How Lock In Is the #1 (and #20, and #107) Book in the US

If you’ve been following me here and on Twitter this week, then you know I’ve been delighted that Lock In has been doing very well in terms of sales: It hit the New York Times Hardcover Fiction best seller list and a few other lists as well. And in doing so, the list shows that the book is seemingly all over the charts.

For example, Bookscan, whose lists note sales at bookstores (well, some bookstores — the ones that report to Bookscan) reports Lock In as the #1 front list science fiction seller last week. The New York Times reports it as the #20 hardcover fiction book. The USA Today bestseller list, which I got sent to me today, ranked the book at #107 — which seems a far cry from #20 or #1. So what’s going on?

The answer is that all these lists report different things. Bookscan, as noted, reports bookstore point of sales, and the list in this case is confined to science fiction books (or even more specifically, books identified as science fiction), and to “front list” — books that are new to the market. Bookscan gets reports from many but not all bookstores, and focuses on print sales. So many sales won’t get reported — sales from some indie stores, sales of electronic books and audiobook sales are not part of these reported numbers. The discrepancy is sometimes significant.

The New York Times, as I understand it, uses a combination of sales, sampling from specific bookstores and a few particular guidelines for each list it generates to create its rankings. So the Hardcover Fiction list focuses (generally) on new releases in (surprise!) hardcover fiction, not considering electronic or audio sales at all (NYT also has electronic only lists, as well as combined print/electronic lists, plus various fiction and non-fiction lists).

The USA Today list doesn’t make any distinction between fiction and non-fiction or between older and newer books, or between print and ebook (although I think audio is still excluded); it simply puts them into one big pile and tells the ranking of everything that is selling that purports to be a book. On the USA Today list, Lock In competes with everything from 50 Shades of Grey to To Kill a Mockingbird to Minecraft strategy guides.

So each of these lists tracks sales, but does it in a different way, using different metrics and lumping books in different piles. As a result, Lock In is legitimately the #1 book, and the #20 book, and the #107 book, in all of the United States. The #1 NYT hardcover fiction book last week, The Long Way Home, is #5 on the USA Today list. The #5 NYT hardcover fiction book (The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks — congratulations Brent!) is #26 on the USA Today list. And so on.

These variances may lead you to ask which is really the most accurate bestseller list, and the answer is: Well, based on what? Bookscan is based on pure sales — but only sales that Bookscan tracks. NYT chops up sales into categories and adds a few twists to the pure sales number, presumably to give a clearer picture of what’s really moving among newer books. USA Today loads all books into the same pile but also does “analysis” based on sales. Again, each of these lists (and any other list you might name) are working off different numbers, and using different ground rules.

At the end of the day, what the best seller lists do is not exact. What they do, both individually and as a gestalt, is give you some idea of which books are the front of sales and front of mind, from week to week. I’m happy to say that what it means for me, no matter how you slice it, is that Lock In did pretty well for itself in its debut week. And that works for me.

24 Comments on “How Lock In Is the #1 (and #20, and #107) Book in the US”

  1. As an extra added wrinkle, consider that these weekly rankings are relative only to other books that week — that the #1 (or #17, or #85) selling book on any chart may sell greater or fewer numbers than the same book at the same rank the week before (or a month before, or a year before).

    Also, I went ahead and opened comments on this piece. They’ll be on for a couple of days.

  2. I got my autographed copy today. Guess what I’ll be reading tonight! Wahoo!

    PS – my friend who ordered our copies pointed out that the signature is rather graphic. As in a graphic, a bit of artwork. Would be interesting to look at the evolution of Mr. Scalzi’s signature, from the olden days before autographing and today after literally thousands of signatures.

  3. Isn’t there a way to view rankings on Amazon? I mean not just for you (as an author) but for us little curiouser peeps?

  4. Lif Strand:

    My public signature was developed before I was famous, because in high school I decided I was going to be a famous writer and practiced a signature that would be kinda awesome. So by the time I was a novelist, it was already solidly formed. Also, it’s nice that I actually did become an author, otherwise I’d be a history teacher with a really groovy signature.


    You can view the Amazon rankings on Amazon; otherwise, no.

  5. Bought and read the Kindle ebook. Really enjoyed it — it’s my favorite of your books so far and I believe the fourth or fifth I’ve read. Looking forward to the spoiler discussions soon. Happy travels.

  6. According to Amazon rankings, Lock-In is (at the moment) anywhere from 4th (SF new releases, the audio version) to 98th (Kindle store Mystery and Thrillers list, Kindle version). Multiple editions means multiple rankings, going higher and lower depending if the list focuses on strictly new releases or includes everything listed as SF (for example) ever published.

  7. JS

    Over here in England ‘Lock In’ went on sale the same day as the hardback of the latest Jack Reacher novel; I suspect that’s the case also in the US. I bought both, by the way, and enjoyed them both.

    Confronted by a story, ‘Personal’, which will undoubtedly sell whole container ships full of them, in competition for placing on the NYT list, I am all the more impressed that Tor chose to launch ‘Lock In’ then.

    They could have scrabbled around for another day without the massively high profile author’s guaranteed Number 1, but they didn’t; instead they set about selling it, in just the old fashioned way that publishers are frequently castigated for.

    They are doing it remarkably well; It really does seem to me to be a win-win scenario..

  8. Couldn’t make it to Vroman’s last night- I was up to my elbows in jam-making. (pomegranate jelly is seriously messy!) My (hopefully) signed copy should be on its way.

  9. What do these rankings in week 1 mean for both Lock In and your career? I know that first week sales are important, but I’m a bit fuzzy on why.

  10. I’m pleased that Lock In is getting the attention it deserves, regardless of how it’s numbered in any given ranking, because I think it’s a book that says a lot of important things, including some unexpected ones, quite well indeed. The subversive part of me takes quiet pleasure in seeing what I consider a subtly subversive novel getting so much mainstream attention, and I hope that at least some of the eager mainstream readers pause at certain points to say “wait, what? Just what exactly DID he mean there?”

    I should add, lest it isn’t clear, that my use here of the word “subversive” is not pejorative in the slightest, and that I consider that characteristic a favorable recommendation rather than otherwise.

  11. You have to work the deal that the political garbage dealers work. Have Tor make mass purchases of the book to ensure #1 across the board. Slapping that #1 on the cover will sell a few extra copies but more importantly it can feed your ego on cold Ohio winter nights.

  12. The Austin American Statesman reported Lock In #1 in local book sales. Which makes sense, because the numbers came from Book People, where you had your event last week.

  13. Your publishers pays commissions based on sales. My guess is that is when the real numbers come in. When does your publisher get paid and do they keep rolling totals on sales.

    Minecraft owns.

  14. There are of course, lies, damn lies and statistics. There are so many ways to measure any one thing that its impossible for anyone to know the true answer (as opposed to an answer based on assumptions). This is the opinion of the local statistician.

    Oh and I’m halfway through Lock In and loving it.

  15. “John Scalzi: Multiple Bestseller” :). Though I’m guessing it’s the New York Times listing that will have the most attraction as a banner in future.

  16. @Whatnot – I’m sure it pleases Scalzi’s vanity. But charts influence wholesalers and editors and reviewers. Even potential readers! If someone strolls into the bookshop/looks at the website and sees his book near the top, they might be interested to take a look.

  17. I often wonder if these lists also include audiobooks? (Suppose I could google and will after I leave this comment). I purchased Locked In last night from Audible because Will Wheaton is your narrator :) Looking forward to it.

  18. I’m looking forward to listening to both Amber Benson’s version and Wil Wheaton’s version of the book. Wil hasn’t let me down yet when narrating, and it will be very interesting to see what another performer makes of the same material. It’s a pity that the audiobooks aren’t counted on the major lists, but if I can make your signing in NYC, I’ll be picking up a hardcover as well. I’m happy to make my modest contributions to your daughter’s higher education fund and be entertained in return.

  19. “It’s really all just vanity isn’t it?”
    Well, sure, other than for the hard fucking work, skill and cleverness bit…

    I’ve enjoyed all your books (not read ‘Agent’ yet, but have it), and Lock In heads my list, IMO, just nudging Android’s Dream from the top. Excellent, clever book. Very happy for your continued King of the World status. ‘o)

  20. Reblogged this on Descriptions of the Nondescript and commented:
    Scalzi is the model of my future in some ways. We share a lot of traits in common, after all: beautiful wife and family, major talent and vision, and devilish good looks.

    But it’s this life of being able to write for a living, traveling around meeting people with new and fresh ideas, doing _imagination_ to keep the food on the table that is most attractive to me. I want that.

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