When Do You Call Your Book a Bestseller?

Introspective look into the bestseller status, which no one really understands.

photo via unsplash

I attended a talk with an author during the World Domination Summit conference in Portland last year. The talk was informative, the writer was telling us a story how she got approached by a publisher to write her book. It was a great inspiring story but to my surprise after she was done with her talk, she didn’t have any books to sell. So many people asked her for a signed copy and she explained she wasn’t allowed to sell any books at the events.

One possible explanation here would be that had she sold the copies at the events, they wouldn’t have counted towards the bestseller status. OK I said it… the word which noone in publishing can really define. Looking into creme de la creme — The New York Times Bestseller list, we know there’s a special formula and rules to get onto this list. We just don’t fully know it. Books need to be purchased from multiple sources and these points of sales need to report their sales to the NY Times. Some book stores don’t. You need to find out which stores do. An author needs to sell 2,000–5,000 copies a week at tracked retailers to qualify for the NY Times bestseller status. The number of the weeks depends on what else is happening in publishing. For example the required number of copies sold increases during the Holidays when a lot of books are sold. Also the results post with a two week delay. I’m certain there are some other components of that NY Times Bestseller secret sauce status, which noone understands.

So what does it really take for a book to become a bestseller? According to Brent Underwood, partner at the book marketing agency Brass Check, $3 and 5 minutes. He proved it by describing his bestseller experiment in The Observer. Brent took a picture of his foot making it a cover of a fake book. He bought 3 copies of the foot book and it had achieved Amazon “№1 Best Seller” status with an orange banner.

This ridiculous story went viral.

There are companies, which promise to win over the system of the Nielsen Bookscan list, which the NY Times bestseller ratings are based on and which is only accessible to industry professionals. They do that by making their clients buy thousands of copies of their book and splitting the large order into a lot of small ones so that the copies count towards the status.

The book bestseller system is broken. There’s no way to know what exactly needs to be done to achieve this prestigious status. Is the status even prestigious if any book can get it, even a fake book with a foot on the cover.


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