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What Exactly is a Bestselling Book?

(With info on a common way authors scam readers)

/ /


By EelKat Wendy C Allen

"What exactly is a bestselling book or a bestselling author? I am just wondering. On twitter and everywhere I go I see 'bestselling' authors and books claiming to be #1 on Amazon - books I never heard of and couldn't even find on Amazon. How are these authors claiming to be #1 and bestseller?

Suppose I have three books. This month one book sold 1 copy, one sold 3 copies and the other sold 5 copies. The book that sold 5 copies is surely my personal bestseller, but does that make me a bestseller? So should I go around bragging that I have a bestseller?

Who regulates this stuff. Is there like an award or something or can anybody just claim to have a bestseller? I want to say I am a bestselling author but I'm not sure if I qualify or not."

This is a very good question and I am glad you asked it because, I would never have thought to write an article about it. It's not something I ever really think of, but yes I too have seen these so called "bestselling authors" and their phony "bestselling books" all over the internet of late. I especially see them bombarding the various writer's forums with spam posts saying "Buy my bestselling novel ____".

I always look at those posts and go "Really? If it's such a best seller than why are you so desperately spamming the threads begging people to buy it?"

Bestsellers, bestselling books, and bestselling authors are incredibly rare. I don't know what Amazon "officially" calls a bestseller, but it seems that anyone whose book ranks top 10 in it's keyword search results on Amazon's book search page, feels they are justified in claiming to have a bestselling book. Industry standard is a book does not get called a bestselling book until it reaches 100,000 sales.

The average Harlequin author earns $24,000 per year,  writes 3 to 4 novels a year and writes 20 to 80 novels in the life of their writing career, usually at least one of which becomes a bestselling book. The novels are never longer than 120,000 words (281 pages) because Harlequin doesn't publish anything longer than that, as market research tells them that people looking to read romance and erotica want a book they can read in a single weekend and will not even consider buying, let alone reading a book of 300 or more pages. Each of these books sells for a cover price of $4.99 to $7.99 for print editions and $2.99 to $5.99 for e-editions.

Harlequin, like other big house publishers, puts books out in this manner:

Book released Month 1

Book sales goal is 25,000 books by Month 3

If book sales by Month 3 are under 25,000 the books goes out of print and is considered a flop.

If book sales are higher than 25,000 book stays in print for 3 more months

If after 6 months book sales have not reached 50,000 book goes out of print

If after 6 months book sells more than 50,000 author is approached with an extended contract - for more books, and this book goes out of print.

If at any point before the 6 months is over the book sells 100,000 copies, it goes out of print long enough for a new edition to be released, and a new 7 year contract to be signed. The book is now rereleased with the words "bestseller" slapped on it's title and remains in print for another 7 years.

Likewise Harlequin is on the high range of the sell price, with the other publishers of romance and erotic novels selling ebooks in the .99c to $2.99 range, and not even bothering to go to print until after the e-book sells 50,000 copies (Harlequin is the ONLY romance/erotica publisher who still brings out print editions before e-editions, and no one, not even Harlequin still does hardcover editions). Harlequin puts out 14 (or more) new titles a week, that's 728 titles a year, each title selling no fewer than 25,000 copies and in total Harlequin averages more than 2,000,000 books sold EACH YEAR.

 
I use Harlequin as an example because they publish all of this info online for anyone to access, and because I am personally more familiar with this company than most, but I could easily have given you the stats for other publishers I have worked with such as Avon or Ellora's Cave.

Anyways, you are asking about numbers, and I know a lot of folks who self publish think they are doing great if they are selling 100 to 1,000 books a year, but that there is the difference between the average self-published book and the average trad published book.

If a trad published book doesn't sell 25,000 copies within the first 3 months of sales the publisher pulls it out of print, calling it a lost cause and the publisher won't even look at another manuscript from that author.

A wimpy 25,000 sales in 3 months is so low and dismal that publishers kick authors out for it, yet many self-publishers are leaping for joy if they break past 1,000 sales the first year.

It is in comparing these types of sales figures that you see the stark reality of what continues to push writers to trad publish: volume of sales.

I think when you see self-published authors on Twitter calling their books a bestseller, they are typically referring to Amazon's "bestseller for it's genre/category/keyword", and all  it takes to get into that is to be the one book that sells the most copies in it's genre that day.

In other words, if every book in the horror category sells just 1 copy today, but your book sells 2 instead, than for today at least, Amazon is going to call your book "a bestseller", because it was the bestselling book in the horror section today.

It's one thing to say you are a bestseller in an Amazon category, which means you sold anything over 1 copy more than the next guy, for one day, and could mean that if your book sold 5 copies in 1 year, but sold all 5 of those copies 1 day when everyone else that day sold 1 copy, Amazon would still call you a best seller even if your book sold 5 copies total in 3 years while the book that was #9 the same day went on to sell 10,000 copies a week later.  Can you see the issue here why it's misleading when an author tells you they had the bestselling book in "___ category on Amazon on ___ day"?

There is a huge difference between saying "My book was the bestselling book in the horror section of Amazon on May 1, 2012" and saying "My book is on the bestselling books list!". If you say your book is on the bestselling book list, than it sure as hell better be otherwise you risk getting your ass sued by The New York Times, who happens to own the Official Bestsellers List.

If you really want to know if your book is a bestseller: read The New York Time's bestseller list, because they are the ones (not Amazon, your publisher, your mom, your best friend, or anyone else) who say if your book is a bestseller or not. Their criteria is the book must sell 100,000 copies within the first 6 months of publication, in order to make it on their list.

It is so incredibly rare for a book to sell 100,000 in it LIFETIME that Oprah will consider your book for a review if it sells 100,000 copies EVER, but for a book to sell 100,000 copies in fewer than 6 months, is so outstandingly rare that it only happens a few dozen times a year.

More than 50,000 new titles are released each year and of them only about 24 of them are going to sell 100,000 copies fast enough for NYT to say "Look at this, THIS is what a bestselling book looks like!"

So, yeah, are the others on Twitter actually bestsellers or not? Well, the NYT list is always available on their website, it's posted at the front desk of every library and every bookstore check out counter, so next time you see an author on Twitter saying "I'm a bestseller" jot down their name, then head on over to NYT and see if their name is on the NYT's list or not.  If they are on the list, then yes they are in fact a bona fide bestseller. If they are not on the list than they are not an OFFICIAL AUTHENTIC worldwide bestseller and are only a bestseller   on Amazon's category list.

Most readers see the words bestseller, bestselling book, or bestselling author and assume you are on the NYT list and many readers are known to look up that list, find you not on it, than retaliate by giving you a 1 star review while warning other readers that you are a lying fraud who pretends to be a bestseller when you are not on the NYT list. So you have to take this into consideration.

Ask yourself, is calling yourself a bestseller when you are not on the OFFICIAL bestseller list posted by New York Times worth the eventual and inevitable loss of reader trust you will gain once they discover you lied to them?

Don't think  you'll get caught?

Remember the NYT bestseller John Locke who made a million dollars on Amazon in 2010? Look up his formerly 5 star reviews on Amazon now that it's known it was nothing but a hoax - one of his books has over 500 1-star reviews all calling him a "lying fraud" who pretended to be a bestseller when he wasn't.

And guess who ratted him out? New York Times, that's who! And not just for "bestseller fraud" but also for 5-star review fraud. Turns out John Locke pais a review writing company to write 5,000 5-star reviews, all of which where computer generated and posted on Amazon via 5,000 fake Amazon accounts. The 5,000 books supposedly sold, were in fact sold just to the one person who owned the review company and being e-books were not resold to readers. Where did Locke get the money to pull off this huge elaborate scam? He one huge amounts of money on a reality TV show and use the winnings to fund this huge "bestselling author" hoax.

In January 2013 NYT ran a huge article on John Locke and a whole list of about 50 other authors who were falsely printing "NYT Bestselling author" on the covers of their books as a marketing scam to gain sales. John Locke is lucky he didn't get 25 years in prison and only had to pay a few million in fines to NYT for infringing on their copyrighted use of the words "NYT Bestseller" and trademarked use of the phrase "bestselling author".

Oddly, by calling him out, NYT inadvertently gave him large amounts of free advertising and one of his books did get on the NYT's list later on. Weird how things work out.

I think all of us authors should let NYT's attack on John Locke be a lesson in not being so loose in calling ourselves bestsellers. Do you think NYT is going to stop with just the 50 authors they outed already? I don't. I think this is just the beginning of NYT's squashing the trend of author's claiming to be bestsellers all willy nilly. I think we are going to see a lot more of NYTs cracking down on the over use of "bestseller".

Me? I've been self pubbing since 1978 and none of my books have reached 10,000 sales yet, so I don't consider myself a bestseller. I'm a good seller maybe, but a bestseller? No. So I'm not going to try to deceive my readers by calling myself something I'm not, just to make more sales. I can't speak for other authors. I don't know what criteria they use for calling themselves bestsellers. I only know that I ain't got millions of dollars to pay NYTs trademark infringement fines with, so I ain't willing to risk it.


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