Thursday, May 14, 2015

New York Times Bestsellers: A Look At The Authors

The New York Times Adult Fiction Bestsellers List is a surrealistic reflection of America, where Nobel Prize winners rub shoulders with manic typists, a landscape of Don Corleone and werewolves.


The Authors

Between the years 1960 and 2015, 204 authors account for the 598 novels in the number one position on the weekly lists. This includes fifteen co-authors who did not appear separately with novels of their own. Ninety-four authors made one appearance. This means that the authors with multiple entries averaged 5.2 novels.

The top ten leaders account for 221 of the novels and 668 weeks:

  1. James Patterson, 49 novels, 93 weeks. Average length: 68,565 words.
  2. Stephen King/Richard Bachmann, 31 novels, 125 weeks. Average length: 188,688 words.
  3. Danielle Steel, 27 novels, 105 weeks. Average length: 98,024 words.
  4. John Grisham, 23 novels, 117 weeks. Average length: 108,214 words.
  5. Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, 23 novels, 27 weeks. Average length: 122,307 words.
  6. Janet Evanovich, 20 novels, 29 weeks, 68,019 words.
  7. Patricia Cornwell, 18 novels, 42 weeks, 114,096 words.
  8. Mary Higgins Clark, 16 novels, 44 weeks. Average length: 86,339 words.
  9. Tom Clancy, 14 novels, 71 weeks. Average length: 266,228 words.
  10. Dean Koontz, 13 novels, 29 weeks. Average length: 130,127 words.
The leader for most weeks with a number one novel goes to James Michener, 9 novels, 195 weeks. Average length: 437,463 words.

Books with co-authors.

Seventeen different pairs of author/coauthors accounted for 49 books.

These are:

  • James Patterson plus one of ten coauthors. 33 books.
  • Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. 7 books.
  • Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. 3 books.
  • Stephen King and Peter Straub. 2 books.
  • Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. 1 book.
  • Clive Cussler and Paul Kemprecos. 1 book.
  • Tom Clancy and Grant Blackwood. 1 book.
  • Tom Clancy and Mark Greaney. 1 book.
Both Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson have had number one novels independent of each other. For the rest, the second author is present on the list only with his or her partner.

Male Versus Female Authors.

When I approached an analysis of a previous list, that of the top 100 mystery novels by the British Crime Writers' Association, I naively imagined male and female authors would be equally represented. On the female side, I thought of such greats as Agatha Christie, P.D. James, Dorothy L. Sayers and the recently departed, Ruth Rendell. In fact, only 17 of the authors were female.

In putting together the database of New York Times bestsellers, I had the opposite expectation. Patterson and King and Grisham crowded my mind. So which gender accounts for the bestsellers and has this changed?

Overall, 71 female authors writing on their own account for 222 (37.1%) of the 598 of the novels, one female-female collaboration and three females collaborating with males account for an additional fourteen (2.3%). Alone or in co-authorship, women account for 780 weeks in the number one position.

One hundred and five male authors writing on their own account for 336 (56.2%) of the novels. In collaboration with another male, this number increases to 373 (62.4%). Alone plus in collaboration, males account for 1972 weeks on the list (71.7%).

Let's look how that has changed over the years. For those novels written in collaborations between a male and female author, I counted the books for both sexes. For those novels on the bestselling list spanning two decades, I included their presence in both decades, but divided their weeks.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, female authors accounted for 33 novels on the list, totaling 280 weeks. Over the same period, male authors accounted for 118 novels for 1181 weeks. Newspaper strikes and non-novels comprised the remaining portion of this time period.

In the 2010s, a near parity has been achieved. While male-written novels outnumbered female-written novels 80 to 65, the female-written novels have been in top position for 150 weeks compared to 124 weeks for male authors. Four out of five of the novels with the longest runs were written by women: Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen; The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins; The Help, Kathryn Stockett; and, Fifty Shades of Grey, E. L. James.


 Martin Hill Ortiz is the author of one novel, A Predatory Mind (2013) from Loose Leaves Publishing. His mystery, Never Kill A Friend, will be available June 15th from Ransom Note Press. The sequel to A Predatory Mind is set to come out later this year.

The blue bars are the percent of novels in the number one position on the New York Times Adult Fiction Bestseller lists in the given decade which were written by females. The green bar is the equivalent measure for males. The red bar is the percentage of weeks in the number one position by females. The purple bar is for males. In the 1980s, women had bestsellers in the number one position for 18% of weeks (a dramatic difference between the red and purple bars). In the 2010s women have had bestsellers in the number one position for more weeks than males (red higher than purple).

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