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The Bestseller List Box Set Gig

28 April 2017

From InsideIndie.weebly.com:

Why does it seem like lately the heavens are raining down hundreds of brand spanking new bestselling authors? They’re everywhere, man, like, it’s contagious and we need a vaccine.  New York Times, USA Today, heck, it’s no big deal anymore, thanks to a handful of individuals who have figured out how to make a ton of cash and inflate sales numbers to shoot 20+ author box sets onto the lists. (Yes, you read that correctly; 20 books from 20 authors in one massive box set). Has anyone ever heard of the authors in these mega-sets? Do they ever go on to sell any other books after “getting letters”? A few shining stars have emerged, but for the most past, the answer is no.

According to one box set Organizer, Amazon assures her that everyone at Amazon is perfectly fine with her methods, and the way she tells it, Amazon’s in her pocket with this gig, and Amazon has no problem with authors gifting thousands of copies of books to readers who then use those gift book credits to purchase the box set, making it look like a legitimate sale. We’re not talking about chump change here, either, folks. The “buy-in” for these box sets is anywhere from $500 -$2000 per author. At 20+ authors per sets, the Organizer is collecting between $10,000 – $40,000 per set, and self-reports 8 sets have made the lists (out of dozens of sets managed). Not counting the sets that did not make lists, 8 box sets have raked in $80,000 – $320,000.  Even more disturbing, the same Organizer says that she spoke with PayPal and PayPal is fine with her methods of asking authors to pay her thousands of dollars of business transactions via “friends & family” transfers (which PayPal does not report to the IRS as taxable income and are not covered by PayPal Buyer Protection), or even worse, Amazon Gift Cards so that customers can not get a refund via PayPal dispute, which has happened multiple times to the Organizer.

Link to the rest at InsideIndie.weebly.com

PG doesn’t know any of the backstory on this and he hasn’t consulted any of the relevant terms of service, but he will point out that, when everybody is a bestselling author, the marketing benefits from such claims decline substantially in value.

Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Self-Publishing

72 Comments to “The Bestseller List Box Set Gig”

  1. Vanity publishing at its finest …

  2. The best-seller tag was always of minimal value. How many times have we each bought a best-seller only to find it wasn’t for us?

    As PG points out, the value of the best-seller tag is in marketing. It’s why authors and publishers pursue it so avidly. But marketing in publishing is in crisis. The audience is no longer clustered tightly together making a nice fat target. The old methods aren’t working as well as they used to. Whoever develops an effective new method will make hay while the sun shines–about six months, I’d guess.

  3. This has been going on for years. USA Today and the NY Times could simply make a stipulation that multi-author collections aren’t allowed on the list. For whatever reason, they haven’t.

    • Trad began the gaming of lists by buying up their own published hardback titles. Indies learned the game from them, and went one better with boxed sets of books 22!! and more strong at 99cents.

      • Makes you wonder if you’re getting what you paid for.

        I wonder what percentage of buyers go on to discover some new authors – and buy their books at regular prices. Or if all those writers will now tag their books with ‘bestselling author.’

        No matter what happens, it all eventually comes back to the writing and the storytelling.

        • I’m still waiting to hear from people who used this scheme to improve their writing career. So far I’ve heard nothing, but maybe people are ashamed to have participated and so are keeping quiet?

          Seriously, where are the testimonials? Where someone was in the dumps then paid for this scheme and boosted their earnings. “Best money I ever spent, it paid off huge!”

          Maybe I’m looking at the wrong sources.

          • I participated once when it first started, and I’m not ashamed, just like I’m not ashamed of trying just about everything else out there. My career is doing fine (I’m clearing over 10000 every month) but it hasn’t changed after the set. At all. I also didn’t like a lot of things happenings there. All in all, I agree with the article quoted above.

          • I’ve heard nothing, but maybe people are ashamed to have participated and so are keeping quiet?

            Maybe they recognize a competitive advantage and don’t choose to share?

  4. Rebecca Hamilton is the organizer this article is talking about. She’s been responsible for quite a few authors hitting the lists, but she does it with big buy ins and massive book gifting. She’s also been responsible for people having their Amazon accounts terminated due to her gaming of the system.

    • Wow really? I’ve been following this since the beginning and this is new. Which author or authors did this happen to? I want to talk to them.

    • BS. Who are these authors who supposedly had their accounts terminated? How specifically was RH at fault? Where are the screenshots, the names, the proof? I find this very hard to believe. Amazon doesn’t just terminate accounts on a whim, and if this had really happened, it would be all over the Internet and no one would do business with her.

  5. If everyone is a bestseller then nobody is a bestseller.
    That is not a bad thing. 😉
    (Mwah-hah-hah!!)
    (And yes, I took off the darn cape. It clashed with my belt, any way.)

  6. This whole thing makes me so sad. All these ways to game the system. More authors think they need to too, so they jump on board. 🙁

    Not just this but all the slightly dishonest ways to get your book a leg-up rather than letting it stand on it’s own merits.

    Reminds me of Locke writing the book of how he made a million, but in truth, he’d ‘just’ bought all his reviews. and his sales. (which sounds just like what these boxset authors are doing).

    I guess we’ve moved from outrage, to acceptance, to ‘I guess I better do it too’?

    And no, I don’t plan to go this route. I’ll just keep putting out product, build my back list and my readership.

    It might be slower, but at least it’s honest. (And I can live with myself… and be proud that I built something real.) As opposed to having to chase the next shady, sketchy, risky way to build my book up, because it just doesn’t have that [whatever intangible reader magnet thing] to get there on its own.

    • Minus the ‘giveaway’ gimmick to try to fake them all as ‘best sellers’, the box set could introduce the readers to those writers they’d never tried before.

      On the other hand, this is the same ‘bundled’ deal the TV services like to push where you quickly discover that while you kinda like one or two of them the rest are junk (or at least not your cup of tea.) Funny thing is, we had this discussion in my house the other day, the one channel in the overpriced bundle wasn’t worth the price (and the idiot sales/retentions drone kept harping on ‘all the (not worth paying for) channels you get’.)

      So, grouped together to help hide that the writers are ‘giving’ their books away for the ‘best seller’ sticker, and they’re hoping a rising tide will raise all their boats.

      Too much like saying that the ‘home shopping network’ is well watched because it’s bundled with HBO. Maybe with enough negative comments Amazon will stop allowing ‘bundled’ best of anythings …

    • Gabby the people using this method aren’t making money on it. They are spending a ton of money for the prestige of being called ‘best selling.’ Even if it’s a fake title they bought.

      To make money they’d have to do exactly what you are doing. Build a career. Being able to call yourself a best seller doesn’t help much with that, doesn’t get the work done.

      There are no shortcuts.

      Are you saying these tricks are becoming more acceptable? Most writers I know look down on these shenanigans.

      • Bookbub have made clear on many occasions that having NYT or USA Today Bestseller status makes a big difference to sales and a big difference to getting a Bookbub deal.

        Clearly it does help make sales and therefore make money.

        • No it’s not clear but you might be right.

          No need to rely on thought experiments and conjecture though. It looks like hundreds of authors have tried this, so surely there’s a good example of someone who built or boosted their career this way.

          • Bookbub has actually noted that listing a bestseller acolade *of any kind* helps purchase. They’ve specified that it doesn’t have to be USAT or NYT. They are also no longer including the mention of USAT or NYT in a blurb if the tag came from a mult-author boxed set.

            As someone with healthy sales and hitting USAT on my own with two different pen names, I didn’t notice any lift in sales with the letters suddenly floating over me. Readers certainly didn’t care more about me. Now I’m more inclined to use that I’ve sold over a million books instead of a tag (which have been more or less meaningless for a while). Or that the book in question is a #1 bestseller, since that sounds better to a reader than Top 100 overall, even though in most categories it is much less impressive. Marketing is all about what *sounds* better to the person looking to buy.

            Authors want the status of the tag. I care when I hit it, even though it doesn’t matter much. I also care when I hit KU bonuses, and that directly matters to my pocketbook. But authors aren’t building a career with letters. They are doing it with sales. In a perfect world, the letters should come after the sales. The authors in these boxed sets might boast hitting the list, but unless they get their act together and bust their butt, they’ll never have the sales prestige to back it up. That’s logic. It is wiser to aim for amassing loyal readers than to waste time getting letters. You know, so you can pay the bills.

            That’s just my two cents from someone in the trenches, as it were.

        • Hey Mark there’s a thread on KBoards about this, looks like at least one guy claiming to have seen a boost but not make his money back yet. But he expects to.

          So there’s at least one example.

          I’d recommend staying away from that thread though. I just looked at it for 10 mins and there’s a lot of drama there.

    • Not just this but all the slightly dishonest ways to get your book a leg-up rather than letting it stand on it’s own merits.

      Nothing stands on its own merit in the market. Promotion, distribution, retail. They have a huge effect, but they don’t affect merit.

      Gaming the system often means the other guy is a better player. It’s a mistake to think they system is limited to merit.

      • “Gaming the system often means the other guy is a better player. It’s a mistake to think they system is limited to merit.”

        Yup. So this is that whole mentality that makes me sad, unless I’m misunderstanding you.

        It’s like when you play a boardgame and the other person cheats. Are they a better player?

        I guess you are saying yes.

        Their book has more merit because they BOUGHT their ranking and visibility.

        Whereas I’m going to get there because my book EARNED its ranking and visibility.

        Sorry, I guess I’m a bit grumpy about the whole thing.

        • Yup. So this is that whole mentality that makes me sad, unless I’m misunderstanding you.

          It’s not a mentality. It’s an observation on how markets operate. It seems many others make the same observation.

          Their book has more merit because they BOUGHT their ranking and visibility.

          I don’t know. Maybe. But the object of the game they are playing isn’t merit. It’s sales. One can insist that everyone else play play a given game, but they have no reason to comply. Markets facilitate trade. Those folks are trying to do that, not showcase merit.

          • I think what it comes down to is that the way we choose to do business is very different.

            ~ I’m not going to game the system.
            ~ I’m not going to game the reviews.

            You can talk all you want about how that makes you a ‘better player’.

            But I’m still:
            not going to game the system.
            and not going to game the reviews.

            And while all these tactics to ‘game the system’ make it harder for people not willing to do the same…

            I’m still:
            not going to game the system.
            and not going to game the reviews.

            • Gabby, it sounds like you’re saying ethics are important when doing business. I understand Terrence to be saying that ethics don’t matter, as long as you get what you want.

              I happen to agree with you. We’re human beings engaged with and interacting with other human beings. I believe we have a responsibility to treat one another with respect and fairness. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think this makes for a more civil– and civilized– society.

              • Yes, that’s it.

                …Anything else I try to write sounds so idealistic, but money will never be so important to me.

                It doesn’t mean I couldn’t manage it, as he implies, and that’s why I haven’t done these things.

                It means I wouldn’t.

        • Games are meant to he fair.
          Few other things are.
          Children and sentient creatures come with a sense of fairness but humans quickly outgrow those expectations in the face of reality. It’s not even a cultural thing.

          • Formal games may be designed to be fair.

            But when we apply game theory to a situation, we call it a game. There is no reason to expect it to be fair.

    • I hear you! There are days I think I’m the only indie who doesn’t keyword stuff (as an example). But the only behavior I can control is my own.(er, most days.)

    • “Gabby the people using this method aren’t making money on it. They are spending a ton of money for the prestige of being called ‘best selling.’…Are you saying these tricks are becoming more acceptable? Most writers I know look down on these shenanigans.”

      I think it probably is good for short-term gain. so like the price of a bookbub. They spend money on the guaranteed sales and reviews. Earning them greater visibility/ranking and stickiness and more actual sales. Plus the letters which get more visibility. (although I’m not the kind of reader who ever makes a buying decision based on that, so letters have never been important to me).

      I actually do think this probably happens more often than we might like to think.
      But even just looking at the article alone- 20+ authors, multiple boxsets. It adds up.
      I mean… okay in the grander scheme of things, that’s not a lot. but I doubt they’re the only ones doing it.

      And I think it’s not the only way to scam the system to get that little push ahead for your baby.

      • Uh, just to clarify, getting a bookbub is not a scam. That wasn’t what I meant.

        • Right. I got you.

          I’ve still not seen this scheme result in sales enough to make up for the thousands of dollars in outlay.

        • You could be right but I think people aren’t likely to talk about it as it can cause backlash.

          (People getting hostile while they happily deposit their wads of cash.)

          Plus the more people who do it, the less effective it becomes. So they want to keep it on the down-low.

          • If this works for someone, that someone has written a good book or a series of good books and just needed to be discovered.

            So the fundamentals are still required. The rest is a side show. There are better ways to get noticed if you have the chops and the good books.

  7. I’m participating in one of these but have no intention of using the letters for my CV, assuming the set qualifies for a list. (Thus side-stepping the thorniest of ethical issues which are about “bestseller” claims.) For me, as a comparative newbie to self-publishing, it’s about gaining a readership.

    I see it as no different than offering a loss-leader book at $0.00 on retailers, as is standard practice by many. Also, the box set has a limited time of sale, whereas many authors leave free books up in perpetuity, or hand them out in exchange for an email address.

    • Just being in a boxed set isn’t the issue.

      What they are doing is pooling money and essentially buying their own boxed sets in order to hit lists. It’s grossly unethical but crap like that has been going on for a long time. This scheme has the added ugly feature of duping newer authors out of their money with false promises of prestige and a career boost.

      Giving away free stuff doesn’t help your career much, maybe not at all. But that’s a different topic and a different argument, with many reasonable strategies and points of view on both sides.

      If you are in a ‘buy in’ boxed set scheme I really do hope it helps your career. It’s a lot of money for nothing if not. I haven’t seen it help anyone yet. From the POV of building a writing career, that is. It’s helped a ton of people hit lists.

      • Giving away free stuff doesn’t help your career much, maybe not at all.

        Maybe it doesn’t, but I’m driving around in the proceeds from free promotions a few years back.

        • Okay, see. This is what I thought.
          It works like bonkers.

          Which in turn makes it harder to make the list and have all the lovely benefits from making the list, without resorting to these tactics.
          Now you have to spend more money to make the list because instead of 20k sales for the letters, now you need 40k. soon it will be 100k sales.
          etc, etc.

          I can’t even imagine the number of reviews you’ll have to buy soon. That stuff adds up. Price of doing business… obviously.

          I do find your honesty and pride refreshing though. It’s like the work ethic of the new millennia: whatever it takes, baby, whatever it takes.

          It feels short-sighted for the ecosystem of authors. But as long as you got your nice car…

          • It feels short-sighted for the ecosystem of authors. But as long as you got your nice car…

            The ecosystem of authors? What’s that? We can observe lots of markets, and the players compete with each other.

            Books aren’t special. Books compete with each other. Authors can choose to compete with each other.

            Unfortunately, the free book tactic doesn’t have nearly the power it once did. The next car will have to be funded some other way.

            • “The ecosystem of authors? What’s that?”

              This ecosystem:
              Now you have to spend more money to make the list because instead of 20k sales for the letters, now you need 40k. soon it will be 100k sales.
              etc, etc.
              I can’t even imagine the number of reviews you’ll have to buy soon. That stuff adds up. Price of doing business… obviously.

              It’s a never-ending trip down the rabbit hole… but it’s so short-sighted.

            • “Books aren’t special. Books compete with each other. Authors can choose to compete with each other.”

              I actually don’t agree with this either.

              Back before I had anything that sold, I did kind of think this way. How will my book ever get noticed? There’s so much competition.

              Now I have books that sell and I realized: this isn’t a competition. There’s plenty of room.
              It’s one of the things I’ve always valued in the indie community.

              And why hearing about these tactics make me so sad.

              It’s like in the KU 1.0 days when people were getting ahead by “writing” the 1 page book.
              Yup: they won. They made lots of money.

              It doesn’t mean I’m going to do it though. Or feel that’s somehow a valuable direction to take my career.

              I’m taking the long path. Learning to write books that sell without the tricks and the fake sales or fake reviews.

              • Where are these 1 page book people now? Nowhere. They lacked the fundamentals. They’ll pretend they’ve found the method, the golden ticket, but unless they are putting out a bunch of good books they go away.

                If looking at a 6 month time scale, maybe they’ve won. Maybe. But who wants to play on that scale? I’m looking out 5-10 years myself, at least. To me that’s success. Long term writing for a living.

                So I spend my time, like you, working on my writing. Getting better. Getting faster. Working on my covers. You know the drill.

                I’ll say it again, there are no shortcuts to success. Not on the time scale I have in mind.

                • Jo,
                  I agree with you so much.
                  I don’t even know why I’ve gotten so wrapped up in this topic. It has nothing to do with me at all.

                • Lol Gabby. I noticed you were stressed. That’s why I was posting. I usually don’t post much here. There are probably a lot of people just as stressed. I was when I first heard about this. Then I stepped back and regained my perspective.

          • Gabby, did you see this, last month?

            http://www.thepassivevoice.com/2017/03/bestseller-lists-and-other-dreams/

            I wasn’t just joking when I said the end of bestsellers was a good thing. Chasing the increasingly meaningless “bestseller” designation is well on its way to becoming a fruitless effort. To start with, a plurality–possibly a majority, by now–of readers don’t pay attention to bestseller lists. And of those that do notice, most are aware that “bestsellers” no longer have to be particularly popular to make the lists. And that popularity never equaled “good”.

            These days readers do mind the little man behind the curtain.

            And that is just off tradpub and NYT hijinks. Add in the more recent scams and tricks and, most importantly, the declining bar to “earn” the tag without tricks and it is truly becoming a worthless “honor”.

            The sooner the rest of the writing well catches on, the better for everybody.

        • Sweet! I love it when people’s promotions work out.

  8. Publishers have gamed the lists for decades by counting 6+ months of pre-orders on one day. But I agree, these days when I see NYT or USAT letter, unless it’s an author I recognize, I assume they’re from a box set sold at 99c.

  9. Looks like the site went down.

    • Too many people shining a light on them and their ways? 😉

    • Has anyone gone to the genrecrave marketing group on Facebook to get an inside look at things. Lots of screenshots and facts there that aren’t here and are kind of hard to deny.

      • No, and I won’t. Here’s why: the person in question is using the influx of new members to her group as proof her methods are not wrong. That in itself is unethical. Most are likely joining to see these multitudes of screen caps and emails claiming her methods have the approval of everyone, including Facebook, Paypal and Amazon. And those of us who’ve been around for a while believe that crap. Amazon itself is known for the “sure, that’s okay” line, right before they start banning accounts.

        None of this is anything new in regards to the person in question, by the way.

  10. It's About Ethics

    I’m posting anonymously because, let’s face it, the organizer has been known to drop a casual hint to her groupies and they’ve gone through one-starring and down-voting certain authors’ catalogs she’s had beefs with.

    But some of you would know me (and Passive Guy has my name). I’ve organized a couple of box sets and had a couple hit NYT and USA, so no jealousy here.

    I’ve watched this organizer’s boxes for more than a year now. I’ve seen the rules being skirted and outright broken.

    1) Books in the sets in KU during the time the sets were on pre-order. Boxes releasing wide with 4-6 books still in KU. Not theoretical. Screenshots don’t lie. When caught by Amazon (with some outside help), she began not listing the actual names of the books in the boxes on Amazon to make it harder (but far from impossible) for anyone to report them.

    2) Forced price-matching by putting the sets on other sites for 99¢ knowing the sets would be oversized when released.

    3) When caught on the price-matching scheme, halving the box sets and putting 11 or 12 of the advertised 22 books on instafreebie with a link for readers to have to go to instafreebie to sideload the balance of the books.

    4) Currently, keeping the original box with 22 novels up on Amazon only for release week, then allowing authors to swap out full-length novels for novellas and short stories and calling that a 2nd Edition, even though it bears little to no resemblance to the box that was released and what hit the lists.

    More >>>

  11. It's About Ethics

    Let’s think further about some of these:

    1) KU double-dipping — ever wonder WHY Amazon started enforcing its rules for books to not only be exclusive to Amazon but to the publisher and re-emphasized exclusive meant for the preorder period too?

    2) Amazon has pulled down some of this organizer’s boxes as well as others for this practice. What she and the others gamble on is that Amazon won’t catch them within the first week of release. All they want to do is skate through Saturday for NYT listing or Sunday for USA Today. And if they can gift enough boxes and get enough presales during the preorder period to hit the lists with just a few days’ sales added on, then if the boxes are taken down late in the week, the boxes can still make the list and they can republish at $2.99.

    If Amazon catches the price-matching during the preorder lockdown period or early in the week and if there aren’t enough preorders to guarantee a list, then they move to #3.

    3) Think about it. The box sets don’t even have to physically have all the books in it. Half the authors making a list sometimes aren’t even in the box set files being sold to the customer. Read that again. And again.

    Now, I happened to be chatting with the person who runs the USA Today bestseller list program, and we spoke about this. She told me during the target week that all versions of a title are considered in the total sales figures, which might include hardback, paperback, ebook, screenplay versions, and so forth. If it has the same title, it gets included. And their contracts with the various vendors means USA Today counts exactly what their told to count, they don’t make judgements. So she threw the burden back on Amazon for what they call/don’t call an eligible version.

    Other organizers who’ve attempted the instafreebie roll have had their books removed without recourse for republishing.

    And while the box set on preorder will have the 22-book 3D box set visual without reference to the book titles the box contains, that cover will get swapped out with a generic 2D cover that lists neither titles nor authors, and often not even number of books to ensure customers can’t complain no matter what winds up in the box set file they receive.

    4) In an attempt to circumvent the KU exclusivity and to yet continue to capitalize on the USA Today status and keep reviews and still be able to put the box sets into KU one week after release, the organizer now employs the book swap method.

    While the organizer and all who take part in her sets, as well as the others coming up behind her, should be ashamed of their blatant attempts to circumvent the Amazon TOS and to manipulate rank and sales, Amazon also shares a good deal of that blame for allowing it to happen.

    More >>>

  12. It's About Ethics

    Lastly, here’s what I propose. Since Amazon has seen fit to allow half of several 22-book box sets to be delivered via instafreebie and still allow them to list with USA Today, then let’s see how many we can get away with! What about a 50-book box set?

    Better yet, let’s all publish a box set that has just ONE actual book file in it (our own book, of course), and then add the links to 99 other books that are all permafree. Since we’re not actually publishing those 99 books, surely we don’t need the rights to them. And if we don’t mention the titles on the cover or the authors, we can simply tout the sets as the ultimate 100-book megaboxes for 99 cents. How many do you think we can pop up on the USA Today list? And how many will need to list before Amazon does something about it?

    • Funny, I’ve never seen any of the things you’re discribing, and have been in her marketing group for months – I’ve seen lots of her screenshots when she defends herself against these claims, but no proof from baseless accusations like you’re posting here… Even the original quote that Passive Guy pulled from another blog has been taken down – the whole blog removed because all these claims seem to have no proof, while the Organizer everyone is accusing posts full disclosure screenshots of everything she does…

  13. Just a detail, but a rather important one, if you ‘gift’ a copy of an ebook it is not treated as a sale either in ranking or in verified reviews. Now there are a number of things problematic about sets but I can tell you that is inaccurate.

    • They are talking about using the Amazon gifting thing, which does count the gift as a sale in terms of ranking (it shows up as a sale on your sheet also). I don’t know about if it counts for verified reviews, but the “gift” is basically an Amazon gift card (the person getting it doesn’t even have to use it for that book, they can apply it to anything).

      So they are talking about something that does affect rank and sales.

    • They aren’t gifting a copy of the ebook.
      They are buying a gift card. The person is using the gift card to buy the book.
      It therefore shows as a sale.
      And any review they leave shows up as verified.

      • I’ve been in marketing group for the organizer you’re talking about, and no she doesn’t use gift cards to buy the books, she specifically uses the Amazon Giveaway feature that you find at the bottom of every book in the amazon store – and No, it can’t be applied to anything, but is a gifting of the actual book.

  14. The NYT stopped falling for this trick long before they eliminated the ebook list. USA Today still acknowledges the boxes, but the NYT doesn’t.

    • Actually, one of this organizer’s box sets did make the NY Times list after the rules changed.

  15. It’s a shame the original article seems to be gone now
    Does anyone know why they might have removed it?
    Seems like they put it online to be read, so removing it from the Internet seems odd.

    • The site opened just fine for me earlier today. It’s likely getting huge hits and going down.

  16. […] Last week, we looked at the suspension of gifting via Audible. This week saw a story that was similar in many ways over box sets, with a particularly scathing take on indies who have achieved bestseller status by joining together to produce box sets. Much of the controversy seems to surround the use of gifting – this is clearly a part of the literary selling landscape that is going to need to be watched. It has led to some really hot discussion on The Passive Voice. […]

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