Thursday, July 28, 2005

Amazon Bestsellers: Comments on Comments

Many people have been commenting on my last post about bestsellers. I need to answer some of those commentaries because they are inaccurate and misleading. Here goes:

1. 1001 Ways to Market Your Books is not published by PublishAmerica. They do sell it to their customers, but Open Horizons, my company, publishes my book and has done so from the beginning (under the name of my old company Ad-Lib Publications and then, once I sold that, under Open Horizons). I will also be publishing the new 6th edition when it comes out in November.

2. does not have a flaw. And no one is manipulating such a flaw. Amazon simply lists the bestselling titles as they occur. If you as an author or publisher can get your book to the top of the list, even for an hour or a day, that's an accomplishment. It's not that easy to do. That's why so many people fail, even when they've taken a course or read a book or checked out my web site on how to do such a bestseller campaign on Amazon.

3. People know that becoming an bestseller does not mean that the book is a bestseller elsewhere, but people do pay attention to such sales. Foreign rights buyers, book club buyers, larger publishers have all contacted people who have been successful at creating an bestseller. And for good reason. Such an achievement, while temporary, does say that the author/publisher is willing to do what is necessary to get attention and to sell a book. That is significant.

4. I do get a referral fee if you sign up for the bestseller promotion. That link is a referral link. I'm not ashamed of getting a referral. I think the program is good. I know people who have done it successfully. I know others who have done campaigns successfully without the course. Indeed, I have told people many times that the essence of such a campaign is outline on my web site for free:

5. I know authors who knew about the details of the program and still signed up for the course -- simply because they wanted to have someone guide them through the process and help them complete all the steps properly. Some people want their hands held for them while they do something like this. I see nothing wrong with this.

6. You are not harvesting email addresses from other people's newsletter lists. When you do such a promotion, only the people who buy as a result of the promotion are added to the list. They have raised their hands and have said: "I want this book and I want all the freebies as well. Please let me get all of them." Nobody is being spammed. No list owner would buy into such a proposal. Not if they respected the members of their list.

7. Reputable publishers and editors are doing promotions all the time. They do see it as being valuable. I know many of them. They have no problem in someone working within the system to stand out. Every major publisher does the same thing with the New York Times and other bestseller lists. They do everything they can to get their books onto those lists. While getting onto such lists is harder than a one-day appearance on, these lists are just as susceptible to being manipulated -- only the cost in time and money is much higher. I know these lists can be manipulated. I've worked with several authors who have done it.

8. Obviously some people, including another ezine, have completely misunderstood what I wrote in my post a few days ago about No list owner who participates in an bestseller promotion is going to add anyone to their list who is not interested in what they have to offer. Ideally, they mail to the customer once asking if they'd like to be on their list, probably with an offer for another free report if they say yes. This is an absolutely legitimate way to add people to your list. There is nothing about spamming in any of this. And this is nothing like harvesting names or emails from a discussion list. I obviously was incomplete in my previous written statement for anyone to interpret it as spamming or harvesting. My apologies for being unclear.

9. Anyone who thinks that bestseller lists reflect what people are actually buying have no idea how such lists are compiled. The New York Times bestseller list is actually a self-fulfilling prophecy. They send participating bookstores a list of the books they think will be selling well in a particular week. They then ask the bookstores, in essence, to tell them if they are right or not. Well, 90%+ of time, of course, they are right. Most booksellers won't write in the title of a book that is selling much better, and even if they do, it won't count for much unless many others bookstores do the same. What are the chances that will happen? Not good. So the list becomes a list of the books the NYT thinks should be bestsellers -- and rarely reflects the regional bestseller lists. Check out the San Francisco Chronicle list versus the NYT list. The differences are remarkable in most cases. Of course, some books are real bestsellers and deserve to be on the list, but others are simply there because their publishers convinced NYT to add the book to their prospective list. There are a lot of things that the major publishers do to manipulate such bestseller lists.

10. I saw one bestseller promotion done on B& that allowed the book not only to become a bestseller online but also in the stores as a whole. The book remained one of the top 1,000 bestsellers at B& for months afterwards. Was the promotion worthwhile? You bet it was.

11. I really don't know what to say to people who think that such campaigns are "manipulating the system and not playing fair." Such campaigns are simply working within the system as it is set. Why is it more fair to ignore the system and beg for notice in some other way?

12. Any bestseller campaign only works if it is part of an integrated marketing plan. Doing an campaign is really worthless if you are not doing some other things to help keep your book high on the list. For most of the past 5 to 10 years, my 1001 Ways to Market Your Books has hovered between 4,000 and 10,000 in the Amazon bestseller list. Right now, it's around 100,000 only because Amazon is not selling the book anymore because I'm down to about 100 copies and won't reprint until the new edition is ready. BUT I'm selling 2-3 copies every day because I list that I have copies for sale. I get more money per book this way, but then I do have to ship them out as well. I'd rather did this, but for now it's still allowing me to sell my book on until I run out of copies of the current 5th edition.

13. Have you ever tried to get to change something in your listing? I tell you it's nigh to impossible. They list the 5th edition as published in 2001. Well, its publication date is 1998. Even worse, they have a review of my book that is completely inaccurate, saying that I said things in the book I never said. Things that contradict each other. I've written many times to try to get it corrected but, alas, no sale. Perhaps when the new edition comes out, they'll get it right.

14. I will be doing an bestseller campaign for the 6th edition of 1001 Ways to Market Your Books. And I will hold my head up high the whole time.

15. Do you think that Scholastic was manipulating the system when they embargoed any book sales until the publication date for the latest Harry Potter book? Oh, dear yes, they were manipulating the system. And it worked perfectly. They got news stories for weeks leading up to pub date, and even more news stories afterwards. Were they cheating? No way. But if you call the strategy cheating, then you'd have to call their strategy cheating as well. Both strategies manipulate the system by working within the system. Would Harry Potter have been a bestseller without the manipulation? Sure, absolutely. Would it have gotten all the run-up and follow-up publicity without the manipulation? The answer is no. They would have gotten a lot, but probably 50% of what they did. Would it have affected the sales numbers? Yes, perhaps by as many as a million copies. At least during the first few days of the frenzy, but the sales simply would have come later.

16. It took The DaVinci Code more than a year to sell 7 million copies. It took the new Potter book two days or so. Is either book a great book? In some people's minds, yes. In some others, no way.

17. Bridges of Madison Country was a bestseller for over two years. Is it a great novel? No way. Did it reflect real-life Iowa? Hardly. Did people cry when reading the book? Oh, dear yes. And the book had incredible word of mouth for such a poorly written novel. Does your book deserve to be a bestseller? Compare your novel to either Bridges or DaVinci and I'm sure that most of you can make a case that your novel is better. I know hundreds of novels myself that have been published in the past 10 years that stand head and shoulders over these bestsellers.

18. Why shouldn't these novels have a chance to call themselves bestsellers, even if for just an hour? Won't we all be richer if we discover a new book that is so much better than anything the major New York publishers publish? I've compared the books published by the larger publishers versus those published by indie publishers and, in almost every case, the books from the indie publishers are better. Better information, better written, more timely. Should we let the New York publishers manipulate the bestseller system and stand by and say "It is good" without trying to do the best we can to draw attention to our better books? Well, I won't stand still.

19. Again, any bestseller campaign should be part of an integrated marketing plan that can make use of the campaign within the context of everything else you are doing to promote your book.

20. Being a bestseller does not guarantee a good book, a good read, or anything else. Most people in the industry know this. Most of the books are the NYT bestseller list are simply promoted to that status. Few get there by other means. Some good books do make it on the list, but most of these start by being promoted by hand by good independent booksellers. But there are authors way past their prime who still get on the bestseller lists with poorly written or uninteresting reads simply because of their past history. Many nonfiction books make the bestseller list simply because of the author's celebrity (which never guarantees a good book) or because of other costly promotions. If you've watched the lists for very long, you know that the best books don't rise to the top. Never have, never will. The books that rise to the top have done so because the publisher and author promoted the hell out of the book. Is that cheating? Is that a scam? Well, gosh, it must be. How could we be so fooled all these years? And by the sacrosanct New York Times!

21. Who ever thought that actor Jimmy Stewart's poems were the best written during the year they were published? Did anyone buy into that idea? Of course, not. We know that bestseller lists don't have anything to do with whether a book is good or not. Word of mouth matters much more. When our friends and family tell us to buy a book, that's when we do it. No bestseller campaign can do more than get the book into some peoples' hands so, if they like it, they can pass the word on to their family and friends. That's what made the Chicken Soup books sell. I know because I had to buy dozens of copies for my wife to give to her family and friends.

22. Well, obviously I'm a little riled up by someone who calls my integrity into question. I see nothing wrong with working within a system to sell books. The campaign idea is not a scam, it is not cheating, it is not manipulation. It is, in a very real way, simply working within the system as defined by And, yes, announcing that your book is an bestseller does not have the power now that it once did because people know that the system can be worked -- and at very little cost in money and time. If the NYT bestseller list could be worked the same way, with very little cost in money and time, more people would be doing that as well. But right now, the NYT list manipulation does cost a lot more money and time, which the New York publishers do all the time. Both lists, you can say have been cheated, spammed, and manipulated. But apparently it's okay to do so with the NYT list as long as you spend a lot of money and time. Why is one "manipulation" worse than the other? Why is one ignored where the other scandalizes people? To me, that is what is so unfair. That's what scandalizes me.

23. Have a good day. Remember: All marketing should be fun or you shouldn't do it. If you like what you are doing and if you love your book, then whatever action you take on behalf of your book should be fun. Enjoy that.

24. Ultimately, all marketing is building relationships. No bestseller campaign will produce good results if you don't build upon them to create true relationships with your readers, your distribution partners, and the media.

25. For more on and how to sell your book there, go to

-- John Kremer, blogger
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