I think it might be time to dispense with the terms best-selling and best seller. Yes, best-selling is a hyphenated compound; it’s an adjective. Best seller, a noun, is an open compound, although when used as an adjective it, too, is hyphenated. Which point is moot, because the term best seller has lost the power to move me.
I came to this conclusion a few weeks ago when I received a Twitter solicitation from a novelist to “buy my book”—and when I followed the proffered link to a website, saw the book described as a best seller. (Actually, as A BESTSELLER!!!) A quick check of the Amazon Best Sellers Rank (#3,707,429*) confirmed my suspicion, which can best be described as “in your dreams.” This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced such bald-faced exaggeration; it is currently running rampant in the indie-publishing world.
There are different criteria for what constitutes a best seller, of course. We’re told the New York Times tracks national and independent bookstores, as well as major Internet retailers for its much-lauded Best Sellers list, although the exact method for ranking is a closely guarded secret. Publishers Weekly currently uses numbers from Nielsen BookScan, which gathers data directly from cash registers.
Here’s how that shakes out for hardcover fiction titles during the week I wrote this post:
New York Times Publishers Weekly
1. The Storm / Clive Cussler 1. Stolen Prey / John Sandford
2. 11th Hour / J. Patterson, M. Paetro 2. 11th Hour / J. Patterson, M. Paetro
3. Stolen Prey / John Sandford 3. Columbus Affair / Steve Berry
4. Calico Joe / John Grisham 4. Deadlocked / Charlaine Harris
5. Deadlocked / Charlaine Harris 5. Calico Joe / John Grisham
6. Bring Up the Bodies / Hilary Mantel 6. Innocent / David Baldacci
There are plenty of entities creating best-seller lists, but I like these two. I trust them. Not that I base my book-purchasing decisions on best-seller lists. I do not. It’s well-written cover copy or a well-written book review from someone I trust that occasions my purchase decision. Like it or not (and I can’t say I do), James Patterson is a best-selling author. But when you tell me your CreateSpace-published book is a best seller based on absolutely no data, this does not engender trust. The opposite, in fact.
Award-winning is another loaded adjective. I visited the website of a seemingly sincere and certainly earnest creative writer who was described as an award-winning author, when in fact she was simply a finalist in three writing competitions (that I’d never heard of, although I should add there’s plenty of competitions I haven’t heard of). That’s something to be proud of, for sure, but it’s not an award won.
Can’t we just be honest? By all means, sell me on your book. But when you start throwing best seller around, you’d better be able to back up that claim.
*Not the actual number, by the way, but similar.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”