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Podcast Transcript: Hi, genuine writers! This is Innovative Editing’s Jeannette DiLouie welcoming you to episode #20 of The Genuine Writer Podcast. We keep things short, sweet and to the point here so that you can learn what you need to learn and get back to writing already.
Today’s episode – which reveals the dark secret behind being a “best-seller” – is sponsored by another dark tale, The Politician’s Pawn, the first installment in a three-part thriller series that will keep you captivated from dramatic start to startling finish. If you like fast-paced studies of just how much we humans are capable of, both good and bad, then make sure to click on the link I’ll include in the description section. For the record, that link is for a limited-time free download.
Speaking of bad… Let’s discuss bad best-sellers, a very testy topic I know. Someone who I think doesn’t deserve to be a best-seller might be your favorite author. And someone you can’t stand might be someone I really respect. In so many ways, it’s such a subjective thing to talk about.
Fortunately though, that’s not the kind of bad best-seller I’m talking about here. I mean the kind of writer who claims to be a best-seller when he or she isn’t anything close to it by any normal way of looking at the term. Unfortunately, this is entirely a “thing” and it needs to be addressed to save you, the author, your dignity and sense of self-worth. To start out, I’m going to read from an article I found on LinkedIn last week. It’s written by Brent Underwood, a partner at Brass Check, which classifies itself (via its website) as “a creative advisory firm that specializes in working with authors, media companies and startups.” Here’s what Underwood had to say on the subject of bad best-sellers on February 29, 2016:
I would like to tell you about the biggest lie in book publishing. It appears in the biographies and social media profiles of almost every working “author” today. It’s the word “best seller.”
This isn’t about how The New York Times list is biased (though it is). This isn’t about how authors buy their way onto various national best-seller lists by buying their own books in bulk (though they do). No, this is about the far more insidious title of “Amazon Bestseller” – and how it’s complete and utter nonsense.
I’m going to interrupt him here and just say that, yes, the whole publishing industry is severely rigged in more than one way. So just because a book makes it to The New York Times’ top 10 list or some such thing doesn’t mean it’s a worthwhile read. I’d make a comment here about how that’s true for just about every other facet of life, but that would no doubt take me much, much further down the rabbit hole than I’d like. So… getting back to that article, which, for the record, is called, “Behind the Scam: What Does It Take to Be a ‘Best-Selling Author’? $3 and 5 Minutes.” (Intriguing title, right?)
Here’s what happened in the book industry over the last few years: As Amazon has become the big dog in the book world, the “Amazon Bestseller” status has come to be synonymous with being an actual bestseller. This is not true, and I can prove it.
Last week, I put up a fake book on Amazon. I took a photo of my foot, uploaded [it] to Amazon, and in a matter of hours, had achieved “No. 1 Best Seller” status, complete with the orange banner and everything.
If you’re not entirely sure what he means by “the orange banner,” just go to Amazon.com and type in “best sellers on Amazon books.” When you do, you’ll find said banner on everything from Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations by William H. McRaven – which might be a really great read but only has seven reviews – to Where the Crawdads Sing, which has 12,320 reviews. Which kinda tells you right off the bat that this “orange banner” doesn’t actually mean anything if it can include such opposite ends of the spectrum.
How many copies did I need to sell [to] be able to call up my mother and celebrate my newfound authorial achievements? Three. Yes, a total of three copies to become a best-selling author. And I bought two of those copies myself!
The reason people aspire to call themselves “bestselling author” is because it dramatically increases your credibility and “personal brand.” It can establish you as a thought leader. You’re able to show that you not only wrote a book, but that the market has judged it to be better than other books out there. It’s a status symbol, one… that cashes in on the prestige of one of man’s oldest past-times. At last, I had acquired this coveted title for myself.
It’s this part of the article where Underwood officially introduces himself and what he does. Apparently, his company, Brass Check, has helped launch more than two dozen actual New York Times best-sellers. As such, it understandably annoys him when somebody cheats the system, as it were. Here’s some more of what he says:
… it’s begun to feel a bit like a losing battle. Because those authors [the so-called best-sellers] are everywhere these days. The title of my fake book was “Putting My Foot Down” for a reason: I’ve become utterly exhausted with phony “authors” and the scam artists and charlatans who conspire with these folks – the cottage industry that has built up around them, selling courses, instructions and hacks. A quick Google search returns dozens of “bestselling books,” courses, packages, schools, secrets, summits and webinars teaching you how to become a “bestselling author.” Hell, this guy even promises to show you how to be a bestselling author Even if You Have No Book Ideas, Writing Skills, or Any Clue Where to Start in a “5-Phase Formula.”
Heart Centered Media will give you “Guaranteed Bestseller Status” for just “3 payments of $1,333,” although they let you know “Book Sales are NOT Guaranteed.” Denise Cassino promises that with her services, “You’ll forever after be a ‘Bestselling Author!’ a tag that will open doors otherwise closed to you”… for just $3,250. Jesse Krieger over at “Bestseller Campaign Blueprint” encourages you to “Imagine looking on Amazon and seeing… Your Book on the Best-Seller Lists Next to Your Author Heroes” and lets you know he can deliver that dream for just $997. Peggy McColl has “Launched Perhaps MORE Bestsellers Than ANY Other” and will teach you how for only $2,497.
That’s his sigh, for the record. Though I’ll share that reaction with him – before skipping down several paragraphs in his article to this spot right here:
Amazon has their own “bestseller” rankings for books, based upon categories. If you’re in the Top 100 in your Amazon category, you will see a “bestseller ranking” below the title. A book at the #1 spot in any given category will get a “#1 Best Seller” banner featured next to the title. This lets potential customers know the book is the top-selling item in that category. If a book holds the top spot in a category for months, that’s saying something. Hitting it for an hour (which is how often Amazon refreshes its rankings), screen-shotting it, and calling yourself a “bestselling author” for life? Well…
As he also notes, “Amazon has over 500 categories for books, down to things as specific as transpersonal movements and freemasonry studies…” This makes it even easier to be a best-seller, of course.
Again, this whole thing is personal for Underwood. It’s very obvious that’s the case from his article. But, honestly, it’s not all that personal to me. Author though I am, I don’t feel like I have any skin in the game on this subject, particularly when I don’t think very highly of most best-sellers anyway. I could go through the list of big-name authors I think are lazy and/or low-talent individuals who aren’t worth my time or my money.
But I do care about the integrity of the authorial platform in general. I do think that writers should handle their craft with care, including their publishing platforms and their marketing efforts. It’s a disservice to the title of writer, much less author, to play these silly, stupid deceptions that probably won’t do us any real good anyway.
This might seem very naïve, very spiritual and/or very unprofitable. But I genuinely don’t think that financial profits are everything anyway. And I’m an unrepentant capitalist. Even so, I recognize that money doesn’t buy dignity, which is a whole lot more important in the end. And knowingly, purposely, going out of your way to accept a label that you don’t deserve? That’s pretty much the opposite of what you should be striving for.
If that sounded like so much moralizing, I’m sorry. Seriously. But even though I’ve probably never met you before, I really do genuinely want the best for you. So I figured I’d share this information and let you do with it as you will. The ball-point pen is now in your hands. What are you going to do with it?
Thank you for tuning in to The Genuine Writer Podcast. As always, it was wonderful to have you here, and I’ll catch you all next week. Until then, very happy writing.