Sunday, December 17, 2006

We're All Best-Selling Authors on this Bus!

Used to be, if a book was labeled "bestseller" or an author "bestselling" (or "best-selling"), it meant something. A true bestseller sold more copies than the average book, and made the New York Times bestseller list.

And, it followed, a bestselling author was the author of a bestseller--a book that had sold hundreds of thousands of copies, maybe even millions of copies.

Assuming that making a bestseller list is a valid endorsement (and whether that's true is a subject for another blog entry), it's natural to let potential readers know (on second and third and nth printings) that the book sold enough copies to make such a list, and therefore might be interesting.

Where a new book by a previously bestselling author is involved, it's equally natural to want readers to know that this writer has sold a lot of books, since it is assumed that knowing the author has sold a large number of at least one title will motivate readers to by her new book.

But both bestseller and bestselling lost any real meaning years ago, thanks to the terms being applied indiscriminately. I've seen books that I know didn't sell 6,000 copies labeled bestselling. Sometimes the cover on a writer's first book lauds him as a "bestselling author." What?

When I was writing cover copy 20 years ago, I refused to use either term with any book that hadn't made some sort of list. Still, quite a few books that hadn't even made a grocery list ended up with something like "a new thrilling bestseller," or "Sylvanus Spatula, bestselling author of Picking a Molecule," splashed on their covers. (Editors and publishers have the final say on such things, after all.) Observing this, I learned to disregard best-anything in book descriptions. I suspect that the typical reader has done the same, even when the writer in question really has had a bestseller.

If book cover copy is going to brag, I'd much rather see it brag appropriately. Perhaps with a line like one proposed by the late Martin Caidin (bestselling author of The Six-Million Dollar Man) for one of his novels: "Forget bestselling: this book grabs you by the balls and drags you screaming through 320 pages of terror!"
The definitely-selling author of The eBay Survival Guide, Crosley: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation, and other titles.
E-mail to: Mike [insert the "at" sign here]
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

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