Behind the Scenes of a Bestseller
Wednesdays at One hitting the USA TODAY List Means So Much To Me Emotionally
My fork clattered. I’d just dashed into the kitchen to shovel down a quick salad in between Zooms and had plopped into my seat at the table when I found out. As I often do (I know, I know), I opened up Instagram to peruse while I ate. There in my direct messages was an image from longtime attendee (pre-Covid!) of my New York salons and events, Suzy (who runs Suzy Approved tours and reviews — check it out).
At first I didn’t know what I was looking at and then I realized: Wednesdays at One by Sandra A. Miller, our July release from Zibby Books (the publishing house I co-founded with Leigh Newman back in summer of 2021 and which had started releasing books in February 2023) had made it onto the USA TODAY list.
(See photo above: We’re partnering with Moleskine on these custom journals and more. You can get 15% off with code ZIBBY on all their journals and products, plus free personalization.)
The USA TODAY “Best-Selling Booklist” list had only recently bounced back on the scene after a hiatus with a renewed commitment to calculating the bestsellers in one big list of 150 titles— all genres and formats — based on that week’s sales across big box stores, online retailers, and independent bookstores alike, in both print and digital formats. I’d been alerted to that news by beloved bookseller Holland Saltsman from the Novel Neighbor in St. Louis. (We covered the news on Zibby Mag here.)
You might not know that other bestseller lists aren’t as straightforward. While the New York Times doesn’t reveal its formula, it counts on select independent bookstores to report sales, not all of them. That’s why some bookstores tout that they’re “a New York Times reporting store” and why some authors prefer to tour at those stores to up their odds of hitting “the list.”
Even then, the Times can apparently editorialize and choose which number on the list each book gets and can exclude some books altogether if they so choose. For example, as an author myself published under Little A, an imprint under Amazon Publishing for my memoir Bookends and my upcoming novel Blank (which touches on this!), I apparently have no shot of getting on “the list.” (Shameless plug for my books. Sorry!)
It’s an open secret that the Times won't assign review coverage or include any Amazon-owned published titles on “the list,” nor will most booksellers from the indies to Barnes & Noble even stock Amazon-owned titles on their shelves. That’s why you might not see my book or others from Little A, Lake Union, Mindy’s Book Studio (Mindy Kaling!), Thomas & Mercer, and others where you regularly shop for books. I knew this going into my deal with Little A; they’re quite open about it and warn authors of this blacklisting.
This has never made sense to me because what that does is then drive more sales to Amazon even from shoppers who would prefer to support indies since the books aren’t even available. I’m still hoping to mend these fences and change this practice, which really punishes the authors, the readers, and the indies in lost sales. That’s why we stock books from all imprints including Amazon-owned companies at Zibby’s Bookshop — we’re at 1113 Montana Ave, Santa Monica, CA, if you’re in the neighborhood. But I digress.
When I saw that Wednesdays at One had hit the USA TODAY list, I screamed “oh my god!” so loudly that my daughter came running in from the next room, my husband Kyle rushed in, and we all screamed and hugged as I called Sandra to tell her right away. She was driving across the George Washington Bridge on her way to a series of book tour events on the Jersey shore to meet up with our Executive Editor Kathleen Harris and Publicity Manager Diana Tramontano.
When I told her, I could hear her voice quivering. “What?! I’m a USA TODAY bestselling author!?” It gives me goosebumps to think about even now. Then I called members of our team — our amazing publisher Anne Messitte, Kathleen and Diana (above), our marketing director Sherri Puzey, editor Jordan Blumetti, and even Graca Tito, head of retreats, who was on vacation in Portugal. I emailed the whole team who group emailed back exclamations of joy.
And then I emailed our author group email. One by one, all the other authors we’re publishing wrote back joyously to Sandra about the news. Seeing all the other Zibby Books authors congratulating Sandra over email in their distinctive writing styles (“HOT DOG!”) warmed my heart. I read their responses over and over, smiling. We are truly a team in every way.
To sum it up, here’s why this news is the coolest thing ever:
Because in 2019 I had Sandra on my podcast Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books, to talk about her memoir Trove, which I adored and recommended far and wide, thinking it hadn’t gotten the attention it deserved.
(Listen to that episode here or read the transcript. You’ll see I was bawling on the elliptical finishing it — when I had more time to work out. Then listen to our latest podcast about Wednesdays at One.)
Because when I started my own publishing house in 2021 to fix this exact issue — to help authors get the attention and treatment they deserved — Sandra submitted her first novel for acquisition. And we bought it. It was fabulous and so was she.
Because she took a risk on us as a newbie publisher with big dreams, concrete plans, and high hopes.
Because we held on tight as the novel bumped along through changes in our editorial process, through different editors as we shape-shifted, and watched it emerge like the multicolored horse in “The Wizard of Oz,” brighter still.
Because our entire team spent so much time on marketing and publicity planning, partnership efforts, cover design, proof-reading, distribution through Two Rivers at Ingram, production, copy, editing, and so much more you have no idea. It takes a lot to put out a book.
And because after all that, it worked. Our first bestseller!
Mostly, it made me beam because it was an external sign to the literary community that we could do it — that a small upstart like ours could actually make a tiny dent in the crowded landscape of giant, established publishers.
It showed that that building a company around values not numbers, mission-based not mercenary, could lead to the same results, and that community, caring, and collaboration could be more powerful than competition.
It hasn’t been easy. Some days I’ve gotten so discouraged by what we’re up against that I’ve felt like throwing in the towel. (Thank you, Kyle, for perpetually talking me off that ledge.) But moments like this show that it’s working, that a new model is possible, that good people have good things happen to them, and that women supporting women works.
To me, the joy in this isn’t just hitting a list. It’s that we proved our concept and showed that what we’re doing matters. And to me, that’s the sweetest summer surprise of all.