Who’s A Best-Selling Author?

Who’s A Best-Selling Author?
Terry Odell

Best-selling authors

Can you read those “Best Seller” banners at the top of the book images? Those were put there by Amazon and Barnes & Noble, not me.

Pretty impressive, right?

I should rush right out and change all my book covers so they proclaim my status. Plaster it on my website, add it to my email signature line.

But let’s step back and be realistic.

A while back, I attended a conference workshop on becoming a best-selling author, thinking I might pick up a few tips. Nothing she said was anything different than advice I’d already heard dozens of times. When I walked out was when the presenter said that if you could be in the top 100 on an Amazon genre list, you could promote yourself as a best-selling author. Note: she said “Genre List,” not overall sales. Another route was to make the top 100 in a Genre list on Amazon’s “New Releases page.”

Yes, I got those banners from Barnes & Noble and Amazon. But how?

I was fortunate to garner a BookBub Featured Deal promotion slot. For which I paid a pretty penny, mind you. Getting the BookBub acceptance is as much luck as it is having a first-rate product. They hold their algorithm cards close to the vest, but I’m convinced a lot has to do with timing, how much of a price drop you’re willing to take, and maybe reviews, although they’ll be the first to point out that many of their deals have very few reviews. In this case, my submission was for a 3-book set. The set itself didn’t have many reviews, but the individual books did, and one had won a respected award. But, it could just as easily have been numbering all the submissions in any given genre and using a random number generator to pick.

So, for one day, my Blackthorne Inc. Novels, Volume 1 was featured in the BookBub newsletter. Sales skyrocketed, which is the usual case. Not a huge moneymaker, since I’d dropped the price to 99 cents, which lowers the royalty rate (except at Nook, which pays 70% regardless of price).

Because those skyrocketing sales brought the book to #1 in 3 sub-genres, they garnered me those Best Seller banners.

Best-selling authorsBest-selling authorsBest-selling authorsDo I consider myself a best-selling author? Did I write a best-seller? No. One day’s sales, stimulated by an ad, are not my criteria for touting myself as a best-selling author. Yet I’m fully aware that there are those out there who would milk those banners for everything they’re worth.

Realistically, when I see an author I’ve never heard of touting themselves as ‘best-selling’ authors, I’m going to look up their books on Amazon. When I see that they’re ranked in the hundreds of thousands—or, in some cases, millions, I have to wonder. Odds are, they’re looking at a fleeting moment of good sales/rankings based on an ad. And that they received that ranking for a relatively obscure genre, not overall sales.

And popping back to that workshop where making the top 100 in “New Releases” was grounds for declaring oneself a best-selling author? I have a new release coming out this summer. I put it up for preorder and used BookBub for a pre-order ad. These are different from Featured Deals, and are dirt cheap in comparison. The flip side is they go only to your BookBub followers who agree to notification, so it’s a teeny-tiny pool relative to their regular newsletter. (At least it is for me, since I don’t have that many followers on BookBub.) On a positive note, when you’re a tiny fish in a big ocean, it doesn’t take very many sales to boost the new release in genre categories. Based on the workshop speaker, I’m a best-selling author because of that as well. I think my upcoming Trusting Uncertainty hit #50 in one sub genre, and hung on by its toenails in the 80s and 90s in two others.

Early on the day of the new release ad, I checked (because of course I did).

And look who else I’m sharing the stage with.

Best-selling authorsHowever, unlike Mr. Gilstrap, who has a much larger body of top-sellers, I can’t, with clear conscience, declare myself an author of best-selling books, or a best selling author. (I do, however use “award winning author” because I have won awards for my books.)

What’s your take, TKZers?

Trusting Uncertainty by Terry OdellNow available for Preorder. Trusting Uncertainty, Book 10 in the Blackthorne, Inc. series.
You can’t go back and fix the past. Moving on means moving forward.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

27 thoughts on “Who’s A Best-Selling Author?

  1. Terry, you’re a best-selling author. As with many things, they don’t ask you “how” or “how long.” They ask you “if.” If you’re in the top 100 out of a list of tens of thousands, well…that’s really good. Congratulations!

    • Thanks, Joe, but my Imposter Syndrome mentality won’t let me advertise I’m a ‘best-selling’ author because I made #1 on a list for a day based on a paid ad. Now, if I made the NYT or USA Today list, even for a day–that I’d tout.

  2. Bookkbub regularly sends out my new release emails to my followers gratis. If I pay, it goes to a broader audience. With that being said, I agree that while I’ve achieved these same banners, best seller to me is on one of the major lists, like NYT or USA Today. Many of those books aren’t on the list for more than a fleeting timeframe, either, but they also aren’t there because of a temporary price drop or “sale.” The promoters will tell you they can make you a best seller, and your blog post is the way they achieve that. I asked one how to get me on the NYT list and they said that would cost me a lot more, and they couldn’t guarantee (they guaranteed the other banner, but hey, I can do that without them). So we can appreciate the lift, but I’m with you. I advertise my awards, but not the Amazon banners.

    • Thanks, Karla. I’ll accept the fleeting banners, but I’m not adding “best-selling author” to my tagline or website.
      I know my editor once suggested I use “Author of the Best-Selling Blackthorne, Inc. Series” for promotion and justified it because at the time that was i>my best selling series. I declined.

  3. Congratulations, Terry, on your best-selling author status. Even if the moment is for one day, that’s an accomplishment to savor and be proud of. And the page with you and John both on it, that should make all of us here at TKZ proud. Yep, those are our Wednesday special contributors. Congratulations!

    • Thanks, Steve, and nice to be on the same page as John Gilstrap, for sure. Screenshots!
      (In fact, I took a screenshot of rankings with other Big Name Authors to a conference, and had them autograph it for me.)

  4. Terry, you hit one of my pet peeves. The term “bestseller” has been badly convoluted.

    I just ran ads for three days featuring the first book in my series for free. 4000+ downloads. Cool. I’m happy with the ad results b/c they are leading to actual sales of the other series books. But the operative word is FREE. For about a week, Amazon showed Instrument of the Devil among the top five FREE bestsellers in several subgenres–mystery action adventure, romantic suspense action, women’s adventure.

    But…if you’re GIVING AWAY a book, how can it be a bestSELLER? Doesn’t that make it a best-FREER?

    Like you, my conscience won’t let me use that term unless it’s earned.

    • Agree with you there, Debbie. In this case, I had an “almost-free” book, since I dropped the price to 99 cents.
      One pleasant side-effect is that sales are still coming in for that book and the second volume at the regular price.

  5. Hmm…there are ways to “buy” and “deal” and “box set” your way onto big lists, so I’m not sure why BookBubbing up the Amazon is so different.

    OTOH, I see a ton of author bios with “Award-Winning Author.” That always has me think, What award? It’s probably not the ITW or Hugo or Edgar, because that would be named. Is the Sioux Falls Library Association Most Promising Author Award of the same magnitude?

    The real question is, What would most browsers think of these designations? Not much, I daresay. They are much more likely to be influenced by the star rating on Amazon.

    • I doubt most browsers pay much attention. I don’t mind saying “Award Winning.” Anyone who wants to know can find the awards on the book pages of my website. And if we really want to get into the awards topic, I’m not saying I don’t tout my Silver Falchion, but any award that’s determined by attendees at a conference who may or (more likely) haven’t even read the book are nothing more than popularity contests. I only won that Silver Falchion because none of the other authors in that category attended the conference. You think I consider myself close to on par with the likes of Jeffrey Deaver, CJ Box, or Joyce Carol Oates? Not hardly. But they weren’t there, and I was. But that’s another topic.
      I agree star ratings are probably major influencers, but they’re not particularly accurate, either. Book arrived late. 1 star. I want to boost my brother’s book. 1 star. And that’s another topic, too.

    • In my opinion, that’s a much better way to judge a book, Priscilla. But people do love their labels, don’t they?

  6. I never used “award-winning” until I won Reader Choice awards. That, to me, means readers viewed my work as “award-winning” rather than those awards that are more a popularity contest than anything else. I’ve always had a hard time with “Bestselling Author” even though I’ve hit it several times with and without paid promotions. I’ll use it when I need to, otherwise I stick to award-winning. Amazon banners come and go, but no one can take away the awards. My 2c.

    • Thanks, Sue. Awards for books judged on merit rather than popularity mean a lot more to me. To listen to people at reader-baed conferences discussing which books to vote for is disheartening. Yet a lot of those awards are coveted by the authors. I’ve pretty much stopped entering contests.

  7. I appreciate what you say about the best seller label. When I got a Bookbub featured deal for my first novel, the sales drove it to #1 rank in several categories and it also landed on the Top 100 of all Kindle books sold for a day or two. As a brand new author, I was pretty excited, and I asked a couple of experienced colleagues if that meant I could call myself a best-selling author. “Absolutely,” they said. I figured it was one of the “rules” authors followed. But you make a good point that there’s a difference between sterling silver and silver plate.

    I agree with others here that “award-winning” and “best-selling” are adjectives that are pretty easy to acquire. I also don’t pay attention to them when I’m considering a book. I’m more interested in the book description and the reviews.

    • If I see “best-selling” from an author I’ve never heard of, as I said in my post, I’m going to look them up. But like so many here, it’s the book itself that makes me decide to buy–at least until that author has a track record with me that makes the books auto-buys.

  8. Good morning, Terry. I also think that best seller is overused, especially when it comes to the usually fleeting boost from a BookBub Featured deal. I’ve had several such “rocket ride” up the ranks. With the exception of an anthology I had a novella in back in 2018, which was given a featured deal at free (therefore, really a top downloaded title when it received the Amazon best-seller tag, my Book Bub have all been for my Empowered box set.

    The first time I had a U.S. featured BB, the set rocketed to #93 in the Amazon US store, as well as being high up in Canada and the UK. The stellar ranking was awesome, while it lasted. The best-seller tag lasted for maybe a day and a half. I had a longer lasting best-seller tag on Barnes and Noble, and had a lot of fun at #3 in SF/Fantasy on Apple Books, and sharing screenshots of the ranking and best seller tags from the various retailers, but in a few days, the set had settled down.

    I’ve had several Book Bubs on it, most recently last December, and they turn a profit, but I definitely wouldn’t compare it to a long-lasting best-selling novel.

    Besides, best-selling status is an outcome outside of my direct control, and, like all glory, is fleeting, so I try to focus on what I can control, namely my own writing.

    Thanks for a great look at a topic often on the mind of authors.

    • Excellent points. We can control the writing, and most of the rest is outside our reach. I’m not going to promote myself as a best-selling author based on the ad results, but I do enjoy the increased income that hangs on for a little longer than the ranking. 😉

  9. I’m with you, Terry. The term used to mean something. Now if you’re in the top 100 on Amazon in the ‘Alien Romance Secret Baby’ genre, you’re in.

    Nope. I have my own standards, and I’ll tout it when I hit them.

    • So true, Laura. Back in the day when there weren’t categories for best alien Amish midwife Mafia books, the titles meant a lot more. I had good rankings in an “assassin” category for one of my novellas, and it wasn’t really about assassins at all, just the characters thinking a string of deaths might have been caused by an assassin. Amazon picks up key words (another way to boost rankings in obscure genres) and decided the book “fit” there. I’m sure readers picking it up based on that ranking were disappointed.

  10. Full disclosure, I know squat about best seller book nuances. But from what various authors on this blog are commenting, it seems such things are not very different from the way things operate in the corporate world where I’ve spent much of my working life.
    A colleague single-handedly saved a half billion dollar business from bankruptcy. When it came time to select someone for the chairman’s award to recognize the most significant achievement within the corporation during the previous year, the selection committee picked another group. Their achievement was a trivial matter in comparison, but they had great pull within the organization.
    When their choice was presented to the chairman, he dropped their work into a trashcan, saying only it was his award, therefore his choice. My colleague got a nice trophy with a 6 figure check at a black tie banquet in his honor, along with a lot of animosity from the sore losers and their embarrassed supporters.
    Another colleague working for a Fortune 500 corporation conceived and managed a program to bring underprivileged junior high students into the STEM fields, particularly the engineering profession. Using only summer interns, the program was so successful it was written up in an educators’ trade journal and received national attention. With a bright light shown on the corporation, they failed miserable when they tried to replicate their success.
    Why did it fail? The answer lies within the old saying of, “Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan.” The trade journal and press releases were filled with many quotes from well placed individuals on how they developed and managed the program. There was one name missing from all the write-ups, the person who actually conceived the program and made it work. He had quietly left the company for greener pastures.
    It seems there is a universal truth about human nature within these events. I’ll leave it for others to examine.

    • “Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan.”
      Thanks for sharing that story. Or, as my father would have said, “Life isn’t fair.”

  11. A popular way to game the system, particularly in romance, is to be part of an anthology that has a major name on the front cover. So, have Nora Roberts as your best friend or hope your editor at your publisher manages to get you a slot in an anthology headed by Nora Roberts. Now, you are a legitimate NY Times bestseller, kinda, and can put it on your covers. Even NYT bestseller lists can be gamed easily.

    • Yep, and I know of an author who did this, although with another romance big hitter, not Nora.

  12. Thanks for the nod, Terry. I had no idea I was on that list. I don’t know where this fits within the structure of your post, but I’m still tweaking BLUE FIRE, which won’t hit the stands till next March.

    As for the rest, I look at marketing-speech the same way that headline writers ply their craft: If it’s not false, it’s true. That’s how terrible reviews can still produce good pull-quotes. “The dazzling incompetence of this writer . . .” can lead to the word “Dazzling” to be a single-word quote on the cover.

    This is, after all, the entertainment BUSINESS. Marketing materials achieve their goal the instant a prospective customer picks up the book or clicks the link. After that, it’s all about the quality of the work.

    • I was pleasantly surprised to see both of our books on that list, John. Mine is still with my editor, but Amazon has that “New Releases” section, and a book doesn’t have to be “live” to be included.
      Yes, writing is a business, but in the end, quality should rise to the top.
      I think it was Mad Magazine (yes, I’m that old) that used to run bits showing money quotes and the “real” reviews that they came from. Had I known I’d end having to be in the marketing business, I might have paid more attention, but at the time, they were just funny jokes.

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