You’re A Bestselling Author? Prove It!

June 16, 2015 | By | 13 Replies More
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Whitney Dineen

When can you use ‘Bestselling Author’ on your book covers and in press? I recently posed this question to one of the writer’s groups of which I am a member.

I was not expecting the amount of discussion this question ignited. Many authors feel that you should not consider yourself a bestselling author until The New York Times or USA Today makes it known first. This is in reaction to everyone, her brother and dog reaching the top 10 in Amazon, in one sub-category or another and feeling this allows them rights to the coveted “Bestselling Author” title.

The New York Times and USA Today both encourage authors to use their names in conjunction with their much ballyhooed prefix and why the heck wouldn’t you? After all, they are the Academy Awards of authorship! When you see “Bestselling Author” on a cover, sans their vaunted monikers, you assume that the author is not referencing the rank of NYT or USA Today.

Which brings us back to the question, “What makes a bestselling author?” What if said, “Bestselling Author,” is referring to the fact that she sold more books than any other at the Poughkeepsie Pie House and Book Sale? How in the world does that make Myrtle Mahoney a bestselling author?

I’m going to climb up the tree and crawl WAY out on the farthest limb and suggest that Janet Evanovich, Lisa Scottoline and Fannie Flagg are not going to lose sleep over the fact that Myrtle is infringing on their turf. Chances are if you are a NYT or USA Today Bestselling Author, you don’t get your panties in a bunch over upstarts like Myrtle. It’s the rest of us, who haven’t quite achieved that level of stardom that wonder when, if ever, we are allowed to wear the crown of “Bestselling Author.” We are caught between the Myrtles and Evanovich’s of this world. It’s a tough place to be.

Some believe that Indie authors are the big reason that the title no longer means anything. This team believes that anyone can self-publish a book and this is not enough to make an author. Authors work long and hard to be accepted into the mainstream and deserve to be rewarded for their efforts.

IFinalMimiCoverOnlyndie authors will say that their chances of ever hitting the NYT and USA Today bestselling list are about as likely as getting kidnapped by Lilliputians, tied to a rocket and being launched to Saturn to become their queen. They will point out that many legit authors got their start as Indies. They will throw names at you like John Grisham, Tom Clancy and Jack Canfield, who all got their start in the self-published world. Then there’s superstar women’s fiction author, Eileen Goudge, who left big publishing behind to continue her career in the self-publishing realm.

Many in my writing group feel that if we continue to abuse the term “Bestselling Author,” we will suck all of the meaning out of it. One author thoughtfully said, “While I appreciate that we are all trying to do whatever we can to boost our sales and get ahead, we have to respect the seriousness of our pursuit. To claim something is ours without proper ownership does not, in fact, make it so.”

Another author responded heatedly, “We pimp our books out for reviews, beg people to read them and reduce their prices to next to nothing for Bookbub and ENT promotions in order to boost sales. Then, when the sun, the moon and all the little Martians align and we say, hit #3 in women’s fiction on Amazon, then what? Then we’re supposed to sit back and say, “It was an honor to be nominated?”

Publishing has changed dramatically in the last ten years. The majority of books published are no longer from the “Big Boy” publishing houses. The majority of books are either self-published or from boutique publishing houses. It’s old-fashioned thinking to assume that the rules of ten years ago or five years ago still apply.

For me, if Myrtle’s book has a professional looking cover and I like the synopsis on the back, chances are I might consider buying it. Will it make any difference if the book cover says, “Bestselling Author, Myrtle Mahoney?” It might.

In my journey, I have decided that it’s a hard road for both traditionally published and self-published authors. You all have my deepest respect and admiration. Many of you have my gratitude for writing books that have made me laugh, cry and change my view of the world.

In case you’re wondering where I land on the topic, I will support your right to celebrate every single one of your accomplishments; whether it’s selling the most books at The Pedicure Palace Annual Book Sale or with The New York Times.

Sincerely, Bestselling author, Whitney Dineen.

Whitney Dineen is the author of romantic comedies, She Sins at Midnight and The Reinvention of Mimi  Finnegan. The first book of her middle reader series, Wilhelmina and the Willamette Wig Factory, is scheduled to be released in September.  Whitney is a refugee of big cities (Chicago, New York and Los Angeles) and is currently residing in the beautiful Willamette Valley in Oregon where she and her husband, Jimmy, are raising their daughters, free-range chickens and organic vegetables.



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Category: Contemporary Women Writers, On Writing

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Sites That Link to this Post

  1. What Is A Bestselling Author? | Anita Lovett & Associates | January 16, 2016
  2. Friday Finds: Week 38 | Avid Reader | June 19, 2015
  1. Terry Tyler says:

    I get fed up with seeing this term. When I do my follow back session on Twitter, I think a third of the writers who follow me claim to be ‘bestselling’. Some have it on their covers: #1 bestselling author of blah blah. On occasion, I’ve challenged them. Often turns out that they reached the top of an Amazon genre chart for about a week. It’s a bit like ‘award winning’. Winning a #1 spot on a small online poll doesn’t qualify for the label, I don’t think.

    If I used these criteria to judge myself, I could call myself award winning and best selling, too. But I’m not, so I don’t; to do so would be crass indeed. To me, a ‘best seller’ is a book that has been in the Amazon top 100 (and not just genre charts) for a reasonable period of time. Not the few weeks I managed it, 5 years ago!

  2. Hi – my third book reached number one in the Irish fiction charts in 2007. Since then, every book of mine (8 more, all published by Hachette Books Ireland) have had ‘Number One Bestseller’ on the cover. A little ambiguous, I know – presumably the title refers to me as opposed to the later books, all of which made the Irish top five but none of which got to the number one spot – but I’m not about to complain!

  3. In my opinion, if you make it to #1 on any of the ‘big’ genres on Amazon: Romance, Mystery, and ect., not the million sub genres, you certainly have the right to call yourself a bestselling author, especially if you’re an Indie author.

    Just a though… Most ‘mainstream’ publishers spend close to a hundred thousand dollars to release a book by Nicholas Sparks, Nora Roberts, or Stephen King, so they are almost certainly going to hit the NYT or USA Today bestseller lists… Does that make their book a bestseller, or did they technically but their way there? I love those authors, but I’ve also read many books by Indie authors that were better than some of those authors’ books.

    All we can do is hope that authors–and readers–will use their best judgment when selling–or choosing–a book based on a label.

  4. Intriguing post and discussion!

    There’s a very simple way to use “bestselling” without being slightly disingenuous (IMO), which is being more specific. If you were a bestselling author on Amazon, include “Amazon.”

    It makes me sad that many authors use the term “bestseller” as though it’s essential, when they’ve sold relatively few copies. And I’ve worked with numerous PR companies and corporations who disregard an author if they appear to be exaggerating their accolades.

    All of that said, I agree with you that celebrating as we see fit in whatever ways feels most genuine to us is to be embraced. 🙂

  5. ‘Best selling’ has become an automatic precursor to ‘author’ these days. That’s probably why my publisher describes me as ‘#1 Bestselling Author’ (that’s genuinely #1 overall – not just in some list – on kindle.) I think it’s an attempt to make the description stand out. ‘Best selling’ is meaningless these days.

  6. Mirka Breen says:

    We can call ourselves whatever we want, without penalty or stigma. But we should also read others claims with care. NYT best selling is exactly that. “Best-selling” without specification could be the best at your address. The same for “award-winning.”
    I noticed a few years ago that movies began to be promoted with “Oscar-nominated” actor _____, for past nominations not related to the film in questions. Mind you, this is an honor and a professional accomplishment. But it used to be that the tag “Oscar winner” was the only one used if it was for past work. The melding of art and commerce is tough enough, and we’ve come to a point where any recognition is bandied about. A working artist may use any tag they feel good about. it’s the audience that should be aware of the meaning of such, and increasingly– they are.

  7. Jean says:

    Awesome and thoughtful post. Makes a person think. 🙂

  8. Marion says:

    “This team believes that anyone can self-publish a book and this is not enough to make an author.” IMO the word “author” like the word “bestseller” gets muddled in these discussions. Author is not an honorific. It’s not boasting to call yourself an author. It just means you “authored” something that was put out into the world. It could be anything from an obscure academic paper, to a self-published novel to a traditional best seller. I write for a television-blog that has me listed as an “author” on the URL to my work (/author/) but as a “writer” on their “about” page. Being an author doesn’t make you a good writer or even a competent one.

    As for “bestseller”. That shouldn’t be used as an honorific either. To most consumers “bestseller” implies something that lots of people have bought. I’ve seen my very obscure works of fiction reach best seller/top 10 status numerous times on Amazon, sometimes after selling as little as 3 copies in a day. (fiction/fantasy and science fiction/techno thrillers/medical). Sorry, but calling yourself a “bestselling” author because three people bought your 99 cent novella ONCE on the same day is deceptive even if Amazon does it. People either know the scam and laugh at you for doing it, or they don’t know and you’re trying to fool them. When I see a blogger or anyone trying to sell me a service use it, I ALWAYS look up their books and check the rankings.

    I get it. It’s frustrating, and most indie (or more accurately most self-published) authors don’t have the support of a publicist or really anyone, and traditional “authors” take short-cuts they aren’t even aware of because the publishing company is working behind the scenes. However, I wouldn’t call myself a “bestselling” author unless there was some way to justify it. You don’t need to reserve the title for books mentioned in the NY Times or USA today, but bear in mind that Amazon is just one store, and real bestsellers sell in the millions. If you’ve reached the top 100 in PAID Amazon (no sub-categories) that’s an awesome and inspiring achievement. but if you aren’t selling anywhere else, unless you’ve sold over a million copies, to me it’s still off-putting if you’re not putting “Kindle” or “Amazon” between “bestselling” and “author.”

  9. Great post! I left a comment on FB. But yes, I hope you’re right, that the truly big guns of writing aren’t worrying too much about this. And yes, one of the fun parts of disrupting a traditional market is seeing the old terminology challenged. And perhaps stretched… just a little.

  10. Lucie Simone says:

    great post! I can see both sides have merit, and I think that’s why using NYT or USA Today as clarifiers should be a satisfactory distinction. I mean, if you break the top 100 at Amazon, you are listed as a bestseller on Amazon. So, you’re a bestseller!

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