Lots of writers you’ve probably never heard of are described as “bestselling authors.” Unlike lists of the winners of Oscars, Emmys, Pulitzers and Nobels, there may be no official registry where you can check the validity of the claims.
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 Times, of course, is the biggie. Other important lists are provided by USA Today, Amazon.com, 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.
- 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” or “best seller”) and the label may help it to achieve more sales—deserved or not deserved.
- Keep in mind that even if a book is on a legitimate list, the fact that many were sold does not necessarily mean that it’s a good book, or even that buyers have read what they've bought. Used bookstores are filled with "used" books that have obviously not even been opened. From Wikipedia: Bestsellers have gained such great popularity that it has sometimes become fashionable to purchase them. . . . The rising length of bestsellers may mean that more of them are simply becoming bookshelf decor. In 1985 members of the staff of The New Republic placed coupons redeemable for $5 cash inside 70 books that were selling well, and none of them were sent in.
- There are even fudged bestseller labels that are more the result of marketing than of statistics, such as “summertime bestseller,” “international bestseller” or “underground bestseller.” A widely advertised book on real estate investment is touted as "smash hit selling" (whatever that means).
One day, with no manipulation, my 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.” My wife is not impressed. If you are impressed, please buy the book. It's important, useful and funny.
(pooch pic from http://arizonaweimaranerrescue.com)