Self-Publishing Part 11: Bestsellers, Best-Ofs, ​and Other lists. Who cares?

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

The launch of A Perfect Blindness has finally begun to take coherent shape, and I need to spend more time tending the momentum building. As such, these twice-a-week posts will take a necessary second-row seat in my attention, and will shift to one, perhaps two per week starting in October. Technically this began last week, as I was too busy with getting the website in shape to finish this post. This formally announces the change. Probably on Fridays, or perhaps, or as well, Mondays: Holidays are permitted to foul plans as necessary.

That said, the opacity and downright recondite nature of counting books sold warrants a deeper probe of “Bestseller/Best of” lists, what they mean to whom and how they are created.

So first, who cares about Bestseller/Best of lists and why?

Whole lots of people care, though for different reasons, most falling into one of four broad groups, each with distinct investments in and expectations of these lists: potential readers, list makers, book authors, and closely akin to them, book publishers. For the reader, hitting a Best-whatever list is an attempt to grab a good book to read (or avoid a lousy one) as well as the chance to snag some cultural creed. This random stalker of Best-whatever lists is either actively looking for a book to read, figuring if a book sells better than most right now, it’s better than most out there, or at least, it won’t be lousy: Look at all the people buying it. They might also want in on what people are going to be talking and posting about, staying dialed into what’s hot: looking well informed.

These various lists (which come in flavors like NYT Best Seller, Top 10 Whatever, Most Read X, Most Wished for Y) can be sampled in different degrees of specificity from the very general fiction or non-fiction, split up into hard and soft cover, to the more distinct genres like mystery, all the way down to strictly defined subgenres like period mysteries. Amazon offers 10 subgenres of Thrillers & Suspense, each of which is further broken down into “Bestsellers,” “Most gifted,” “Hot new releases,” “Most wished for” and “Top rated” each offering its own take of what’s best and why. Other lists include “Best New Books by Women Writers,” and so they go on.

Readers can really drill down into one of these lists to find narrow desires, in the flavor that might best satisfy them. These lists winnow down a vast array of books into a manageable number from which to pick. With the top slots appearing more desirable, readers buy more of them. Of course, online this effect is amplified, for the higher a book is listed, the more likely it appears above the fold, and require no scrolling to find it.

Higher sales mean more money of course. That’s the most straightforward outcome of getting on best of/bestseller lists: More units sold, bringing in more cash. But that’s only a part of the goodies that come with appearing on a list like these. It’s a salient fact that appearing popular can make one more popular. James Surdwiecki wrote an excellent essay that explores this idea in depth called “Paying to Play,” which I’ve used to teach Cause-and-Effect Analysis.

Because showing up on one of these lists not only makes one appear popular thus driving one become more popular, it has ripple effects that extend outwards in time. By being a #1 Best/what-have-you-list Author, it’s now easier to get interviews, reviews, speaking gigs, book placements and generally elevates the author’s value. It’s prestige in a pure form. For the future, this appendage to the author’s name will make it easier to get a next book published, as well as sell that book, blurb cooked into the author’s name. In other words, appearing here means more money and opportunities, immediately and going forward.

The book’s publisher feeds off of this as well. It means more money just as for the author. The prestige matters for them as well: Having many #1s this and feature books/writers that makes it easier for the publisher to attract higher caliber talent and better books. It means leverage too: “Look at all the #1 best-selling authors we have. You want to take our offer. They can’t give you this.”

Next time—a quick dive into the arcane mechanics of list creation, before landing back with launching a self-published novel, proper.

 

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