This is probably not a common sentiment for an author. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was the only person who felt this way. In truth, I don’t care one way or the other if I make any bestsellers list. I used to think that being on one of these lists was the be all and end all of being a writer. Then I learned what they really are.
Before I started writing, I was under the impression that a bestsellers list had to do with a total number of books that a person sold. I assumed an author would have to sell hundreds of thousands of copies, or maybe even a million, to get onto a best sellers list. When I began writing more seriously, I did some research to find out what it takes to be a bestseller. What I found left me quite disillusioned.
I used to believe that being a bestseller was a testament to a person’s writing skills. Sort of the equivalent to a platinum album for authors. What I learned is that it has more to do with a person’s marketing skills, or the amount of money they have to put into promoting their book. To understand where I’m coming from you need to be familiar with how they work. There are a lot of articles out there if you want to learn more, but this is a basic rundown.
Some bestsellers lists, like the NYT, are survey-based on sales reports that come from book stores. They might not even have sold many copies overall, but if enough book stores add your book to their lists, you can make the NYT bestsellers list. Many lists are based on weekly book sales. For instance, if you sell 5,000 copies of your book through a certain bookseller in one week, you will get onto their bestsellers list. Some do a top 10 (or whatever number they choose) sellers for the week or month.
There are many ways that the bestsellers lists are calculated, but one thing remains common among them all. You can have a completely horrible book, but if you market it right and make use of pre-ordering, it is possible to become a bestseller before anyone has even had a chance to read your work. If you do enough promoting before the release and have the required number of pre-orders to make the list on release day, you’re a bestseller. If you know enough people and have enough money, you can even pay them and their friends to buy it and viola, you’re a bestseller.
Being a bestseller, for these reasons, has lost its appeal for me. I understand that if I make a bestsellers list it will likely increase the amount of readers I get in the future, but I want to deserve it. If I become a bestseller, I would like to know I did it because of my great writing, and not because I was clever or wealthy enough to beat the system.