Virginia Woolf and Danielle Steel: both placed novels on the best-seller list, but that may be the only literary achievement they have in common. What do we mean when we characterize a book or author as best-selling? Do such books possess an identifiable quality—subject or setting, cover design or marketing plan—that readily connects to readers? As digital technologies transform today’s industry, we looked to another key development in publishing history—the institution of the best-seller list—to understand how the popularization and marketing of fiction has engaged the attention of the reading public. To explore the century-long role of these tote boards, this special section of BOOKFORUM features a probing essay by Ruth Franklin that recounts the lists’ history, revealing what much-read stories tell us about our evolving culture. Essays by critic Michael Dirda and editor Gerald Howard provide insiders’ takes on how published sales rankings affect the larger literary scene. Sir Walter Scott’s role as the first blockbuster author is recalled by Stuart Kelley. We also invited noted novelists—Benjamin Anastas, Madison Smartt Bell, Aimee Bender, Joshua Cohen, Siddhartha Deb, Stacey D’Erasmo, Steve Erickson, Sheila Heti, Tom McCarthy, Patrick McGrath, Claire Messud, Peter Straub, and Marianne Wiggins—to speculate on why the best sellers that most intrigue them (and maybe you) achieved their popularity.