Essays

How Much Do Most Anticipated and Best-Of Lists Overlap?

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Every year, I devour most anticipated book lists from publications like Lit Hub, TIME, Vogue, Book Page, Buzzfeed, and more. I can’t get enough of them. My preorders always skyrocket late in the year when these start to come out, much to my wallet’s chagrin. But recently, I’ve seen some chatter on social media saying most anticipated book lists were often exact duplicates for the subsequent best-of book lists at the end of the year. It made me curious, was that true? Were most anticipated and best-of booklists the same? Which voices made the cut for both and which were missing? Are the ones that make both similar in any way?

I took a look at 2021’s most anticipated and best-of lists from a few publications to see what I could find.

The Overlapping Books

First, let’s talk about what kind of overlap actually exists between these lists, one publication at a time. There were quite a few publications that posted either best-of or most anticipated lists, but not both, so those were, obviously, left out of this. In total, I looked at ten publications.

TIME’s 2021 most anticipated list and best-of list overlapped by nine titles of the 21 on their most anticipated list. The books were:

  1. A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders
  2. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
  3. The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  4. Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford
  5. The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
  6. One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
  7. How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith
  8. Matrix by Lauren Groff
  9. Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Vulture’s 2021 most anticipated list and best-of list overlapped by four titles of the 46 on their most anticipated list. The books were:

  1. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
  2. Matrix by Lauren Groff
  3. No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
  4. Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

BuzzFeed News’ most anticipated and best-of lists overlapped by seven titles out of the 75 they had on their most anticipated list. The books were:

  1. Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So
  2. A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib
  3. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
  4. Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke
  5. Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
  6. The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  7. No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

Lit Hub’s most anticipated and best-of lists overlapped by 19 titles out of the massive 228 they had on their most anticipated list. The books were:

  1. Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
  2. No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
  3. A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib
  4. Animal by Lisa Taddeo
  5. The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen
  6. The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez
  7. Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
  8. Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz
  9. Blow Your House Down by Gina Frangello
  10. Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
  11. The Scapegoat by Sara Davis
  12. Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi
  13. Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
  14. Something New Under the Sun by Alexandra Kleeman
  15. Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler
  16. Mona by Pola Oloizarac
  17. White Magic by Elissa Washuta
  18. Festival Days by Jo Ann Beard
  19. The Great Mistake by Jonathan Lee

Book Riot’s most anticipated and best-of lists overlapped by five titles out of the 36 we had on our most anticipated list. The books were:

  1. Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala
  2. Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
  3. How to Find a Princess by Alyssa Cole
  4. Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
  5. The Rib King by Ladee Hubbard

NetGalley’s most anticipated and best-of lists overlapped by one title out of the 13 they had on their most anticipated list. The book was:

  1. Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

Newsweek’s most anticipated and best-of lists overlapped by two titles out of the 26 they had on their most anticipated list. The books were:

  1. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
  2. Children Under Fire: An American Crisis by John Woodrow Cox

Book Page’s most anticipated and best-of lists overlapped by six titles out of the 30 they had on their most anticipated list. The books were:

  1. How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue
  2. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
  3. Milk Fed by Melissa Broder
  4. Matrix by Lauren Groff
  5. Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
  6. Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

The A.V. Club’s most anticipated and best-of lists overlapped by one title out of the three books they had on their most anticipated list. The book was:

  1. No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

So, what’s the overlap in total? Around 12%! 

Which isn’t nearly as many as I expected. Often, though, the most “buzzed about” books don’t go on to become bestsellers. Publisher’s Weekly talked to editors about which 2021 books they were most excited about, and out of the 27 they named, only four made a bestseller list. Publisher’s Weekly also reported a draw to nonfiction and memoirs, which we can see supported by the popularity of books like Crying in H Mart and Somebody’s Daughter. Readers aren’t so easily swayed after all.

The Authors

Out of the 41 books that made both lists, there were 31 female authors and ten male. And of these authors, 19 were white, followed by 11 Black, seven Asian, two Latine, one South Asian, and one Native American. There’s a clear lack of Latine, South Asian, and Native American voices finding a place on these most anticipated and best-of lists. This isn’t new information, necessarily, but important to point out. When you’re making your own most anticipated or best-of lists, maybe take a moment and see which voices are missing and why that might be.

The Books

In terms of genre, the highest was nonfiction with 12 books, followed by historical fiction (9), and contemporary (7). Six of the books had LGBT storylines or plots according to Goodreads. The lowest represented genres were YA, horror, and romance, which considering the jump in sales and popularity TikTok has spurred in YA and romance, I was surprised. This might be due to the nostalgic, backlist reading TikTok often does rather than newly published works, but it still seems low.

It’s pretty clear a few of these books keep showing up across different publications’ articles. No One is Talking About This was selected by Vulture, Buzzfeed, Lithub, and A.V. Club. Klara and the Sun made TIME, Vulture, and Book Page. If you take a look at Lit Hub’s ultimate best books of 2021 article, you’ll see No One is Talking About This made 19 different best-of booklists. Harlem Shuffle made 17, Klara and the Sun and Detransition Baby, 16. The books on these lists were well-loved, at least by publications.

But how well-liked were they by the public? The number of ratings on Goodreads ranged from 472 for Children Under Fire to 386,037 for The Four Winds. On average, they received 33,593 ratings and 4,597 reviews per book. The highest rated was How the Word is Passed with a 4.76 rating, the lowest was Fake Accounts with a 2.94. Goodreads ratings certainly aren’t the end-all be-all for how well-liked a novel is, but the general perception is that people liked these books.

Publication Information

The publication dates of these books were almost exclusively in the earlier six months of the year with March leading with 8, January and June with 7, February with 5, April with 4, and May with 3. August had 3, July 2, September and October 1, and there none in November or December. Logically, this makes sense. Books being published earlier in the year give readers more time to read, rave about, and recommend these books to other people. There’s also more time for reviews and lists and TikToks to get the book into more people’s hands. 

The publishers with the most books on these lists were Knopf and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux with 4 each followed by Random House and Riverhead books with 3 each. In total, 27 different imprints published this spread, which is a fairly good range.

So, What?

At the end of the day, it turns out that most anticipated and best-of lists aren’t really as similar as they seem. While there are trends in representation, genre, and publication dates, the books seem well-liked by readers and critics alike. What’s missing are books by authors of color, as well as YA, romance, and horror books.

When you’re putting together your most anticipated list for the rest of the year or start noodling on what’ll be on your best-of, take a look at what’s there and what’s missing. Try a book that comes out in November! Pick up a book by an Indigenous author! Maybe you’ll find a new favorite by reading in the gaps.

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