Who Determines One is a “Best Selling Author?”

I read a lot of books.  

I review a lot of books.   

I shop for a lot of books.

It is natural that my interest piques when, in this era of independent publishing, one touts themself as a “best selling author.”  The inquirer in me immediately wants to ask, “in whose opinion?”  I’m not referring to the noted and well named authors like J.L. Rowling, Toni Morrison, James Clavell, or Steven King.  I’m not even talking about Zane, Bernice McFadden, or Isabelle Allende.  No, I’m speaking about the one-book, self-published, authors selling their wares on Amazon, hoping for a write-up on Goodreads whose profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ tout them as a “best selling author.”

The classically trained marketer with the MBA from one of the top midwestern programs in the country automatically wants to do some consumer research and delve into some quantitative data (I still hate statistics!) to determine if this claim is true.  Exactly at what point does not become “best selling?”

Entrepreneurship in the arts is to be celebrated and applauded, we all want to control the rights to our creative output, to control the destiny of our work, and to reap the financial rewards.  Perhaps it is in that vein that these writers are engaging in a little more creative license and giving themselves a moniker not fully earned in the marketplace.

One such “author” whose independent book is self-published in the Christian marketplace, has all the marketing hype on a tiny book lacking substance. Another “author” has the same claim on a self-published urban genre filled with stereotypes.  There are the self-help books, the “how-to-get-rich” books, even some recipe and workout books all carry this same claim.

The New York Times Best Seller List is one thing.  If I make that list with my two upcoming projects, that would be amazing and I would proudly proclaim that on my bio.  If a writer’s work has not reached national acclaim, even national niche acclaim (say, top selling African-American, Latino, Native America, Asian American, LGBT America author) can they still claim this title?

What about top sellers at the bookstores?  We’ve lost Borders and only have two “national” brick & mortar bookstores left – Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.  Does it count if Amazon lists the top book and one is found there?  What about eReader? Or Local Bookstores?  Would that count if it is Left Bank Books, the Book House, or STL Books?  What makes it a top seller?  Is it a dollar amount or a volume amount?

I am part skeptic and even though I have degrees in marketing, am somewhat leery of marketing claims about some books.  I’ve seen some heavily hyped works that fall short within those first 50 pages.  Life is too short to read bad lit.

My question remains somewhat unanswered and perhaps up to the reader.  What exactly makes one a “best selling author?”








One response to “Who Determines One is a “Best Selling Author?””

  1. mumbaslife Avatar

    I could not agree more with you. People do use ‘best selling author’ line too often. And we have no way to validate it. I think we need some kind of rating agency for books.

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