Wednesday, October 21, 2015

I Don't Care About Your "Bestseller"

If you an indie author today, or a regular author, or anyone who has eyes, you've probably seen every author who can claim their book is a bestseller announcing it. But what does the word 'bestseller' mean, really? Well, to answer that first you need to know the difference between the kinds of bestsellers. So I've gone making lists again, this time a list of bestseller titles, from worst to best:

  • Bestseller: This is a rather vague, broad statement, especially in this new digital age. In terms of how hard it is to become one of these basic, entry-level bestselling authors, I could type the alphabet 50,000 times and publish it, and I could market myself as a "Bestselling Author". How is that possible? Because Amazon. Amazon has a lot, and I mean A LOT, of bestseller lists. Dozens, possibly over a hundred. With their recent changes, Amazon will also track books even after they fall off every bestseller list (to do that, depending on genre, you'd have to not sell a copy for probably two weeks). That way, even though your book is #14511 on Amazon's Christian Midwestern Terrorist Crime Thriller sub-list, you're a bestseller (technically speaking). This fact is the main reason I don't give even the smallest shit about your "Bestselling Series!!!!!". 
  • Amazon Bestseller: This is pretty much like the above version, only it's a bit more narrow. But, like I said above, with Amazon's numerous lists and changes to ranking, it's just as easy to list yourself as one of these as it is to call yourself a regular bestseller. The only real difference is that alphabet book would have to be listed on Amazon. That's it, that simple.
  • Amazon 100 Bestseller: This is where we begin to reach into the realm of real bestseller territory. Some authors out there will list themselves as Amazon 100 Bestsellers because their book got onto ONE OF Amazon's bestseller sub-lists, all of which cap at 100. These people (liars) are exceptions to the rule. The Amazon 100 Bestsellers are usually people who have legitimately, one way or another, landed on Amazon's main bestseller list. It's impressive that your books pushes volumes like that. Do I care? Hell no. Why don't I? One word: Bookbub. Bookbub, and other sites like it, are Amazon 100 Bestseller factories. If you can land on their sites, they pretty much guarantee getting you up with the big boys for a few hours, but relish that time if you're a writer. Once their promo is over, you're down in the nosebleeds with the rest of us. Welcome back! Hopefully your ego doesn't get too big after that, otherwise I'll enjoy bursting your little bubble. It's great you landed on the Amazon 100, but my next question would be: For how long? That's when most Amazon 100 Bestselling authors dip their eyes and avoid the question Why? Because the answer is almost never something like "17 weeks!" it's probably "...Six hours". 
  • National Bestseller: This category is a bit difficult to rank, to be honest. I almost put it beneath Amazon Bestseller, because just like the lower tiers, it's extremely broad. My rule for this is, and trust me I hate saying this, only trust it on a traditionally published book. Any self-published author can stick a National Bestseller stamp on themselves and their books if they want, once again thanks to Amazon. In trad pub, these will be books that for some reason or another don't land on the New York Times list. They might be niche market books, like those bakery-style mysteries with the recipes in the back. Or the publisher would prefer to use National Bestseller over USA Today Bestseller for some reason or another. 
  • International Bestseller: What this says to me is this: "My book sells better in other countries than it does in the US!" But that's just me being me, this is a strong rank to have (if you actually have the rank, looking at you liars). You'll see this on all those Scandinavian thrillers people today are so fond of. That's because they probably do sell a lot better in Europe than in the US, simply because that's where they are based and that's where the author is. An International Bestseller is usually a way for publishers to tell you the author is from another country. Sometimes, they do actually list these books because they sell better abroad. That's fine, that means you landed on a legitimate bestseller list somewhere. Go you! But, it still can be misleading language.
  • USA Today Bestseller: USA Today Bestseller, this is about as narrow as the lists can get. If you see a book or author listing this, chances are they really did land there somehow. Granted, there are plenty of self-pubbed and trad pubbed authors who only landed on the USA Today list in a story compilation with authors like Lee Child or Nora Roberts or someone like that. Those writers aside, if you can land on the USA Today list with a book, you have every right to be happy. It may be 10 times bigger than the New York Times list, but even if you only land at 150 you've still got the 150th bestselling book that week. Go you again! And this time I mean that a little more.
  • New York Times Bestseller: Here it is, the big leagues. This one should make you feel good as both a reader and a writer. It's really hard to fake. People do it, but NYT has a fix against that. On their lists, New York Times has an indicator letting readers know if bulk orders of a book had been made, so all you people figuring you can buy 20,000 copies of your own and be free and clear, back to the drawing board with you. Being a New York Times Bestseller is amazing. Do I care? Actually yeah a little bit, that's some impressive work whether you're on your own or you've got the Big Five behind you. Golf claps all around for you! That being said, it's not as special as it used to be. Although not as bad as Amazon, New York Times has a good few sub-lists you can land on with less copies sold than normal, and yet you'll still be a New York Times Bestseller. Either way, landing on any of those lists is hard, and the stuff of writers' dreams.
  • #1 New York Times Bestseller: The platinum award. Either you've got a good marketing team behind you or six figures to blow on buying up your own book. This is James Patterson, David Baldacci, Dan Brown level. I don't have to say much about this, because you all probably know it already. On any one of the New York Times lists, that book was number one, the absolute bestseller that week in that category. Stuff of legend. Slightly louder golf claps abound!
The list above should keep you well-versed in the different bestsellers out there. There are others not listed, like "Wall Street Journal Bestseller" and "LA Times Bestseller" that are seen a lot less or are regional lists. If I wanted to list EVERY bestseller and rank them, this blog post would be about as long as one of those "bestseller" books your just picked up.

So why don't I care? If that list didn't make it clear, anyone (and I mean ANYONE) can be a bestseller today. I can catch a pigeon off the street, set it on a keyboard, and it can tap out a bestseller. Welcome to the digital age. So many bestseller lists exist today, that being a bestseller means about as much as being wet in the ocean. Your book just became a bestseller? Shut up and join the club. It might feel like you won the lottery the first time, but so did everyone else. Your lotto payout is 33 cents, $2.06 if your book is $2.99. If you're traditionally published, may whatever deity you pray to help you on that one. Your lottery ticket might turn into a bill to the publisher sooner or later.

If I taught you anything with this post, I hope that it's that whenever you see a book or author marked as a bestseller of any kind, chances are they're just manipulating your mind to make themselves and their books look more appealing. EL James is a bestseller for God's sake. I'M A BESTSELLER AND YOU'VE NEVER EVEN HEARD OF ME. It's all marketing, smoke and mirrors. For every crappy erotic book that sells a million copies, there's a piece of flawless storytelling that sells ten copies maybe. In the end, it comes down to one simple fact: it doesn't matter how many copies of a book sold, but how those sold copies made the readers feel.

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