The Making of a Best Seller . . . and Other Myths

Re: Iowa Bookseller Pumps Up Sales for Author’s Memoir

A best seller? Seriously?

If I understand the math correctly, June Melby’s memoir, My Family and Other Hazards, became a New York Times best seller (sports) through the sale of the astonishing sum of—wait for the drum roll—roughly 500 copies.

In the past, I have thought of the NYT lists in terms of 1,000s of books sold, if not tens of 1,000s of books sold. But a measly 500?

I find this ironic in that those in the NY publishing establishment denigrate Amazon “best sellers” as not being legitimate because (1) Amazon has so many narrowly defined lists, and (2) a handful of sales can put a book into the Top 100 within that narrow category and be dubbed a best seller.

I now fully understand why the actual sales numbers of newspaper best-seller lists are not disclosed—because the numbers, in fact, may be pitiful. (The numbers are also manipulated, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled for the author. Yet, I can only imagine the pop-eyed dismay of the NY establishment at seeing an actual figure—the 164 books the Iowa book seller brags about peddling—disclosed to a discerning public with electronic calculators close at hand.

How does Amazon rank the book? A best seller, yes, but hardly scoring well under par by book-world standards:

  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,638 in Books
  • #6 in Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Sports & Outdoors > Golf
  • #80 in Books > Humor & Entertainment > Humor > Parenting & Families

Truth be told, best-seller lists are marketing tools for publishers and book sellers, the denials notwithstanding. That’s what I find refreshing about Amazon. Its honesty. Amazon’s brazen, in-your-face style of marketing books not only embraces that concept, it flaunts it. And New York be damned.

If the hidebound book publishing industry spent more time looking to the future and less time at its glory days, perhaps it would be more adaptable to the evolving marketplace and spend less time attempting to maintain its T. Rex imperiousness.

I suggest that for authors and publishers, the true value in this story lies not in the best-seller aspect, but in how this Iowa book seller helped the author promote the book.

For you indie authors/publishers, however, please note that this book still came from one of the Big Five, not independent publication. Otherwise, that Iowa book seller may not have given it a first glance, let alone a second.

Still, as Archie McNally says: “One never knows, do one?”

About Polishing Your Prose

Larry M Edwards is an award-winning investigative journalist, author, editor and publishing consultant. He is the author of three books, and has edited dozens of nonfiction and fiction book manuscripts. Under Wigeon Publishing, he has produced six books. As author, "Dare I Call It Murder? A Memoir of Violent Loss" won First Place in the San Diego Book Awards in 2012 (unpublished memoir) and 2014, Best Published Memoir. The book has also been nominated for a number of awards, including: Pulitzer Prize, Benjamin Franklin Award, Washington State Book Award, and One Book, One San Diego. As Editor, "Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources" won the Gold Award in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, Self-Help. For a sample edit and cost estimate, contact Larry: larry [at] larryedwards [dot] com -- -- --
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