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By John Maher, with reporting by Rachel Deahl and Claire Kirch | Nov 03, 2017
Bestseller lists have long been powerful marketing tools for the industry. In short, they sell books. But they have proliferated, with more lists that group books according to different metrics, and industry insiders are wondering whether they wield as much power as they used to. When nearly any title can be called a bestseller, does becoming a bestseller still matter?
Though insiders we spoke with agreed unanimously that the term “bestseller” still means something to readers, they disagreed on how lists affect the market and what actually defines a bestseller.
Historically, bestseller lists were broken down along two major lines: format and category. The largest groupings were nonfiction and fiction. Those groups were then broken down by the three major print formats: hardcover, trade paperback, and mass market paperback. The introduction of the fourth format—e-books—disrupted the way bestseller lists are compiled, as it did many other parts of the industry. Because e-books are predominantly sold online and not in stores, their sales can’t be tracked in the same way that print sales are: by collecting data from physical retailers.
Further complicating the bestseller list landscape was Amazon’s introduction of multiple bestseller lists. The e-tailer, which tracks sales of its titles in real time, publishes a wealth of lists, broken down by format and also by multiple subcategories. There are “overall” print and Kindle bestsellers on the site, but also numerous subcategories like “Crafts, Hobbies & Home,” “Humor & Entertainment,” and “Law.”
The sources of the data on which the lists are based also complicate their interpretation. The New York Times famously pulls data for its lists from a select and secret sample of retailers, and Amazon, while reporting its print sales, does not, for the most part, disclose sales of e-books. The lists that are arguably the most transparent, like PW’s, rely on NPD BookScan’s point-of-sale data, which tracks 80%–85% of print sales in the country but doesn’t include data on e-book sales. Other news outlets, such as the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, run their own lists, and organizations like the American Booksellers Association produces multiple lists, including an overall list of bestsellers in ABA bookstores and regional lists.
The sheer number of lists and Amazon’s decision not to widely share its e-book sales figures (despite the fact that BookScan has for years asked the company to take part in its sales aggregation program) means that there is not a true national bestseller list that can definitively identify what the top-selling books are across all formats in a particular week. As a result, there’s some confusion about what the designation “bestseller” really means. “Even when it comes to ‘national bestseller,’ it seems that we don’t have a consensus [about the meaning of the term],” said one agent, who asked to remain anonymous. “Not that long ago, it meant a lot if you said a book was a bestseller. Why? Because a select number of books earned that accolade, and we all understood and agreed what it meant.” Now, he said, he worries that the multiplicity of lists has “watered down” the designation.
“Every publisher must make a decision on when to refer to a book as a bestseller,” said Bill Wolfsthal, executive v-p of sales and marketing at Skyhorse Publishing. “Was it a bestseller on Amazon for a day? Is it a bestseller if it makes a bestseller list for independent bookstores? In those decisions, good judgement and common sense rules the day. No publisher wants to mislead a reader, but we are all fighting to get attention for our books.” Whether the bestseller tag even really drums up attention is also a point of debate. “As long as it has an XYZ in front of it—as in New York Times bestseller, USA Today bestseller, or Wall Street Journal bestseller, I do think it carries weight with the reader,” agent Kristen Nelson said. “If it just says ‘bestselling author,’ I do think readers tend to perceive the moniker with some skepticism.”
Ironically for booksellers, titles dubbed bestsellers aren’t necessarily popular with customers. Vivien Jennings, who owns Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kans., said that bestseller lists “draw attention” to books, but that attention doesn’t necessarily translate into sales. Anmiryan Budner, a bookseller at Main Point Books in Wayne, Pa., said the real sales boosters are good reviews; coverage in high-profile media such as NPR, 60 Minutes, and morning TV shows; and word-of-mouth.
The Times list, for its part, has been the subject of some controversy in the industry. Historically it has been seen as the list with the most caché. But the secrecy of the formula the paper uses to compile its list has long created frustrations in the industry, with complaints over the years that it does not offer an accurate picture of what’s actually selling. About half of those we spoke to referred to the Times’ list as the “premier” list, the “gold standard,” and the “crown jewel.” Others said it was not the kingmaker it once was.
“I would say that the Times in general, like any media outlet in digital, print, and broadcast, does not have the same impact in terms of driving book sales that it once did,” said Knopf’s Paul Bogaards. Nonetheless, he said, publishers still rely heavily on the name: “Clearly, publishers still believe in visibly branding their books with ‘New York Times’ or ‘national bestseller.’ Have a look at the covers of some titles in the marketplace right now. [Many] are festooned with the bestseller copy.”
Carol Fitzgerald, president of the Book Report Network, admitted that she still believes “everybody wants the Times list more than anything else.” Despite this, she prefers “lists that are actually based in sales; no algorithms, just sales.” She added: “That’s really what a bestseller is, isn’t it? How it’s sold.”
While the proliferation of bestseller lists is a worry for some, reducing the number does not seem to be the preferred response. Many of the sources we contacted said they are upset that the Times cut a number of category bestseller lists. “Eliminating a bestseller list in a strong and previously established category—as happened for YA and graphic novels, for example—feels like a step in the wrong direction,” agent Laura Rennert said. A fellow agent, Barbara Poelle, said: “I feel like there isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t lament, curse, howl over the loss of the mass market and YA e-book lists in the New York Times.”
To Karen Auerbach of Kensington, the Times’ decision to cut those lists was more than a slight: she sees it as a serious business error. “I think the Times removing their lists has created an opportunity for the other bestseller lists to fill that vacuum,” she said. “It creates a challenging environment without those [category] lists, which were important to the community. Without [those lists at] the New York Times, it makes the USA Today and PW lists more important. Because now there is a gap that PW and USA Today are filling.” A version of this article appeared in the 11/06/2017 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: Does Anybody Know What a Bestseller Is?
Abnormality in human behavior is on the rise and is currently the culprit behind the many senseless deaths in our society due to someone who is unfortunately mentally dysfunctional to say the least. It’s origin often goes undetected until something literally causes the person to snap and be pushed over the edge. Abnormal behavior can also be camouflaged by normal behavior that can leave one unsuspecting. Usually in the core, there lies some things that went undetected or were never dealt with from major or traumatic episodes, some too detrimental to recall. The mental illness criteria can imply a clear identifiable physical process that differs from health and can lead to specific behaviors and symptoms. Supernatural theories see abnormal behavior as a result of divine intervention, curses, demonic possession, and personal sin. The psychological theories see abnormal behavior as a result of traumas. Now, halfway through the century there have been major breakthroughs in drug treatments for many of the major forms of abnormality.
Over the past year we have seen a positive growth in bookstores opening (up 23%), increased paper book sales (up 20%) and decrease in eBook sales (19%). At the same time, we see many companies moving towards creating new digital ways for readers to get their information, wither it is books, news or social media. But what does any of this have to do with you?
While companies are increasing the way people get to their information, no matter if it is digital or physical, that gives you an opportunity to promote and sell your book(s). However, no matter how many opportunities you have, if you do not take advantage of them, you will not see an increase in sales.
For a first time author, they have to work 2-3 times harder than someone who has 3 or more books. The new author has to build a following, which means getting out there in every possible way to let people know you exist. In 2015 the estimate for published books was 1.2 million. For 2016, the estimate is 1.4 million books published. That means you are small drop of water in the ocean. The author must combine molecules together so that they can rise above the sea of confusion and become a torrential storm.
Thus, when you are paying for a service or goods, would you not use it? Do you go to a doctor to learn what’s wrong or how to live better only to ignore them? Do you go to a grocery store and buy food only to walk to a trash can and throw it away? Of course not! So why would you pay for a service and not take advantage of it?
It does not matter if you are a self-published author, a small press author or even with a big 3 publishing firm. You still have to let the world know that you and your book(s) exist!
TxAuthors is designed to help you with that process. To be clear, we are here to HELP YOU not to do it for you! We have a lot of information on our web site about social media, new programs, new partnerships, everything that can help you get the word out about your book. But that means squat if you don’t take advantage of it!
I work hard to find the latest trends, the newest way to promote an author or book, and even to take old ways and make them fresh and new. But, if you don’t take advantage of this, you are wasting your time and money.
Those who DO take advantage of the programs are seeing success and increased sales. They are finding the joy in writing because the success motivates them to write more. They find that by their third and fourth book, they don’t have to work as hard to make sales. The snowball effect is taking hold and they are growing, becoming stronger and better at their endeavors. They are becoming a storm that readers welcome with open arms, as if a draught has lingered for years.
Success comes from stepping out of your comfort zone and taking chances. The old saying, it takes money to make money is true. I get that authors in general, cannot afford to do a lot. That’s why we offer payment plans. I have spent over $6,000 of my own money to help Texas Authors succeed. That’s how much I want YOU to succeed!
Our Pop Up bookstore has helped spread the word about Texas Authors by giving them an opportunity to have their book(s) be in cities that they cannot get to. We have given members the opportunity to be seen by hundreds if not thousands of people through the year. This is just one of the many programs we create to help you. But it is just part of the package.
All of my time and effort means squat if you don’t take advantage of the programs, events and advertising opportunities that we offer you. Too many authors expect us to sell their books for them and are disappointed when we don’t meet their illusions. That’s not what we are here for. We are here to HELP YOU market and sell your books! Take advantage of our hard work so you can succeed, we dare you!
Here is a recap of what is available to you:
American Booksellers Association – we report our book sales to the ABA which is the Indy Booksellers. This helps get them to know you exist, but only when book sales are done through us. No other book seller you are listed with does this at a rate that actually makes more money for you.
Celebration of Authors Event – A weekend of marketing seminars designed for Authors. Learn a variety of tools that will help you succeed. There is no other organization that offers these type of seminars designed for Authors. Cost is currently at $90 and will increase to $150 for the seminars and dinner.
Lone Star Book Festival – October 1 & 2, 2016 - With a $50 deposit, you can start getting 10 months’ worth of advertising. Then after paying off the extremely low booth fee ($300 for members, and less if you split the booth), you can have access to thousands of potential readers that will see our advertising and that will attend the event.
Texas Short Story Contest & the Annual Book Contest – opportunities to show the world your writing skills that help increase readership and knowledge of you and your books. Through the sale of the Shor Story book, we have increased our market share through the advertising and promotion of the book.
State Fair of Texas – The first year that the GoTexan pavilion had a dedicated section of books by Texas Authors. We plan on increasing that our presence next year. While sales are slow, the advertising was huge! Thousands of people went through that store and had the opportunity to view those books and learn about them for purchase later. $50 per title cost meant less than a penny per person on advertising.
DEAR Texas – We are working with book stores around the state to get authors into them, this includes Barnes & Noble and Indies, along with getting you into schools and libraries. With our book fund campaign, we are able to purchase Texas Authors books and distribute them into people’s hands who will become your fans. This is a free program to authors.
Texas Authors Institute – You can write the history of your own book to live on forever. For TxAuthor members, their books are available for sale through this organization. No other author has that privilege. This is a free program to authors.
American Library Association and the Texas Library Association. – Two organizations that can be of great value when finding new readers. We work closely with them to help get you and your book into libraries.
Partnerships – We are building partnerships with organizations around the state to make us stronger and more viable for when we do go outside the state to promote Texas Authors.
TxAuthors is constantly looking for ways to market and sell you and your book(s) for the best possible price we can.
I fully understand that you can’t afford to do much, but if you’re not selling books, you will never afford to do anything. Being involved in programs is critical to your success, even when it seems that nothing came from it. But you are missing the point. Advertising is the key to marketing and if you don’t advertise your book, no one will ever know it exists.