All publishers aspire to have their books hit bestseller lists, and probably no list more so than the New York Times, the coup de grace of bestseller selections. So how does one achieve a spot on this compendium of all the books fit to list? It turns out the criteria are not as straightforward as you might expect.
Following reports that George Lakoff’s political work Don’t Think of an Elephant! had made the Booksense and San Francisco Chronicle paperback bestseller lists, Chelsea Green received word that the book had made #30 on the NY Times paperback list. We were ecstatic, but troubled to see that the book was listed with the wrong author (Howard Dean) and wrong publisher (Ballantine). When president and publisher Margo Baldwin called the Times to correct the information, she was told that the book was no longer on the list at all, as it had been reclassified as a How-To/Self-Help book. What follows is a mystifying conversation between Chelsea Green staff members and the book taxonomists at our nation’s Paper of Record.