Posted: 12 Jul 2017 07:28 AM PDT
Many authors that I speak with, whether self-published or published by a leading publisher, regardless of genre, a writer’s credentials, or the marketing campaign behind their books, will ask about how they can become a best-selling author. It is understandable that they’d want to make a list – they seek fame, fortune, and to be heard in a big way. But do our best-seller lists really represent the best books out there?
Best-seller lists are in today’s world a manipulated reward for those who know how to game the system. Through pre-launch orders arranged by an author’s marketing team, family and friends, one can hit a best-seller list not because of the merits of the book but the proof that expensive and persistent marketing has a pay-off. Nothing wrong there, but one should not be fooled into thinking that a best-seller is necessarily a great book. Heck, it may not even be a good one.
Once a book gets on a best-seller list it tends to beget more sales. More people – reviewers, media, consumers – pay attention to these lists and further create a demand for a book they know little about. It’s a process similar to when people choose the brand item vs. the generic or unknown label simply because it seems familiar and recognized in an authoritative way.
Then again, there’s almost a deliberate opposition to best-sellers by the literary snobbery. Whether it’s jealousy or something else, the elitists may purposely damn a book because it is popular and on a list. Everyone likes to knock a leader off his perch. But that kind of prejudice seems uncalled for. A best-seller can be a very good book. But its selling status is not necessarily an indicator of the content quality, just as a beautiful person may be ugly on the inside. No guarantees there.
Best-seller lists used to be influenced by a number of factors, including traditional reviews by a respected handful, huge advertising campaigns, big publicity tours, and positive word-of-mouth. Now a big player is pre-order shenanigans arranged by people who know how to process a certain amount of orders by reaching out to an author’s list of connections, including ones the author will underwrite book purchases for. Further, social media is now dictating popularity and fueling book sales, but again, the buzz is not necessarily based on the book’s purity – just its author’s financial ability to get influencers to post on his behalf.
Best-sellers are created and rarely just materialize organically. It’s a crafted, controlled process that represents not so much the best of books but the best of book marketing.
What will it take to make these lists purified and truly representative of real consumers and their reading judgments? We may never know.
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