Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

What Does It Really Mean To Be A “Bestselling” Author?


Everything about the Book-World is in dizzying transformation.

What you could be sure of yesterday is a Maybe today and may not exist tomorrow

So, what is a bestselling author?

It depends heavily on which bestselling list the author appears: ABA IndieBound (ABA), The New York Times (NYT), Barnes & Noble (BAN), Publishers Weekly (PBW), The Boston Globe (BOG), USA Today (USA), The Denver Post (DPO), The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), The Los Angeles Times (LAT), WalMart.com (WAL), BN.com, or Amazon.com.

That was just a partial list plus we can learn more from Kailin Gow in her post on FastCompany called, What Being A “Bestselling Author” Really Means.

Like many posts with imposing titles (including this one), Gow’s falls short of full description but does do a good job of comparing the NYT list with Amazon’s.

Concerning her own bestselling status on Amazon, she says:

“…my books, because of the rankings they received at one point on Amazon, were popular enough to be on the bestseller list. For a book to rank #300 on the overall Amazon ranking means that, out of over 1 million books on Amazon, only 299 sold more copies.”

And, Gow says, about the NYT list:

“No one knows exactly how this is compiled, but large publishers know certain things about getting onto the list, and that’s why you find many of the large publishers’ books on there. It is a well-known fact among publishers that the New York Times gets its book sales data from a scattered few bookstores (like the Nielsen’s) and it doesn’t take into account the actual sales of the books (which Amazon.com does in order to rank), but how many books were shipped to these particular sampling of stores in anticipation of sales….

“Does being on Amazon.com’s bestselling list actually mean you are selling more than being on a New York Times list?

“In some cases, yes. It boils down to Actual Sales (Amazon.com) vs. Anticipated Sales from select bookstores (New York Times).”

So, if you’re an author, would you rather be a Bestseller because a few, select, bookstores did well with your book or because more readers chose you from a much larger collection of books?

Also, if you are an author, is it important for you to be a “bestseller”?

Would you be happy selling moderately to a diverse audience?

What are your criteria for sales “success”?
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2 responses to “What Does It Really Mean To Be A “Bestselling” Author?

  1. cmmarcum February 18, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    What’s that add up to in old money? I’ll take either one. Snickers or Mars Bar, they’re both sweet.

    Like this

    • Alexander M Zoltai February 18, 2012 at 3:27 pm

      That would be interesting to see, C. M., a modern-day’s bestseller’s haul expressed in gold-standard money :-)

      Like this

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