This comes up a lot between authors, and shortly after I announced I would be doing a “What’s in a Novel?” blog series which shows a behind-the-scenes look at an author’s life outside of their book, I had an email asking about bestselling books vs. a bestselling author.

Today, I’ll try to explain the difference and my personal struggle with how to classify myself.

For authors there’s a sticky and thin line when it comes to classifying ourselves. For instance at which point do you consider yourself a bestselling author?

Is it when you first make a “top 100″ in any genre list at Barnes & Noble or Amazon? Wait. Can that be fair? Some of those lists don’t even have 100 spots on them, so for some, it would only take two sales with a book that has anything to do with traveling to Argentina to make the Argentina Bestseller list and be considered a “bestselling” book. But does that make the author a bestselling author? I honestly don’t agree with this thinking because as I said, some of those lists require hardly anything to make and find it misleading to claim to be a bestselling author by this means.

So then is it when you hit under the overall 1,000 rank at either Amazon or B&N and get a true hold on a top 100 bestseller list?

Or maybe when you get into the top 20 of your genre, and top five or ten in your subgenre?

We all have different ideas on this because there is no cut and dry way to know and everyone’s opinion varies.

Last year I hit the #1 spot in both Regency and Historical romance, with both of the subsequent books in the series in the top five of Regency and top 10 of historical. And still, I worried about labeling myself a “bestselling author”. Sure, those books were all ranked in the top 300 in all books at Amazon and were considered bestsellers in their subgenre, but did that really make me a bestselling author or was it my books that deserved the description of bestselling? Think about it from my perspective, there are huge names out there who can sell more books (paperbacks at that) in their first day of release than I could in a month. Amazon might be a giant when it comes to digital sales, but don’t discount the number of dead tree books that stores like B&N and Books-A-Million sell.

I battled with this for a while. Where did I fit in? In the end, I decided to just leave my bio as “historical romance author”. It was the easiest thing to do.

Then I hit the top of the charts again a few months later. This time I had five books out, and I had all five in the top ten of Regencies and questioned again: does this qualify me to use that description? Alas, I decided no. I must be like Gideon from the Bible who wants and needs more confirmation because I wasn’t convinced.

It wasn’t until a few months later when I somehow managed to get all seven books I had out at the time into the top 15 of the Regency list that I gave in and attached it to my name, of sorts. Instead, of saying I was a bestselling author, I tiptoed around it and said, I’d written seven bestselling books. The difference is very small in the scheme of things, giving my books credit, rather than me, but it was good enough and I didn’t lose sleep over it.

Then it happened…

After a minor argument with Bob while on our tandem bike in the 110 degree heat, I came inside, grabbed a glass of water and locked myself in my office. It’s Thursday, the day the new bestseller charts are released. A friend of mine and I have an ongoing bet about how long a certain book will hold the top spot… Then, as I scrolled through all the others, I found:

Her Sudden Groom, 144 on USA Today Bestseller List

I’m not aware that I’d ever made it on a national list before, as I didn’t know until about a month ago that eBooks could make the list, so if I have debuted before, I never knew about it. So, as far as I’m concerned, this is my first (and hopefully not my last) time to make this list. And now, I can officially style myself as a USA Today bestselling author without any questions or reservations!

(And as an FYI, you should all be glad I composed this so well. When I first found out, I was a frantic, squealing mess and let the cat out of the bag on my personal Facebook page where very few of my friends had any idea I even read romance novels, let alone wrote them! Needless to say, I made a moron of myself and had a lot of explaining to do.)

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Published on August 03, 2012 05:28 • 529 views
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message 1: by Jane (new)

Jane Heh, that must have been a nice surprise! I have heard that in the traditional publishing world, a book that sells 20,000 copies over a certain period of time (a month or two?) is a bestseller. But in the self-pubbing world where reputations are built slowly over time, we may have to revise our ideas...

message 2: by Patricia (new)

Patricia Graham I agree with you Jane whole heartedly, I read somewhere recently that Amazon and Barnes and Noble are not even going to be considered as a ranking profile for authors because of what Rose has already mentioned.

message 3: by Patricia (new)

Patricia Graham And Rose pardon my manners, congratulations on your new title, sincerely

message 4: by Rose (new)

Rose Gordon Jane wrote: "Heh, that must have been a nice surprise! I have heard that in the traditional publishing world, a book that sells 20,000 copies over a certain period of time (a month or two?) is a bestseller. But..."

Jane, it was quite a nice surprise, indeed. I never thought I'd see my name make such a list. It just seemed like an unrealistic expectation given the circumstances of being self-published and relying solely on eBook sales. I was truly shocked and humbled to see I made the list.

In self-publishing, reputations are built slowly and there is still so much to overcome, especially reputations given to self-published authors as a whole based on misconceptions and stigmas. Of course this won't kill all of that, but I think it does show some credibility.

I don't know much about the traditional world, but I do know this particular list is compiled off the previous week's sales, not the entire month; and while for the month the total was above 20,000 copies sold, I'd have fainted if they were all sold in one week. LOL

message 5: by Jane (new)

Jane I know that lists used to be compiled from BookScan numbers, but that even before self-pubbing really took off, BookScan was considered unreliable. One of the beauties of Amazon (and, presumably, the other online sellers) is that they keep track very accurately of the number of copies of different editions sold, free downloads, etc., and make that information available to the author and, I guess, to other bodies as well. I'm not sure what the picture looks like when books are distributed to stores; of course what has really muddled things over the last decades is the returns system. Perhaps this wasteful process will disappear and much-needed greater clarity will spread to the trad publishing industry; I've seen those royalty statements and they're as clear as mud.

Btw if you're selling upwards of 20K copies in a month, you're a success by any standard and I salute you! As a newly-fledged self-pubber I have a long way to go to build a reputation and sales. I will be keeping an eye on you looking for best practices...

message 6: by Rose (last edited Aug 05, 2012 08:27AM) (new)

Rose Gordon Patricia wrote: "I agree with you Jane whole heartedly, I read somewhere recently that Amazon and Barnes and Noble are not even going to be considered as a ranking profile for authors because of what Rose has alrea..."

Patricia, I'm assuming you mean profiling as in a formal sense?

I know several authors who have hit and topped the bestseller charts of Amazon week after week, month after month, but have never made a national list. Would I personally be upset, offended, or feel misled if they put in their bio that they were a bestseller or have a bestselling book? No.

In a sense, they are. But, for me, the lines were very fine so I didn't feel comfortable using the classification.

My book might be ranked higher than Joe Blow's in the Kindle store, but mine's digital only (well, and trade, but only online order trade, not actually IN a store trade) and Joe's is digital and mass market. Just because I'm surpassing him with digital sales, doesn't mean I'm the better seller of the two. It just means that I'm the "best seller" out of the two of us at Amazon or B&N. That's why I didn't feel comfortable using the title. It's easier to rank above and stay above someone on a digital list when their books are offered both digitally and in stores since mine are ONLY offered digitally. It's the only way to get them. So for me, to make a list where eBooks and paperback sales are combined to make up the ranking, it was a true confirmation that my book really IS a bestseller. Not just digitally, but it had sold enough copies digitally to be ranked up there with those who sell large quantities both digitally and mass market. It was pretty neat.

But still, if I go to someone's website and see "bestselling author of historical romance" I know what they're talking about: digital sales, and it doesn't bother me. I just try not to create reasons for people to claim I misled them or that my work is inferior, and this was one of them.

Oh, and no apologies needed. My manners are deplorable.

message 7: by Rose (new)

Rose Gordon Jane, I don't know how I missed your last comment except that it must have been posted while I was writing mine.

Anyway, I love getting those clear cut sales reports I get from Amazon and B&N. Personally, I prefer B&N's better because it gives a by the day record and the exact total earned on that title each day, whereas you play a bit of a guessing game with Amazon.

Thank you for the compliment. I never expected that book to sell so well a year out. I seriously thought it'd had its heyday last fall when it was new. It just goes to show that books do not have expiration dates. I wish you the best of luck with your book. Self-pubbing can be very hard at times as you have no cover to hide behind when things go wrong, nor do you always know what will and won't work for marketing. A lot of it is guess work and relying on your own strengths.

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