Home » Amazon, Bestsellers » Behind the Scam: What Does It Take to Be a ‘Best-Selling Author’? $3 and 5 Minutes.

Behind the Scam: What Does It Take to Be a ‘Best-Selling Author’? $3 and 5 Minutes.

5 February 2017

From Medium:

I would like to tell you about the biggest lie in book publishing. It appears in the biographies and social media profiles of almost every working “author” today. It’s the word “best seller.”

This isn’t about how The New York Times list is biased (though it is). This isn’t about how authors buy their way onto various national best-seller lists by buying their own books in bulk (though they do). No, this is about the far more insidious title of “Amazon Bestseller” — and how it’s complete and utter nonsense.

Here’s what happened in the book industry over the last few years: As Amazon has become the big dog in the book world, the “Amazon Bestseller” status has come to be synonymous with being an actual bestseller. This is not true, and I can prove it.

. . . .

 A while ago, I put up a fake book on Amazon. I took a photo of my foot, uploaded to Amazon, and in a matter of hours, had achieved “№1 Best Seller” status, complete with the orange banner and everything.

. . . .

How many copies did I need to sell to be able to call up my mother and celebrate my newfound authorial achievements? Three. Yes, a total of three copies to become a best-selling author. And I bought two of those copies myself!

The reason people aspire to call themselves “bestselling author” is because it dramatically increases your credibility and “personal brand.” It can establish you as a thought leader. You’re able to show that you not only wrote a book, but that the market has judged it to be better than other books out there. It’s a status symbol, one of that cashes in on the prestige of one of man’s oldest past-times. At last, I had acquired this coveted title for myself.

. . . .

 It used to be a real mark of distinction to hit the best-seller lists–because there were fewer lists and fewer authors (and before ebooks, pricing across books was pretty universal as well). The New York Times list has been the most prestigious, published in one form or another since 1931. By 1942, a national list made its debut, compiled according to “reports from leading booksellers in 22 cities.” By the mid-2000s, over 4,000 bookstores were polled each week to determine who deserved to be on the list. The Wall Street Journal list, which has been around since 2009, is based on Nielsen Bookscan and tends to focus on a smaller number of categories. The USA Today list is also a prestigious but more of a catch-all list.

Link to the rest at Medium and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

Amazon, Bestsellers

6 Comments to “Behind the Scam: What Does It Take to Be a ‘Best-Selling Author’? $3 and 5 Minutes.”

  1. This story is a couple years old, and was recently recycled/reflogged/reposted on Medium. I know I wrote about it at least once, last February (http://the-digital-reader.com/2016/02/26/98960/).

    The short version is that he got himself onto a kindle best-seller list by picking a sub-sub-sub-category which saw hardly any traffic. So a couple sales got him to the top of the category.

    That is not a new trick as i am sure you know.

  2. Like Nate said, I’ve heard this story before. But it has made me wonder about some of the times I see the word best seller touted. I often wonder what list they hit number 1 on and how many sales it took. I’m not sure I’d call this a scam though since it is technically true. 😉

  3. Also it’s a faulty generalization, with “complete and utter nonsense” claiming that if the sub-sub category of books of body part photos taken by weirdos doesn’t reflect meaningful buys then therefore the top 100 at Amazon or the top 100 Contemporary Romance or top 100 Mystery is also suspect.

    We all know that this is not so. A top 100 Contemporary Romance is selling one whole heck of a lot of books, and no one has that many moms. (The #100 Contemp Romance at any moment, with a ranking overall of usually ~#400 in store, is moving 250+ units per day and probably has been for some time.)

    If you hit #1 in a crowded category without an ad blitz, it means people love your book. That’s meaningful.

    • I agree that hitting #1 in a high volume category is meaningful, but the point is not about actual numbers, it’s about perceptions. Readers don’t know the reality behind the numbers. They use ‘best selling’ as a way to filter their searches for books to read. When reality doesn’t match perception, disappointment and disillusionment follow. That devalues ‘best selling’ for all books.

      • How many people type only “best selling” into the search box? Do that, and you do indeed get the books that have “best selling” somewhere in the title or blurb.

        People actually looking for the “best sellers” (probably so they can have them on the coffee table or for water-cooler points) – they hit the “100 best sellers” link. Which is actually based on sales, not puff. After, that is, they have gotten to their particular broad category (working at GLAAD – probably homosexual romance; part of the NYC “literary” set – probably contemporary literature).

        • As a reader, I’ve learned to avoid best-sellers like the plague, unless they come recommended by readers/writers I trust. That’s how I first bought a Hugh Howey book which is both a best seller and brilliant.
          Perhaps I should have said that best sellers are devalued in my eyes because I’ve been disappointed so often.

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