Tag: rankings

What’s “Bestseller” Really Mean?

Many writers have the goal of having a best-selling book. After all, that would be the ultimate sign of writing success, right?

Or maybe not.

There are different definitions for “best-selling” on different platforms. Many lists exist that determine what sells the best: USA Today, New York Times, and Amazon are the ones most often referred to in author biographies.
If a book is a bestseller, that means its sales must be watched and compared to other books. That’s why the list it bestseller list it appears on matters in actual significance.

Amazon

Amazon is unique among these three lists in that it is an actual book distributor.
Therefore, the sales of these books aren’t tracked anywhere but on Amazon’s site. And while Amazon is certainly a large book distributor, it isn’t the only outlet for book sales.
Another thing about Amazon is that it has hundreds (maybe even thousands) of sub-categories for its books. This is great if you’re looking for a book about starting a monkey ranch, but it can also be misleading in the case of a “best-seller” tag.
What do I mean?
I’ve seen books in very specific categories sell one copy and since they were the only book sold in that category that day, the book gets the orange “best-seller” banner from Amazon.
The author begins to claim they are a best-selling author (because they are) but what does that really mean?
Shouldn’t a best-selling author have hundred, thousands or millions of books out in readers hands? Certainly if I made dozens of crochet cases for tablets and only sold one of them (which is actually true), can I claim this is the best-selling product I’ve ever made?
After all, it’s the ONLY thing I’ve crocheted that I’ve ever sold. So in one sense, the statement is true.
But it’s misleading.
Fair warning: someone who is an Amazon Best-selling Author may not have actually sold a ton of books. (Caveat: Amazon does have a list of best-selling books that includes ALL the books. The day I wrote this, most of the books in the top ten on that list were also on one or both of the other lists. The number one book was also number one on BOTH of the other lists.)
Since learning this, I give much less credence to that label when it’s claimed by authors. It sounds impressive and prestigious, but it doesn’t always mean a book sold tons of copies.

USA Today

This is a list I’ve seen many of my indie author friends strive to make. And many of them have attained the status.
So, how do you make this list? Is it more prestigious than Amazon’s list?
This is a weekly list (as opposed to one that’s updated hourly like Amazon’s) that ranks titles selling well in both print and electronic formats. The sales numbers are collected from a variety of outlets: bookstore chains (like Barnes & Noble), independent bookstores, mass merchandisers (think WalMart or Target) and online retailers (including Amazon). See the complete list of sellers and the actual definition at USA Today’s site.

The list does NOT subdivide out according to category. This means the list will include nonfiction, romance, fantasy and memoir, along with any other genre that sold in substantial quantity.


For example, the week I wrote this (January 12), the number one seller was in current affairs, number two and three in genre fiction, number four in business and number five in youth.
A couple of my author friends hit the #89 slot with a boxed set including twenty-six fantasy/science-fiction novellas. They marketed hard in order to hit this list so they authors would be able to claim the status as “USA Today Best-selling Author.”

As amazing as this title is, in this case, I don’t think it means as much as it does for those authors who hit the list with a stand-alone title. Before everyone batters me in the comments, let me explain.

I pre-ordered the collection (and pre-orders are important if you want a book to hit a top spot because all those sales count on the day the book releases). I did so to read one specific story by an author I adore.
Eventually, I did finish a few of the other stories, but there were plenty that didn’t fit my reading preferences. And some of the writing wasn’t all that great (in my opinion). But every one of those twenty-six authors is now a best-selling author. Even if NO ONE reads the story they contributed to the collection.
This is the reason I say attaining the bestseller label in this way might not mean much. So, again, I don’t pay that close of attention to author’s who claim this title. (Sorry, that makes me sound like a book snob, which I’m not. I hardly ever go to the bestseller list for book recommendations.)

New York Times

The New York Times publishes “authoritatively ranked lists of books sold in the United states, sorted by format and genre.”
As you can see, this means the books are ranked in genre (so all the self-help books will compete against other self-help books) and format. This means that the numbers of hardback, paperback and digital formats aren’t considered together.
That makes this list more concise than USA Today’s but not as narrow as Amazon’s. Which means it is more difficult to leverage yourself onto the list.

These are the weekly best sellers lists:

  • Fiction combined print & e-book fiction, hardcover fiction, paperback trade fiction
  • Nonfiction combined print & e-Book nonfiction, hardcover, paperpace, advice, how-to & miscellaneous
  • Children’s Middle Grade Hardcover, Picture books, series, Young Adult hardcover (meaning the paperback and e-Book sales don’t even count for authors making this list.)

To compare this with USA Today, on January 12, the number one book in combined print & ebook fiction was #2 on USA Today’s list. The number 2 book in this category was only #23 on the USA Today list, while number three was also in that slot on USA Today. The book at number four was ranked #8 by USA Today.
In case you’re wondering, the book in the top slot on USA Today was number one in both combined and hardcover nonfiction on The New York Times list.
Since it is obviously more difficult to make this list, does that mean it’s more prestigious? I wouldn’t say that, but then I’m not someone who follows these lists.
I will say that my best-selling author goal is linked to The New York Times, though. And I don’t plan to “leverage” sales to make this list. I want to get there organically.
Will that make it more meaningful? To me, yes, but who knows if the average reader will even care?
After all, is Sharon Hughson, multi-genre author any different than Sharon Hughson, NYT Best-selling author? In my mind, I’m the same person, writing in the same style, either way.
Is one of these seen as more prestigious or more famous or more salable? I guess that depends on if the reader cares about such things.
Me? If I like your writing, I don’t care if no one else has ever heard of you. I will buy and read your books. I will give them four or five-star ratings on Amazon and Goodreads, and I’ll recommend them to every reader I know.

What’s your opinion about the title of best-selling author? What makes a “bestseller” in your mind?