Firm That Helps Authors Buy Their Way Onto Bestseller Lists Goes Into Stealth Mode

20 April 2014

From Forbes:

For years, it was an open secret in the book publishing industry that any author willing to spend enough money could nab a spot on the major bestseller by engaging the services of a company called Result Source Inc. Now that secret is a little less open.

A few weeks ago, the San Diego-based firm quietly scrubbed most evidence of its existence from the web. Its website, which previously contained numerous case studies describing the many campaigns it has executed for authors, has been reduced to a bare-bones landing page with a logo and a contact form.

. . . .

Curiously, all this comes more than a year after an expose in the Wall Street Journal revealed Result Source’s business model for what it is: Basically, the company requires authors to make bulk purchases of their own books, then breaks those orders up into small increments to make them look like organic retail sales. For this service, authors or their publishers pay tens of thousands of dollars, on top of the cost of the books whose purchases Result Source launders. The total price tag can approach $250,000.

WSJ’s reporting prompted a strong response from Amazon, which declared that it would no longer do business with Result Source. Yet according to the Wayback Machine, which takes historical snapshots of websites, Result Source’s full website was still online as recently as Feb. 3, 2014.

. . . .

The timing suggests it has to do with a scandal that’s been unfolding in the evangelical community over the past six months. Result Source started out as a marketing firm catering to Christian authors, and they still make up a large part of its client roster. Several well-known pastors, including Steven Furtick, Mark Driscoll and Perry Noble, have recently been accused of using their congregations’ funds to pay for bestseller campaigns.

. . . .

Duncan and others have floated the idea that the IRS should get involved, arguing that the pastors in question have been exploiting their churches’ nonprofit status for personal enrichment.

. . . .

All of this seems to have led Result Source to the belated realization that everything it does makes everyone involved look pretty bad.

Link to the rest at Forbes and thanks to Randall for the tip.

Here’s a link to what Result Source looks like today and what it looked like in February of this year (sort of).

Self-Published Ebook Jumps to No. 1 on Best-Seller List, Dethrones Divergent

9 April 2014

From Digital Book World:

Divergent is this year’s runaway top best-selling ebook in the U.S. — but it’s not the best-selling ebook this week. (In the UK, at the London Book Fair, the buzz around HarperCollins is about why Divergent is selling comparatively well abroad.)

The juggernaut has been stopped and sits at No. 2 on the Digital Book World Ebook Best-Seller list, making way for The Fixed Trilogy Bundle, a collection of titles by self-published author Laurelin Paige.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

What’s wrong with buying your way onto the bestseller list?

21 March 2014

From MacGregor Literary:

Last week I made a point of saying that I think a guy who buys his way onto the bestseller lists is a weasel, and I had a bunch of people write to ask me why. This is a worthwhile topic for everyone in publishing.

. . . .

Until last week, when it was revealed that Rev. Driscoll had paid a marketing firm, ResultSource, more than $200,000 to get his book onto the New York Time bestseller list. The scheme included hiring people to purchase 6000 copies of the book in bookstores, then ordering another 5000 copies in bulk. They even made sure to use more than 1000 different payment methods, so BookScan couldn’t track all the purchases back to a single source. In other words, they cheated to manipulate the system, got the book onto the list (for that one week), and did it so that Driscoll can refer to himself as “a New York Times bestselling author.”

I was critical of him for doing it, since I don’t think gaming the system is the right thing to do. It’s unfair. It’s lazy. It’s dishonest. And it’s basically nothing more than rampant egotism. But I had several people write to me, or post on Facebook, that this is common practice. A couple people said “everybody is doing it,” and some claimed “publishers are doing that all the time.”

. . . .

Are the bestseller lists rigged? Perhaps, to a small degree — certainly Amazon seems to include an inordinate number of their own titles on the Amazon bestseller lists, and occasionally we’ll all be surprised at how a book with modest sales somehow wound up on a bestseller list because of the strange (and secret) way some of them account for the books. But for the most part, the books showing up on the lists are there because of sales. Honest, straightforward sales. Sometimes we get shocked when a crappy book (say, for example, Fifty Shades of Gray) suddenly starts showing up everywhere — but it showed up because, in spite of the boring story and fourth-grade writing ability, the book SOLD. Like it or not, that book wasn’t snuck onto a list dishonestly.

Link to the rest at MacGregor Literary

PG is inclined to think that, if one or more companies offer to place a book onto the NYT, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists, those bestseller lists are gamed on a regular basis.

Does any business maintain 1,000 different payment mechanisms and have the ability to hire people to buy copies of a book in 5,000 different stores just for a once-in-a-while bestseller campaign?

James Patterson: how the bestseller factory works

21 March 2014

From The Telegraph:

The book sales have been counted and verified and the results are in: James Patterson, author of tomes such as Mistress and Private Berlin, is the world’s best-selling author since 2001.

To call Patterson prolific would be an understatement. The ad man-turned-author has put his name to 130 novels, 15 of which have publish dates in 2014 alone. But even when you divide his estimated 300 million booksales by that number, it still results with a healthy 2.3 million copies sold per title. His website claims that in 2011, a quarter of all hardback thriller novels sold were written by Patterson, and since 2006 one in every 17 novels bought in America boasted his name.

. . . .

The 130 Patterson-branded novels have approximately 45,651 pages between them. It has been 38 years since his first publication, which is 14,185 days. Bearing in mind that Patterson takes the weekends off to relax in his palatial $17.4 million Palm Beach home, and presumably celebrates Thanksgiving and other bank holidays by not putting pen to paper (he writes only in longhand), then that’s still 4.7 published pages he has consistently written every working day since 1976.

The truth of the matter is that he has help. Although Patterson only became a full-time writer in 1996, since 2002 just 20 per cent of his novels have been entirely written by him.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph and thanks to J.J. for the tip.

How I Write: David Baldacci

19 March 2014

From The Daily Beast:

Talk us through your writing process.

I’m not a words-per-day kind of guy. I always felt that if you have an artificial number, it probably means that you don’t want to be writing, anyway. If you say, okay I do 2000 words, but what if the next words would’ve been fantastic? You’re just going to stop and go play golf? You can also produce 2000 words that are crap. So I sit down to write when I’m ready to write, when things crystallize in my head and I know what I want to say. I work on multiple projects a day, so I might spend three or four hours on my next adult thriller, then a few hours on a screenplay. I might work for a few hours on editing, or on a young adult book. For me, three or four hours on one project, I’ve probably exhausted my energy for that. But rather than just calling it a day, and going on home, I’ll move on to some other project. I just love to write. It’s not a job, it never has been. It’s a lifestyle. If I’m not writing or plotting, I’m not a happy camper. It just keeps me going.

Describe your routine when conceiving of a book and its plot, before the writing beginsDo you like to map out your books ahead of time, or just let it flow?

I’m very much a writer who lets the story develop. I don’t plot everything out, and I have no idea how the book is going to end when I sit down to write it. I wouldn’t want to, because then it’d feel like I’m writing to an outline. It would feel like a drudge. And I don’t know what my characters are capable of until I spend a hundred pages with them. So how can I know what they’d do at the end of the book, if I don’t know them well enough to begin with? I stick my toes in the water, feel what it’s all about, and then let it flow. Sometimes I go by the seat of my pants, sometimes I have a bit of it planned out. I’m always thinking about it. I don’t use super-detailed outlines, because I feel like it’s easy to write an outline, because in an outline everything works. But when you actually execute it on the page, you look at the outline, look at the page, and think, “Well, it sounded good in the outline, but it’s not really working…”

. . . .

What has to happen on page one, and in chapter one, to make for a successful book that urges you to read on?

One of two things, hopefully both. I have to give you an interesting character who you can either root for or against. And second, something has to happen. I don’t mean that someone has to die or something has to get blown up. You just have to present some sort of conundrum, problem, or issue that this character, who you’ve hopefully begun to grow interested in over the first few pages, has to overcome. It’s much like the first act in a film. Any screenplay, movie you go to see, is three acts. The first act you have about ten minutes or ten pages to set up everything—who the characters are, the problem they face or the journey they have to take. Then the long second and the far shorter third act, and a resolution of some five pages at the end. In books I want to be descriptive, I want to put you in the moment, feel the atmosphere, to give you a character who’s interesting and who you can grow to care about for some reason, either like or hate. And give them an interesting problem they have to solve.

Link to the rest at The Daily Beast and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Paying to get on the New York Times Best Seller List

7 March 2014

From Patheos:

Yesterday, World Magazine published an article by Warren Cole Smith which described a contract between Mars Hill Church (MHC) and ResultSource, Inc. (RSI) for the purpose of elevating Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage to various best seller lists.  The arrangement was successful, leading to a week atop the New York Time’s best seller list for advice books. Mars Hill Church does not deny this but spun the arrangement as a means to spread the gospel.

. . . .


. . . .

Apparently, the publisher must be on board with this arrangement as well since the contract requires the publisher to supply the proper number of books. I have asked Harper Collins Christian for comment but they have not replied as yet.


Link to the rest at Patheos and thanks to Eric for the tip.

PG blogged about this practice last year.

The return of Hugh Howey: Author Earnings Part Two

20 February 2014

From TeleRead:

If you were worrying you might run out of traditional-publisher vitriol since it’s been a week since Hugh Howey uncorked a gusher of it with his original post on Amazon web crawl analytics, fear not! Not content to analyze 7,000 genre titles, Howey and his Stats Guy went back and crawled the top 50,000 books on Amazon across all genres and categories for a single day (Febuary 7th) and ran some analyses on that data set (and, naturally, offered up all the raw data for other statisticians to crunch however they like).

. . . .

However, the most interesting analysis comes when he removes the top 1,000 titles and crunches the data for the other 49,000—since, after all, if the chart was being skewed by a few excessively popular outliers, removing the most popular titles should show a different picture. But not only does the chart look similar, the percentage of Big Five published books drops from 39% to 32%. The proportions of Amazon-published books also drops, also, while indie-published, small- or medium-publisher, and uncategorized single-author publisher each gain some points.

This would seem to suggest that, whereas Big Five publishing is more reliant on bestsellers, indie publishing draws its numbers from lots of smaller sales. The pieces of pie each indie book gets might be smaller, on average—but on the other hand, in terms of revenue, they don’t have a traditional publisher going around with a fork and taking away everything but the crust.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

New Author Earnings Report

11 February 2014

UPDATE: PG just tried the Author Earnings website and it came up right away.

Hugh Howey and some associates have been busy doing some really cool things.

It’s no great secret that the world of publishing is changing. What is a secret is how much. Is it changing a lot? Has most of the change already happened? What does the future look like?

The problem with these questions is that we don’t have the data that might give us reliable answers. Distributors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble don’t share their e-book sales figures. At most, they comment on the extreme outliers, which is about as useful as sharing yesterday’s lottery numbers [link]. A few individual authors have made their sales data public, but not enough to paint an accurate picture. We’re left with a game of connect-the-dots where only the prime numbers are revealed. What data we do have often comes in the form of surveys, many of which rely on extremely limited sampling methodologies and also questionable analyses [link].

This lack of data has been frustrating. If writing your first novel is the hardest part of becoming an author, figuring out what to do next runs a close second. Manuscripts in hand, some writers today are deciding to forgo six-figure advances in order to self-publish [link]. Are they crazy? Or is signing away lifetime rights to a work in the digital age crazy? It’s hard to know.

. . . .

When I faced these decisions, I had to rely on my own sales data and nothing more. Luckily, I had charted my daily sales reports as my works marched from outside the top one million right up to #1 on Amazon. Using these snapshots, I could plot the correlation between rankings and sales. It wasn’t long before dozens of self-published authors were sharing their sales rates at various positions along the lists in order to make author earnings more transparent to others [link] [link]. Gradually, it became possible to closely estimate how much an author was earning simply by looking at where their works ranked on public lists [link].

This data provided one piece of a complex puzzle. The rest of the puzzle hit my inbox with a mighty thud last week. I received an email from an author with advanced coding skills who had created a software program that can crawl online bestseller lists and grab mountains of data. All of this data is public—it’s online for anyone to see—but until now it’s been extremely difficult to gather, aggregate, and organize. This program, however, is able to do in a day what would take hundreds of volunteers with web browsers and pencils a week to accomplish. The first run grabbed data on nearly 7,000 e-books from several bestselling genre categories on Amazon. Subsequent runs have looked at data for 50,000 titles across all genres. You can ask this data some pretty amazing questions, questions I’ve been asking for well over a year [link]. And now we finally have some answers.

. . . .

The first thing that jumped out at me when I opened my email was these next two charts, which our data guru had placed side-by-side. What caught my eye was how they seem to be inversely correlated:



On the left, we have a chart showing the average rating of 7,000 bestselling e-books.1 On the right, we have a chart showing the average list price of the same 7,000 e-books. Both charts break the books up into the same five categories. From the left, they are: Indie PublishedSmall/Medium PublisherAmazon Published (from imprints like 47North), Big Five published, and Uncategorized Single-Author.2

It’s interesting to me that the self-published works in this sample have a higher average rating than the e-books from major publishers. There are several reasons why this might be, ranging from the conspiratorial (self-published authors purchase their reviews) to the communal (self-published authors read and favorably rate each others works) to the familial (it’s friends and family who write these reviews). But the staggering number of reviews involved for most of these books (over a hundred on average across our entire sample) makes each of these highly unlikely. As I’ve seen with my own works—and as I’ve observed when watching other books spread organically—the sales come before the reviews, not after. There are a number of more plausible explanations for the nearly half a star difference in ratings, and one in particular jumped out at me, again from seeing these two charts next to one another.

Note the shortest bar in one graph correlates to the tallest in the other. Is it possible that price impacts a book’s rating? Think about two meals you might have: one is a steak dinner for $10; the other is a steak dinner that costs four times as much. An average experience from both meals could result in a 4-star for the $10 steak but a 1-star for the $40 steak. That’s because overall customer satisfaction is a ratio between value received and amount spent. As someone who reads both self-published and traditionally published works, I can tell you that it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between the two. Most readers don’t know and don’t care how the books they read are published. They just know if they liked the story and how much they paid. If they’re paying twice as much for traditionally published books, which experience will they rate higher? The one with better bang for the buck.

This raises an interesting question: Are publishers losing money in the long run by charging higher prices? Are they decreasing the value/cost ratio and thereby creating lower average ratings for their authors and their products? If so, this might have some influence on long-term sales, and keep in mind that e-books do not go out of print. What if in exchange for immediate profits, publishers are creating poorer ratings for their goods and a poorer experience for their readers? Both effects will hurt a work’s prospects down the road (a road with no end in sight). And since ratings on e-books also apply to the physical edition on Amazon’s product pages, this pricing scheme ends up adversely affecting the very print edition that higher e-book prices are meant to protect [link].

. . . .

It turns out that 86% of the top 2,500 genre fiction bestsellers in the overall Amazon store are e-books. At the top of the charts, the dominance of e-books is even more extreme. 92% of the Top-100 best-selling books in these genres are e-books!

Link to much, much more at Author Earnings

PG says everybody needs to read this. You can show your appreciation to Hugh by buying one of Hugh’s books.

UPDATE: The Author Earnings site seems to be up and running again. While the original site was running slow, Joe Konrath has put up a copy here.

Bestselling Indie Author Russell Blake On Writing, Big Bucks and Clive Cussler

20 January 2014


Book publishing industry media seems to make out a war between indie authors and traditional publishing. A lot has been written about the lack of quality and the “slush pile” uploaded on Amazon for sale but Russell Blake and a host of other indie authors have proven time and time again that for authors, quality material, whether independently or traditionally published, can make the difference between hitting it big and barely scraping together a living.

Russell Blake was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal after quietly racking up sales from his 25 thrillers. The books, which often top the thriller bestsellers lists on Amazon, have netted him over a million dollars in the last 30 months as well as caught the eye of a certain bestselling author.

. . . .

The industry media talk about the decline in eBook sales and the over-saturation of competitive books. Do you believe any of that and if there is truth to it, how do you keep motivated and writing when people write that the walls are closing in on indie authors?

I think that data is misleading. For instance, after 50 Shades and Hunger Games, it might appear that there’s a decline in the growth rate because there simply hasn’t been another mega-hit that was largely sold as an ebook. That said, if you aren’t including indies in your numbers, it’s an unclear picture, or at best, incomplete. Indies make up 25-35% of the Top 100 any given week, and if you exclude those sales, many of which are substantial (think H.M. Ward w/3 million sold in 2013, for example), you paint a different picture – and the studies I’ve seen do exactly that. You’re essentially not counting at least 25% of the ebooks sold, and your data is biased against indies (because you’re ignoring them), who are a force in the market nowadays. I’d bet if you took both indie and trad pub into account, ebooks are somewhere from flat to rising as a percentage of the total mix. That’s just a gut feel – because Amazon doesn’t report in a granular fashion, we have to guess. And you also have textbooks skewing the data, most of which are sold as hard copy, which gives an unbalanced impression. Sure, if you factor in textbooks it makes it seem like there’s a huge appetite for paper. But I’d really like to see an analysis of only fiction books, paper vs. ebooks. I bet that’s a completely different animal.

. . . .

You mentioned in one of your blog posts (and I’m paraphrasing) that we’ve come to the point that authors cannot rely on cheap books, that we have to go back to writing great novels that are noteworthy, or spread-worthy as I like to call them. Please, tell us more about this.

The golden age of self-publishing, where you could put out almost anything, charge .99 for it, and sell a bunch, has passed, and now we’re back to where all the gimmicks – .99 books, free books, bundles – aren’t really having nearly the effect they used to. We’re back to what’s between the covers. The book itself. I believe that if you want to have a career as a writer, you need to be relevant and deliver a reader experience nobody else can, or you’re just another commodity. And commodities are very tough to differentiate. I don’t want to be just another author with just another book. My work isn’t fungible. There’s a palpable quality difference, I hope, that keeps the reader coming back, and makes them willing to pay to read it.

I think what’s happened is that as the market’s matured, readers have realized that their time’s way more valuable than the two or three bucks they might save getting a bargain. My goal has always been to deliver books that readers feel are a steal at $5-$6. I’ve never been a fan of selling on price – it’s the rookie sales approach, and ultimately fails, because there’s no barrier to anyone lowering their price as well: a race to the bottom. But there’s a huge barrier to anyone duplicating your voice and your quality if you’ve really invested in differentiating it. You need to write books that would be great values at $10. If you’re writing books that are basically worth a buck, you’re going to be a bargain bin author, and there are tens of thousands of those, few of whom make any real money. In my opinion that’s over.

Link to the rest at and thanks to Ryan for the tip.

JK Rowling lawyer fined over Robert Galbraith leak

4 January 2014

From The BBC:

The lawyer who revealed crime writer Robert Galbraith was actually Harry Potter author JK Rowling has been fined £1,000 for breaching privacy rules.

Chris Gossage, a partner at Russells Solicitors, has also been issued with a written rebuke from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

He confided in his wife’s best friend that Rowling had written The Cuckoo’s Calling under a pseudonym.

It was then publicly revealed by The Sunday Times in July last year.

Rowling took legal action later that month against Gossage and his friend Judith Callegari, who had revealed the information during a Twitter exchange with journalist India Knight.

Rowling accepted an apology from the law firm and substantial damages, in the form of a charity donation.

In a ruling issued on 26 November but made public on 30 December, the SRA said that “by disclosing confidential information about a client to a third party” Gossage had breached several principles of its rules and code of conduct.

The breaches included failing to “act in the best interests of each client” and a rule that members should “behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services”.

Link to the rest at BBC and thanks to the many PV visitors who provided tips.

PG is not an expert on UK laws relating to the behavior of attorneys, but thinks this lawyer got off lightly. Talking about a client’s confidential information is a violation of one of the most basic tenets of legal ethics.

A great many US law firms would have fired a lawyer who did something like this.

Next Page »

Page optimized by WP Minify WordPress Plugin