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You've seen it at the top of pretty much every book (well, except for that velociraptor erotic murder-mystery your creepy uncle self published): "The New York Times Bestseller."
The bestseller lists—including heavy hitters like the Times (which is arguably the most influential), USA Today and Amazon, as well as their hipster cousin, the American Booksellers Association's IndieBound list—are a great way to figure out what's popular with the cool kids.
Some of the authors are familiar, writing books in long-standing series. Some of the books are on the big screen. And a few are by debut authors who come seemingly out of the blue with a book that gets stuck in everyone's head.
In fact, a lot of these works might be called "guilty pleasures." But why are people ashamed of reading bestsellers, as though they just scarfed down a whole bag of fun size Reese's peanut butter cups in one sitting?
We here at Shmoop like to think all books are worthy of the same treatment. So let the guilt go, and feel the weight of many pages lift from your shoulders. And even if you can't do it—too bad, because bestsellers are here to stay.
In this unit, we'll be asking ourselves: what makes a bestseller a bestseller? We'll talk about the books and even profile some of these blockbuster authors to see what makes them so successful. Who knows? Maybe you'll see your creepy uncle up there someday.
- The bestselling books of all time include The Lord of the Rings, A Tale of Two Cities, and Harry Potter, Harry Potter, Harry Potter. (What, no Twilight? No Oogy?)
- Two of the all-time bestsellers are in Chinese, one is in Spanish, one in Portuguese, one in French, and at least one has been translated into Elvish.
- The bestseller lists are sometimes divided into fiction and non-fiction, hardcover and paperback, adult and children's, and so on. So far, there isn't a category for "Twilight knock-off" or "self-published erotica," but just wait a few years.
- There is no science to making a bestseller. One industry expert describes it as "Just a feeling." We wonder what it feels like. Excitement? Indigestion? A kick in the shins? Oh wait, those are the feelings we get when reading James Joyce.
- Some of the bestselling authors in the world right now include Janet Evanovich, Charlaine Harris, John Grisham, and Lee Child, but their books aren't talked about in any literature classes (except this one, of course). What gives?
- Bestsellers span all genres, from fantasy to horror, historical fiction to young adult, and everything in between. Shopping the bestseller shelf is like an all-you-can-eat buffet for your mind.
- A good book jacket is a combination of slick cover art, a catchy title, a recognizable author, and a killer blurb. Sometimes the book jacket ends up being just as iconic as the book—if not more so. We could draw The Great Gatsby cover from memory.
- What is a bestseller? No really, what it is really? You're gonna have to weigh in on this one.
By the end of this unit, you should be able to
- know where to find bestseller lists online.
- read and analyze the bestseller lists to find out what's hot, what's going to be hot, and what's starting to cool down.
- identify bestselling authors at a glance. Amaze your friends.
- understand the challenges to becoming a bestselling author.
- start forming an idea as to why these bestselling books are so popular.