I initially assembled a database of the New York Times Bestseller Adult Fiction List with a modest goal: to look at those novels which had stayed on top at least four weeks, a sort of peek at the blockbusters among the top selling fiction.
Along the way I decided this was unsatisfactory to address some of the questions which were popping up, so I decided to extend my database to include all novels that made it to number one over the period 1960 to 2015. This will allow me to make more comprehensive statements and will also allow me to look at the more recent time period.
I am extending my database now and I am approximately 80% finished. What questions can I answer? Here are some that come to mind.
- To what extent has the bestseller list been dominated by male authors? Has this changed in recent times?
- The short novel all but disappeared in the 1980s. Has it made a comeback? Or is its reemergence limited to just Patterson, Evanovich and Mary Higgins Clark? And if it is three productive writers does that constitute a comeback?
- How long are the novels of a specific genre? Which genres have dominated over the different time periods? I am still pondering how to identify genre for each. Do books that are equal part romance and mystery get counted as both? What should be my list of genres? For example, was Michener's ouevre "historical epic?" Or should his works be in a larger category that include dramatic epics?
- How well is the literary novel surviving? How has its representation in the list changed over time?
- What age were the authors when they made the top of the list? How many were first time authors? How much do veteran bestsellers dominate the list?
- Does anyone puff-up their novels as much as James Patterson? Preview: a well-known name gives him a run for the money.