Stretching the meaning of “Bestseller”
What do these people have in common? They are all Bestselling Authors. But lately, there have been a plethora of authors claiming “Bestseller” status. The problem is that they are bestsellers – technically. I’m here to point out that some authors are using a new-and-improved definition of the term that might not match up with what you think of when you use the term “Bestseller.”
There’s little argument that a Bestselling Author is the Author of at least one Bestselling Book. Once upon a time, a Bestselling Book was defined as a book that had made it onto the New York Times Best-sellers List. But the more generic definition is – “a book that sells the best out of a specific category in a specific time.”
With this more generic definition in mind, a little technical help from online booksellers like amazon.com, and a little ethical flexibility, we can manipulate the category and the time period to raise almost ANY book (and its author) to bestseller status.
The more generic definition of “bestseller” is a book that sells the most out of a specific category in a specific time… we can manipulate the category and the time period to raise almost ANY book (and its author) to “bestseller” status.
Ever since the birth of Consumer Reports, marketing people realized that the ubiquitous title of “Best” had a high impact with consumers. (Especially American consumers.) Car companies realized that a midsized car with average fuel mileage and average price couldn’t really be considered “best” at anything except being a “midsized car with average fuel mileage and average price.”
Add a dash of Evil Marketing Genius and the problem is solved. They narrowed down the specs to weed out their competition until their car was the ‘best’ within the specified sub-section. The term for this status is “Best in Class,” a phrase likely to be found in any car commercial.
This same approach can be taken regarding published works. If you break the market down to a sub-sub-subsection where your book is the best out of those remaining…then you’re the best! Best of Class, of course, but you’re still the best. It’s like being King of your own tree-fort. You get all the bragging rights of being “Best” but there’s a big disclaimer that comes with that definition of Best-ness.
Applying this approach to bestselling books, (using Amazon as an example here, but most book websites will work for this) the list of bestselling books at Amazon.com can be broken down into some pretty questionable categories. Authors can use this to their advantage. Just find a niche that isn’t being currently dominated, and drop your book in. If Literature>Genre Fiction>Horror>Dark Fantasy is too crowded, how about fiction authors whose first name starts with the letter “C”?
The values are recalculated Every Hour, which leads us to the next piece of best-seller-ness, Timing.
Timing The Bum Rush
Because sites like Amazon measure sales instantaneously and the Bestseller lists are recalculated every hour, it isn’t hard to get your book moved to the top of the list by gathering your friends, and leveraging your social media connections (with added gifts, discounts and other time-limited offers) and launching a timed, all-out purchasing assault in an attempt to “best-ify” books or music.
This activity is nicknamed a “Bum Rush.”
A famous Bum Rush was performed on 22 Mar 2007. A website called Bum Rush The Charts planned the large-scale push of the independent band Black Lab up onto music charts worldwide. It worked. The band peaked at #11 on the American I-Tunes charts and in the top 100 of most other countries. An UNSIGNED band broke the charts using nothing more than a strategically timed social media event.
The theory behind a Bum Rush is simple. Get a large number of people to purchase your book on a particular hour of a particular day. It won’t take a lot to get your book moved to the “Best” of your selected category for that one hour. Collect your title and brag forevermore that you are indeed a Bestseller.
Sneaky? No doubt. But there’s also no doubt that the Bum Rush works. In fact, certain book publishers expect their authors to participate in a Bum Rush, (probably called a “Release Event” or some other legal-speak) and will even add a clause requiring author participation into their “Book Deal” contracts.
The beauty is that once achieved, the Bestseller title stays with the author for the rest of his/her lifetime, as though they had achieved a doctorate or a Nobel Peace Prize. All the author’s marketing materials will have the words “…by the Bestselling Author of…” and whether the new material is “Bestselling” quality or not, it still says “Bestselling” on it.
Like I said, Evil Marketing Genius.
Because of the glut “Bestselling Authors” out there, you will see authors who became Bestsellers using the traditional method refer to themselves as “New York Times Bestselling Author” and their books as “New York Times Bestseller” or possibly other, more specified titles which gives more detail about where their pedigree comes from and how they differentiate themselves from the rank-and-file “Bestsellers.”
I didn’t write this article so you could run out and become a Bestselling Author. My goal was to inform you that the term “Bestseller” doesn’t hold the same meaning it did before online booksellers came into play. And nothing against those who have achieved their bestseller status the old-fashioned way. Unfortunately, the new definition of Bestseller does water down the prestige of the title.
From now on, you know to be wary of the term “Bestselling” Anything. When you see an author or book listed as “Bestselling” the first thought in your mind should be “Best What out of Which, exactly?”
-Conrad Zero, Bestselling Author (of all published dark fiction authors over 30 years of age, with a last name beginning with the letter “Z,” and living in Minneapolis metro area)