Lots of writers you probably never heard of describe themselves as bestselling authors.
Unlike the winners of Oscars, Emmys, Pulitzers and Nobels, there is often no official registry where you can check the validity of the claim. The variety of potential bestseller lists is endless, so unless a publisher provides a detail like “103 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list,” it will be hard to document or disprove the bestselling status.
The Times, of course, is the biggee. Other important lists are provided by USA Today, Amazon.com, IndieBound, Publishers Weekly, and Barnes & Noble.
Amazon sales rankings are updated hourly, and are subject to manipulation by organized swarms of order-placers who have been pushed to buy books with an email campaign that promises dubious freebies. A book could hit number 10 or even number 1 at 4 a.m. tomorrow, and be number 436,841 next week.
There is often disagreement among the bestseller lists and it may not be obvious how the lists are calculated. The Times apparently excludes sales from online booksellers and “big box” stores like Walmart — but that policy may change.
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.
Anyone can call any book a bestseller (or “best-seller”), and the label may help it to achieve more sales, deserved or not. Keep in mind that even if a book is on a legitimate list, the fact that lots of copies are sold does not necessarily mean it’s a good book, or even that book buyers read what they bought.
There are even fudged bestseller labels that are more the result of marketing than of statistics, such as “summertime bestseller," "top seller," "number 1 seller" or “underground bestseller.”
Brent Sampson, boss of my least-favorite vanity publisher Outskirts Press, claims to be a “bestselling author.” One of his books hit the #29 position on Amazon.com. It may have been for one hour on one day. The New York Times didn’t notice it and I’m not impressed.
One of his books promises “Top-secret tips guaranteed to increase sales.” They are not secrets and they are not guaranteed.