Am I a best-selling author? Part 2

Let’s all conduct an experiment together. Go find a copy of Stephanie Meyer’s Eclipse paperback and look at the back cover. If you cannot find at least one copy lying around the house you either a) are not a woman or b) don’t know any women. This book is amazingly pervasive. Every woman I know has either read the Twilight Saga or is reading it (again).

On the back of the paperback edition of Eclipse it says:

The #1 New York Times Bestseller
The #1 USA Today Bestseller
The #1 Wall Street Journal Bestseller

Hmm, I guess Little, Brown — the publisher of Eclipse — prefers the single-word lexicon “bestseller” rather than the two-worded version preferred by Webster. But that’s not the point. The point is that there are multiple “best seller” lists. Eclipse promotes being the #1 best seller on 3 different lists from 3 different newspapers. Granted, in this case, these are highly respected lists.

But the fact is, nearly every major metropolitan newspaper has a “best seller” list, and most major booksellers or chains have their own best seller lists, too. The cynic inside me assumes that when a book promotes itself as being the “#1 bestseller” without specifying a list, it is because the best-selling list on which the book appeared #1 is NOT the New York Times, USA Today, or the Wall St. Journal.   But book marketing is book marketing and those publicists and marketers are doing whatever they can to draw attention to that book and that author in a very competitive environment. And the fact is, that book DID appear on some best-selling list, somewhere.

“Best-selling” status becomes even more questionable when you realize how the lists are compiled.  Are booksellers really pouring over weeks and months of data, comparing sales receipts against sales returns, and arriving upon a list of books that truly reflect higher sales compared against all other books?  Or, is a sales manager hastily completing a survey every week/month that rewards top-of-mind recall more than actual data?  This would make marketing and promotion the true factor involved, rather than actual sales, just as marketing and promotion is the true factor involved in the Oscar race, rather than performance/quality.

Am I questioning whether Eclipse is a #1 bestseller? Absolutely not!  I’m sure it is. As I mentioned, every woman I know owns a copy (and bought two more as gifts for other people last Christmas).   But I am saying that acquiring “best-selling” status is easier than it might appear and in many cases, might not even relate to actual sales volume.   And, there’s the rub; the moment something becomes “easier” to do, it receives less respect.  That’s one of the issues we face today with self-publishing.

But everything has a range of difficulty.  It’s easier to not write a book than it is to write one. So, right there, people who write a book deserve some level of respect.  Of course it’s easier to self-publish a book than it is to get a book traditionally accepted and published. But it’s even easier to not publish a book at all. Doing nothing is always easier than doing something.

And so it goes: writing a bad book is easier than writing a good one.  Writing a book that does not appear on any best seller lists is easier than writing a book that does appear on one or more best selling lists. Writing a book that does not earn a million dollar advance is easier than writing a book that does.   But are these black and white classifications?  Is a book only respectable IF it earns a million dollar advance, earns best seller status on the New York Times, and is published traditionally?

Certainly those accomplishments are worthy of admiration, but so are other accomplishments. Does someone choose not to respect Eli Manning because he’s not Peyton Manning? Even though publishing a book is becoming “easier” and becoming a “best selling” author is becoming “easier,” accomplishing these feats is still “hard” in the overall scheme of things. Any published book and any bestselling status is worthy of some level of kudos. 

If you are thinking about writing a book, don’t let anyone stop you. And if you are thinking about publishing a book, don’t let anyone stop you.

And with that prelude, the question remains: Am I a best-selling — or is it bestselling, or best selling– author?  Let’s examine that question further in an upcoming post…