Opinion: Why Amazon Bestsellers Don’t Impress My Dog

Indie author Michael N Marcus explains why he’s not impressed by his own bestseller status, or anyone else’s.

The author's dog reading a newspaper

Hunter J Marcus can read the New York Times upside-down – but he doesn’t care that Michael is a bestselling author.

If you’re a new author, you probably dream of becoming a bestselling author. I’m a bestselling author and, believe me, it’s no big deal.

I’ve stopped counting, but at least eight of my books have been on Amazon bestseller lists, a few have been on multiple Amazon bestseller lists, and one on was another bestseller list. I describe myself as a bestselling author because maybe, just maybe, some prospective reader will be impressed and buy a book.

On the other hand, I know enough about the book business to be unimpressed, and my wife and dog are not impressed, either.

  • Anyone can call any book a bestseller (or “best-seller”), and the label may help it to achieve additional sales, deserved or not.
  • A book about flea removal from pregnant three-legged albino Weimaraners could sell exactly one copy and still be the bestseller – in its field. There is no law that requires an explanation on the cover or a footnote inside the book.
  • If your book is in a category with little competition on Amazon, it’s easy for it to become an Amazon bestseller.
  • A book with huge advance sales may become an immediate bestseller. Even if 99% of the books are returned to the publisher by booksellers, the bestseller label lives on.
  • Bestseller status is more the result of a strong marketing push than great writing.
  • Some bestseller labels are more the result of marketing than of statistics, such as “summertime bestseller” or “underground bestseller.”
  • The company that distributes one of my ebooks declared it to be a bestseller and allows me to display an impressive emblem.
  • Self-publishing companies such as Xlibris and Outskirts publish lists of their customers’ bestsellers.

Bestseller emblemSome books that are not identified as bestsellers have greater long-term sales than books that are touted as bestsellers.

Lots of writers you’ve probably never heard of are bestselling authors. There are many lists and a vague claim is impossible to verify. A bestseller claim is not like saying a movie won an Oscar or a book won a Pulitzer. There is no bestseller police force.

Also, there’s an almost endless list of bestseller lists. Unless an author, publisher or promoter provides a detail like “103 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List,” it’s hard to document or disprove bestseller status.

The New York Times is, of course, is the biggie. Other important lists are provided by USA Today, Amazon, IndieBound, Publishers Weekly and Barnes & Noble.

There is often disagreement among the bestseller lists, and it may not be obvious how the lists are calculated. For example, online booksellers and “big box” stores may be excluded. Self-publised books may be excluded, too. (Ed: Grrr!) Amazon’s list doesn’t include books sold by Barnes & Noble, and vice versa.

Keep in mind that even if a book is on a legitimate bestseller list, the fact that many were sold does not necessarily mean that it’s a good book, or even that buyers read what they bought.

  • It was reported that most copies of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time were bought to display in people’s homes to impress visitors, but were unread.
  • Used bookstores are filled with ‘used’ books that have obviously not even been opened.
  • Reportedly, members of the staff of The New Republic placed coupons redeemable for $5 inside 70 books that were selling well, and no coupons were noticed and sent in for the money.

Amazon’s bestseller list has been manipulated by elaborate online campaigns to maximize purchases during a brief time period to temporarily elevate a book to bestseller status, even NUMBER ONE.

One day, with no manipulation, my book, Stinkers! America’s worst self-published books was ranked NUMBER EIGHT on one of Amazon’s bestseller lists. The next day, it was up to NUMBER TWO. That’s pretty amazing, especially since I was still tinkering with the book and had not made an official announcement that it was available. It’s on a very specific list (maybe a very obscure list), but now I can legitimately call the book a bestseller. If you are impressed, please buy the book. It’s important, useful and funny.

What’s the easiest way to write a bestseller? Simple: write a book and title it Best Seller. Timothy B Sagges did it, and the title isn’t copyrighted.



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21 Responses to Opinion: Why Amazon Bestsellers Don’t Impress My Dog

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  4. Fenella J Miller June 3, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    I usually have at least five titles on a ‘bestseller’ list of some sort – Historical Romance/Regency but didn’t realise being Number 2 on a sub-list counted as being a best seller! Will go at once and add ‘bestseller’ to my titles. 🙂

  5. Dean K Miller January 1, 2014 at 6:16 pm #

    Thank you for easing my wobbly journey through the woods of writing. Without the stress of achieving “Best Seller” status, I can now return to the blank page and fill it with something just slightly better than Best.

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  8. Pedro Barrento November 19, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

    So true.

    I wrote a similarly themed post on my blog, about bestsellers and “award-winning” authors. It says partially the same as yours, from a slightly different perspective:

  9. Trevor Veale (@TrevVeale) November 18, 2013 at 11:47 pm #

    Well, in spite of your (& Hunter’s) disparagement of the term ‘bestseller’, I still maintain my two published e-books are both ‘undiscovered bestsellers’!

  10. Warren Shuman November 18, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

    Hi Michael: It’s all in the marketing. You are absolutely on track. Today, the trick is getting the book sold. It’s business. Words and phrases like “valued” “virtually” “understood to be”, “awarded” “best value” and more should be verbotten. These are the copywriters’ gadgets to weave. Best of success.


  11. Jeff Ezell November 18, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

    Hey Michael, maybe your dog Hunter, would like to read a short story about how his namesake K9 Detective Hunter solves the mystery of missing children? That way I could call it a Best-Seller (among dogs named Hunter at the least). Have him write a review.

    Entertaining and well said about “bestseller” books. Best read, is a real achievement. New to your blog. Will follow now. Lead on…

  12. Hannah Hacker November 18, 2013 at 6:41 pm #

    Interesting thoughts. I’d never really thought of it that way before, but it is true.

  13. Matthew Wayne Selznick November 18, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

    I’ve had the honor of having a title in the top sixty on the overall (all books) bestseller list, and I think that gives me the right to call that book a bestseller (and myself a bestselling author), but… I rarely use that to promote my books. It happened in 2008. Who cares?

    When one of my books pops up on one of those little niche lists, I make mention of it on Twitter or Facebook in the spirit of, “oh, look, isn’t that nice / cute,” but I’m not rushing out to slap stickers on the covers. Tomorrow those titles will be back to their comfortable spots deep in the six-figure charts, after all!

    On the other hand, I *do* mention my #53 ranking and various award nominations as bona fides in the context of resumes, qvs, and other “reasons why you should hire me/listen to me/give me money.” That horn gets dusty if someone doesn’t blow it now and then!

  14. Dr. Johnny Velazquez November 18, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    Hi Michael, That was very entertaining. Thank you for shedding some into this myth. Blessings.

  15. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt November 18, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    “Reportedly, members of the staff of The New Republic placed coupons redeemable for $5 inside 70 books that were selling well, and no coupons were noticed and sent in for the money.”

    That right there is your problem: readers of The New Republic couldn’t be bothered to claim a coupon – it isn’t worth the effort.

    If they had been coupons for $50, maybe. At $500, the staffers would have been selling those books to relatives.

    I no longer use coupons – the reward is usually tiny, and the coupon expired by the time I think to use it.

    Since I charge $1000/hour for my time (I don’t GET it – but if you want an hour of my time, that’s what it will COST you), many things drop off the horizon.

    Congratulations on your bestseller status – if everyone has one, you don’t want to be the only one without.

    Ah, the world we live in.

    Entertaining post – thanks!

  16. David James November 18, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    Right, Michael on ‘bestsellers.’ Another hyperbolic claim is ‘Award-winning.’ We live in an ‘epoch-making’ age, where ‘ground-breaking’ novels pour forth from our presses. It’s the Age of Hyperbole, where in the UK a football team can be relegated from the Premiership to the First Division.

  17. Debbie Young November 18, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    Michael, you are so right, and so is your dog! But even though I know you are right, I still couldn’t help seeing a little frisson of excitement when I spotted that my new e-book about diabetes had made it to Kindle UK’s number 4 slot in the Health & Fitness > Disorders & Diseases. It’s a very tiny pond…

    I can’t say that achievement has ever been on my list of literary ambitions, and there are much more competitive charts I’d like to top, but hey, I’m only human!

    Thanks for starting my week with a laugh, Michael, and if your dog is reading this, thank you, Hunter!

  18. Jessica Bell November 18, 2013 at 10:50 am #

    Very entertaining and I couldn’t agree more. 🙂


  1. How to Promote Your Book Like a Pro! | Triumph of the Spirit - January 2, 2014

    […] ORCHESTRATE AMAZON SALES CAMPAIGNS In “The Art of the Amazon Sale: Improving Rankings, Selling More Books, and Gaining Exposure,” Lindsay Buroker, author of the Emperor’s Edge fantasy series, details how she combined a free giveaway, sales prices on two other books in the series, and a $90 ad on Bookbub (a site that alerts subsribers to limited-time free and discounted eBooks matching their interests) to boost short-term and long-term sales and reach more fans. If you’ve written a series of fiction books, here is another post Lindsay wrote about profitably bundling your books into bargain-priced boxed sets. Amazon may be the gorilla of the industry, but beware of marketers who promise to orchestrate an (expensive) bestseller campaign that will enable you to call your book “a bestseller.” Michael N. Marcus explains “Why Amazon Bestsellers Don’t Impress My Dog.” […]

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