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Author Katie Mettner

To Be A Bestseller or Not To Be, That is the Question

Is that a silly question? A good number of authors would yell, “YES! That’s a really silly question!” Well, I guess I’m not most authors then. I’ve been pondering the whole ‘when can you really claim you’re a bestseller’ thing for awhile. I even posted the question to my Facebook page. The response I got was interesting. Every reader said, “If you’re number one in any category, in my eyes that makes you a bestseller!” Then one author said, “I really think you should be number one in your major category on Amazon before you claim you are a bestseller.” I’ve also been told by authors you can’t claim you’re a bestseller until you have hit number one on the New York Times or USA Today Bestseller List.

With that in mind I did a little more digging, and I found all the above situations to be part of the equation, but some authors took it even further. Some claimed they were a “bestseller on Amazon” when in reality they hit number one in the free category during a promotion. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, that might be a stretch. Hitting number one in the free category for any genre makes you a ‘best giver awayer’, but surely not a ‘bestseller’, right? I mean it stands to reason if that were the case then every author could just do a promotion, get all their friends to download their book free and BAM, bestseller status. I don’t see it happening a lot, so I’m guessing those authors are the minority. It does tell me that as authors we think A LOT about being a bestseller. I’ll admit it has crossed my mind from time-to-time. Usually when someone tells me they loved the book and it should be a ‘bestseller’.

What makes a bestseller? Is it really the book itself, or is it the hype attached to the book? I’ve read some bestsellers where when I finish my first thought is, “Really? This is a bestseller?” Though I haven’t read it, one of those books that comes to mind is 50 Shades of Grey. There you’ve got someone who knows how to market. Some would disagree with me and claim it’s a work of literature, but let’s face it, book one was a knockout, book two and three were a stretch. I haven’t heard another word from ‘E.L. James’ since those books came out in 2012. Maybe she’s using a different pen name (no books under her real name, I checked), or maybe she’s working on a new series (I’m sure she has some big release coming as soon as I publish this post, that’s my karma), but I wonder if we will ever see anything from her again. Why? Because, I’m not sure if she was an author or a writer.

What’s the difference? Well, take another bestselling author, J.K. Rowling. She sold the heck out of the Harry Potter series; books, movies, memorabilia, you name it and she cashed in on it! It was with great sadness that we waved goodbye to Harry Potter and waited for more from the author. We didn’t get anymore J.K. Rowling books and many (my kids included) were disappointed. Then we found out she was still writing, under a penname, as a guy.  Well played J.K.! That is a writer. Harry Potter might be over, but she wasn’t done writing, so she reinvented herself and kept writing. Could she come onto the scene as Robert Galbraith and claim bestseller status? Nope, she was all the way at the bottom of the pile again. That’s being a writer. She’d done the whole bestseller thing and it had its perks, but when it came down to it, she just wanted to write.  So she wrote, and readers bought, and read, and liked, and shared and here we go again.

How far will we go as authors to achieve that bestseller status? I know one author who is an Amazon, USA Today, and New York Times bestseller. She stepped on so many people to reach that golden ticket she had a staircase a dozen people high who had ‘screw me pumps’ (yes I know the real name, but this is a PG rated blog) on their backs deep enough to drill oil from. What did it get her? She has a publishing contract and probably quite a bit of money, but she has a reputation for being a backstabbing, wicked tongued monster that will say or do anything to sell another book, at least within the writing community. To the reader she is a sweet, demur author who is always bereft with pain for her latest young hot hero. There is no doubt in my mind that will change someday soon too. You know what they say about a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Are we, as authors, putting too much pressure on ourselves to reach that golden ticket, if the reader is the one judging our bestseller status? Would the backstabbing monster have had to burn so many bridges that she smells like finally charred burgers just to get where she is now, especially if the readers were going to read her books anyway? Is it for the fame and fortune? Is it for bragging rights? Is it because we as humans always have to outdo our ‘opponent’?

I’ve thought a lot about this and this is my decision. I’m not a bestseller in the eyes of the ‘law’. I’m not even a best giver awayer. I’m a writer. I write because I want to write. I write, I publish and I’m happy and excited when one person wants to read my book. I’m even more excited when that person tells another person they should read it, but I have no burning need to walk around claiming I’m a bestseller. (Let’s face it, I could claim it anyway and no one could dispute me, those rankings change by the minute).
Why don’t I have that burning need? It’s simple. I don’t want to be the E.L. James of the world, and burn out after three books. I don’t want to be a backstabbing monster, with a reputation like Jaws. I want to write. I don’t want to spend as much (or more) time promoting, talking about myself and jetting off to the next show, than I do writing. I don’t want the focus of my stories to get lost in the hype of being proclaimed as a bestselling novel. When I lay down at night it makes never no mind to me if my book has sold two million copies and been read by the Pope, the President and the Pop star. When I lay down at night what matters to me is that my book has served the Lord in His attempt to help someone. That it was read by the one person it was written for. I never know who that person is when I write it, edit it, painstakingly second guess it, edit it again, and finally publish it, but I know there is someone it’s meant for. I try to live by the old saying, “Good things come to those who wait.” I believe it’s a take away from Psalm 37:7: Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act. Don't worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.

If you are a reader reading this blog I encourage you to continue to read, review and support your favorite authors, bestsellers or not. We write these stories for you to read, enjoy and hopefully in one way or another, we make a difference.
If you are an author reading this blog I encourage you to think about to be a bestseller or not to be? Think about the reason you write. If you could never publish another book in your life would you keep writing? If the answer is no, then you aren’t a writer by nature, you are writing for some other reason than the love of the written word. If your answer is yes, then keep on keeping on with your eye to the reader, stay true to yourself and your stories and be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act. There is room on the ladder for every writer and stepping on someone’s head to move up a rung now won’t have made you any friends when you’re on your way down.

Blessings to all and happy reading and writing!


Nancy Thompson said...

This is a dilemma. When I was preparing to publish Leverage, I asked several people if I had the right to claim bestseller or top-rated status since I I my qualify in my genre-specific category. I decided I could since I've maintained it for so long, but it really has no effect on anything. It's just a title. And I'm not always sure it's a good one. I know & am even friends with an Amazon/NY Times/USA Today bestselling author & she's trampled on some of her staunchest supporters, who now, justifiably, hold little regard for her. I think that's a shame. But now we know the truth & can keep that in mind should we ever be lucky enough to enjoy that kind of success. I know that, though I may not be very far yet, what success I have enjoyed, I've done so because I have the support if so many people, especially other authors, like you. I'll never forget that.

Katie said...

Right, that was kind of my whole point. It's a title really, because even JK Rowlings gave it up in order to keep writing. Like the woman who wrote Eat, Pray Love and her second book flopped because it wasn't Eat, Pray Love. I'd rather write book after book after book that people read because they want too, not because the cover says, "Bestseller" :)