrity book club in the 1990s – and she’s still going strong today.

She’s been joined by the ranks of Sarah Jessica Parker, Emma Watson, Emma Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, athlete Andrew Luck, and more.

While it certainly doesn’t hurt to be on a bestsellers list, book club selections are readily photographed and widely shared across social media platforms. They get more bang for the book with the connotation.

It’s almost impossible not to notice whether a book made it onto a celebrity list.

I couldn’t find a ton of information on how celebrities select books. I’ve read snippets about emailing the organization and making the case for why they should select your book.

So however your book ends up on their #tbr you’ll be glad it did.


Neither bestseller lists nor book clubs take into account the total sales of books in the long-term. A lot of copies being sold upfront does not necessarily indicate long-term book sales.

Greenleaf also writes: “In some ways, bestseller status is becoming less relevant in this age of ebooks, apps, and digital downloads. Can a free ebook downloaded 100,000 times in a week be considered a bestseller? Not according to the New York Times, but it certainly must have been one of the most-read books of the week. In the long run, that will matter a lot more.”

Now that newspapers and periodicals are accessible online, it is easier to look at the bestsellers lists, but are any of us doing that? Regardless, I don’t think I’ve ever been swayed to buy a book because it was a bestseller.

Bestseller lists are great for established authors and book clubs seem to be better for emerging authors or specific topics.

Many book club selections introduce you to a new author or concept while you can rely on the bestseller lists to see the latest from your favorite long-term writers.

So, book club picks aren’t quite the new #1 bestseller, but they do have the power to launch a book onto the bestseller list.

At the end of the day, it’s awesome to see so many people being encouraged to read!

Do you follow any celebrity book clubs or read from the bestseller lists? Let me know!

Published by Oak + River Books

On a mission to explore the relationship between literature and nature.

2 thoughts on “Are Book Club Picks the New #1 Bestseller?

  1. I used to see Oprah’s list a lot – remember when she had James Frey’s autobiography on her book club, and then we discovered that the autobiography fake? Yeesh.
    Right now, I think Reese’s book club is the most well known among fiction readers. I personally don’t really read a book if it’s in a celebrity list. I’d rather check goodreads.

  2. Reese’s is super popular – it doesn’t hurt that she keeps producing shows/movies based off some of the books. I read they are going make a movie for “Where the Crawdads Sing” next. I read in one of the articles that Emma Watson’s book club Our Shared Shelf has good discussions on Goodreads, too.

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