Best Sellers, Braggin’ Rights, and Hyperbole

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.

 

Tweet: It’s time to dispense with the terms best-selling and award-winning.
Tweet: Is it really a best seller? Or are you just saying that?

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.”

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10 Comments

  1. Michelle Ule says:

    http://www.booksandsuch.biz/blog/best-sellers-is-it-the-author-or-the-subject/

    I wrote five blog posts on this subject last year

  2. April Line says:

    Yes!! Thank you!!

    You’re right. I think we also need to reconsider the classification that authors are so fond of putting before their title: “published,” (if I read “published author” on one more self-pubbed author’s website, I am going to throw up) for it seems to now need a number of classifications: “independently published,” “traditionally published,” “self-published,” “published by a small press,” “published on demand,” some of which mean similar–but notably different–things. Sometimes small presses use Print on Demand services, and that is not the same as being self-published.

    I am most puzzled, however, by the way in which it would seem that the Internet makes it easier than ever to suss out lies, but it seems to also make us culturally more inclined toward lying.

    Also, the fourth foot is explained in the caption of the photo. :-)

    -A

    • Jamie says:

      I love this:
      “I am most puzzled, however, by the way in which it would seem that the Internet makes it easier than ever to suss out lies, but it seems to also make us culturally more inclined toward lying.”
      So true! My discovery this morning of being plagiarized (maybe not the first) is a testament to that.

  3. Jody says:

    Yup, I agree big-time — BUT — I’ll bet those writers actually do sell books because of their hyperbole. That’s the thing about hype. It works.

    Oh well.

    Meanwhile, another wise post from you.

  4. Sarah Thomas says:

    “Award-winning” kills me, too.

  5. Amy Parker says:

    Totally agree–except that I think I have to spell “bestseller” in my bio the way my publisher prints it on the book. (We’ve had that discussion. :) I can say that some (most?!) authors greatly consider this issue before throwing that word around. For instance, two of my seasonal books are on Christian industry best-seller lists for a couple months every time that season rolls around, but is that really a best seller? I don’t list them as such. :) And even New York Times best sellers seem a little tainted with the publicity/marketing push and giveaways to have everyone preorder and buy the week of release. I’m with you: sell me your book, your content. I’ve never been much of a bandwagoner anyway.

  6. Sarah says:

    Oh, but I was so sure my unpublished novel in four parts was totally a best seller…my parents told me it would be! And my best friend told ALL her friends about it, and they PROMISED they would buy it when I finally self-publish it on Youtube as an audio book.

    :)

    I have a problem with most Best Seller lists. Just because a book sold a lot of books, does not make it something I will read…EVER…

    And I don’t care if it’s an award winning book either. I have my own criteria for worthy reads. :)

  7. […] wondered—here in this blog and elsewhere—about authors who tout themselves as best-selling (generally a gross exaggeration) and about the many, many bad writing habits I see. I’ve told […]

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