According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a bestseller (or best seller) is “an article (such as a book) whose sales are among the highest of its class”. While the term isn’t exclusively reserved for them, it is most often associated with books.
Many people consider bestsellers to be low quality literature. However, this is actually not the case for most works. As a matter of fact, bestseller lists often include very good literary works from famous authors. In the following guide, we’ll tell you all there is to know about bestselling fiction books, leaving other literary types for another article.
- 1 Key Facts
- 2 Ranking: The Bestselling Books on the U.S. Market
- 3 Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Bestseller Books
- 3.1 Are bestsellers quality literature?
- 3.2 What are the bestselling books in history?
- 3.3 What is a long-seller?
- 3.4 Why are bestseller books necessary?
- 3.5 What are some bestsellers for young people?
- 3.6 Why is historical fiction so present in bestseller lists?
- 3.7 What are some science fiction bestsellers?
- 4 Shopping Criteria
- 5 Summary
- For many years now, bestseller books have been looked down upon by critics and countless readers. However, many of these are actually great literary works despite the fact that their main purpose is to entertain the reader. These books are not only contemporary; there are also classic bestsellers.
- Bestselling novels play a key role in attracting new readers in countries where reading rates are low. They also keep the publishing industry alive, which is why their impact should not be taken lightly.
- There is a series of guidelines that you should follow in order to choose your next bestseller to read. You can, for instance, check the recommendations of other readers. We also encourage you to make a list of books you want to read, and to lose the fear of stopping a book halfway through it.
Ranking: The Bestselling Books on the U.S. Market
The books we’ve listed in the following section are the bestselling books on the American market based on the number of weeks they’ve spent on various bestseller lists. The four choices below will provide you with plenty of reading, and we’re confident they’ll help you realize that bestsellers can be quality literature too.
- The Coming-Of-Age Bestseller
- The Science Fiction Bestseller
- The Historical Fiction Bestseller
- The Bestseller for Teenagers
The Coming-Of-Age Bestseller
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a fantastic coming-of-age novel published in 2018, and it’s topped the bestselling charts ever since. The story follows two different timelines that slowly come together. The first one tells the life and adventures of a young girl, Kya, in the 1950s and 1960s in North Carolina. The other follows the investigation of the murder of a local celebrity in a fictional town of North Carolina, too.
The Science Fiction Bestseller
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was an instant success, and it has remained a bestseller since its publication in 1985. Set in a dystopian world in the near future, this modern classic tells the story of an enslaved woman’s struggle to survive in the totalitarian regime that emerged from the Second American Civil War. Adapted various times to the screen, this novel is followed by a sequel, The Testaments, published in 2019.
The Historical Fiction Bestseller
If you’re a fan of works like The Nightingale or All the Light We Cannot See, then Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan should certainly arouse your literary interest. Set in World War II Italy, this novel follows the story of Pino Lella, an Italian teenager whose parents force him to enroll in the German army in the hope that he will be safer. However, his love for a young woman and desire for justice takes him on a very different path.
The Bestseller for Teenagers
The Goldfinch is a Pulitzer Prize winner by Donna Tartt, author of other award-winning works like The Little Friend. Published in 2013, this novels follows the story of 13-year-old Theodore Decker. When his mother is killed by a terrorist attack in a museum, the teenager steals a famous painting (The Goldfinch) that will become a source of hope and guilt over the years, during which he slowly fades into a life of crime.
Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Bestseller Books
Bestsellers are often easy-to-read works aimed at a wide audience. They generally belong to popular genres such as crime, mystery, terror, adventure, or science fiction, and will stand out from other books thanks to their eye-catching covers. In the section below, we’ll give you all the elements that define what a bestseller book is.
Are bestsellers quality literature?
You’ve probably heard before that bestselling books are junk literature, and this opinion is unfortunately widespread even among accomplished readers. However, those people tend to forget that authors like Cervantes, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo or Julio Verne have written bestsellers, and their literary quality is beyond any doubt.
As you can imagine, not all bestselling books can be considered as serious literature. That being said, there many of these books will match or even surpass other works in terms of quality. In spite of this, most critics continue to look askance at this type of book — a somewhat mistaken attitude that has seeped into much of our society.
What are the bestselling books in history?
We have to keep in mind that sales figures for some of the older books tend to be estimates, making it difficult to say exactly which fiction work is the bestselling book of all times. However, it would appear that Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, tops the list with over 500 million copies. It is followed by Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, with 200 million copies sold since its release in 1859.
Published in 1954, The Lord of the Ring byJ. R. R. Tolkien has sold more than 150 million copies worldwide — ten million more than The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. As you might have guessed, J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone complete the top 5, with just over 100 million books sold.
Agatha Cristie’s crime classic And Then There Were None is next on the list, with 100 million copies sold. This is the same figure as The Dream of the Red Chamber, by Cao Xueqin, and J. R. .R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The top 10 bestselling list finishes with two works by British authors — She: A History of Adventure by H. Rider Haggard, and C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
After Rowling’s first Harry Potter book, the next modern bestseller is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, a 2003 novel with 80 million book sold. Follow various volumes from the Harry Potter series, as well as Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, with 65 million books sold worldwide. Other literary classics also make it on the top 25, such as The Catcher in the Rye, One Hundred Years of Solitude or Nabokov’s Lolita.
What is a long-seller?
These books are basically works whose sales remain consistant over the years. One of the traits often used to define bestselling books is that they quickly go out of style and their sales plummet. Others, on the other hand, manage to stay at the top of the charts and are naturally the most valued by publishers.
While the initial momentum helps, the possibility of a bestseller becoming a long-seller multiplies if the work is of quality. The word of mouth among the reading community is another key factor. In addition, a book can only become a long-seller if it is never discontinued and always available in bookstores.
While the majority are literary classics, some contemporary works occasionally become long-sellers too. Paradigmatic examples of this include Don Quixote, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank), the Harry Potter series, or The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.
Why are bestseller books necessary?
According to the latest survey by the Pew Research Center, 24% of Americans say they have not read a single book in the past year. This worrying news says a lot (or very little, depending on how you look at it) about a society that considers itself to be modern. In that regard, bestsellers make reading a lot more accessible for people who would never pick up a work from Victor Hugo or William Shakespeare.
Those who denigrate bestselling books seem to forget that the habit of reading is based on simple works and not on so-called serious literature. Beginning readers who start off with books such as Fifty Shades of Grey or the Twilight saga are more likely to seek higher quality literature than those who have read nothing in their lives.
What are some bestsellers for young people?
According to Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report, 51% of children aged 6 to 17 are currently reading a book for fun, with another 20% having just finished one. Called frequent readers, these kids take up their book for fun 5 to 7 days a week. Infrequent readers, on the other hand, read for fun once a week for a total of 22 books per year (age 6-11) and only 4.7 for the 12-17 age group.
These data explain why books aimed at a younger audience play a prominent role in bestseller lists. This is why literary series such as Harry Potter and Harley Merlin are bestselling books on Amazon, much like literary classics like Lord of the Flies by William Golding.
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy has also long been a bestseller for younger readers. The first novel — Northern Lights — was even adapted to the big screen in a film called The golden Compass. In fact, a TV series on the saga is set to be released later this year. Besides the Harry Potter series mentioned earlier, we also find J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings classic saga.
Some foreign books translated into English have also become bestsellers. Written by Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Prince of Mist was published in 1993 and remains very popular today. This classic mystery and horror long-seller was even picked in the American Library Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults list in 2011.
Why is historical fiction so present in bestseller lists?
This literary type has always been one of the favorite genres among readers; simply take a look at those that have gone on to become classics. The success of this genre emanates from the fact that people are attracted by fiction based on historical facts where real and made-up characters blend together.
Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, for instance, remained many weeks in the bestseller lists upon its release. It tells the struggle to survive of two sisters during the German occupation of France in World War II and is based on a true story. Charles Dickens’s classic A Tale of Two Cities is also a historical fiction set prior to and during the French Revolution.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark T. Sullivan, takes us to World War II together where a young Italian man is forced by his parents to enlist in the Nazi army. Another recent historical fiction that has made bestseller lists is Claire Cameron’s The Last Neanderthal. In this novel, two protagonists are separated by 40,000 years but united by the experience of motherhood.
What are some science fiction bestsellers?
Bestselling lists often feature books of the science fiction genre, whose characteristics are similar to other bestsellers. These large volumes are easy to read, carefully edited and include attractive covers. The Handmaid’s Tale, for instance, is one of Margaret Atwood’s most famous works and a bestseller. A TV series based on this book is already in its third season.
George Orwell’s 1984 is naturally one of the bestselling novels in history, with over 30 million copies sold. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins has sold more than 70 million books, while Frank Herbert’s classic Dune has reached 20 million copies to date. And we can’t forget Aldous Huxley’s dystopian masterpiece A Brave New World.
Don’t feel bad if you stop reading a bestseller halfway!
Many people tend to think that not finishing a book is some sort of sacrilege against literature. Don’t make that mistake! It’s completely fine to stop reading a novel if the first 50 pages simply aren’t what you were looking for. Why waste time on something you don’t like? That way, you can pick a book you’ll truly enjoy.
While most bestsellers are easy to read, you’ll still have to evaluate certain factors to choose the right one for you. The fact that many are recent works make them more expensive, and you’ll feel even worse about stopping a book halfway if you’ve paid a hefty price for it.
- Favorite Genres
- Reader Recommendations
- Appealing Books
The great thing about bestsellers is that you can find books from all literary genres. From romantic novels to adventure stories, from horror to historical fiction, there’s something for everyone. So start with books from your favorite genres before taking a leap of faith and experimenting other types of fiction.
The bestseller you choose might not necessarily meet your expectations, even if it’s a work from your favorite literary genre. In that regard, you can rely on reader recommendations and ratings available online to decide which book you should go for next. Remember that just because they’re bestsellers doesn’t mean these works are for everyone.
So many new books are published every year that’s it’s tough to keep a track of interesting works. This is why we encourage you to keep a list somewhere with the titles that have most drawn your attention. As you know, books come and go from bestseller lists, so it’s always useful to write down those that interest you.
Discovering new authors will, of course, contribute to expanding your literary culture. However, it is sometimes better to go for safe bets. If you’ve read a bestselling book and enjoyed it, why not try other works by the same author? You’re likely to also get hooked on these novels.
As you now know, bestseller books aren’t necessarily worse than so-called serious literature. As a matter of fact, many works that are considered to be classics today were accused of being commercial in their time. We’ve recommended books of great literary quality to help break down these prejudices.
In addition to our suggestions, we’ve answered some questions regarding bestsellers. We’ve told you about their main characteristics, the bestselling books in history and why this type of literature is so important. Last but not least, our shopping criteria will help you carefully choose your next reading.
If you have a recommendation or simply want to share your opinion with us, you can leave us a comment in the section below. If you enjoyed our guide, don’t forget to share it on your social media!
(Source of featured image: Karandaev: 73367326/ 123rf.com)