Last week the Wall Street Journal released an article titled, The Mystery of the Book Sales Spike. In it, they claim many authors who land on best-seller lists are buying their way to that prestigious spot. And they’re right—to a point.
It’s no secret that most authors dream of seeing their name on the coveted New York Times best-seller list, and the only way to get there is by selling a minimum of 3,000 copies in a specific category or 10,000 copies in a general category in the first week of your book’s release. Easy to do? Not if you live by any sort of ethical code. Easy to buy your way? Absolutely, for the mere price tag of about $50,000.
The strategy is simple. Pre-sell copies of your book to your contacts (at least 3,000 of them, 10,000 is better) or fill in the missing books with an order for yourself. List your book in appropriate categories that have limited competition. Hire a company that claims to have the “secret sauce” to fulfilling those book orders and submitting them to the best-seller lists as individual orders. You buy all the books at retail value plus taxes and shipping, partially with money you made pre-selling to the people from step one. Then you pay that company anywhere from $20,000-30,000 on top of the cost of your books. This company then places 3,000+ individual orders for your book through best-seller-list-approved retail chains such as mainstream bookstores. They ship all the books to you, then you ship the ones you pre-sold to your customers.
It Gets Even Easier…
There’s nothing to say an author can’t purchase those 3,000+ books themselves (skip the pre-sell step above) and store them in their garage, not having sold a single copy legitimately via NYT best-selling author rules. Sure, it pops the book up to the best-seller charts for a day or two. But this strategy has very few, if any, positive long-lasting effects, especially if the general public or media discover how an author bought their award. The fact is, most “best-selling” books that hit the NYT list in this manner disappear within a week and the author is never heard from again. Even if the book gets a few favorable reviews, unless there’s some solid marketing behind this plan to back it up and support it with future book sales, the book is going to flop.
And if an author has been suckered into this strategy and bought the recommended 10,000 books? Not only will that author be out a lot of money, but they’re now stuck with 10,000 books they need to legitimately sell or give away. Most authors get into this situation not realizing they’re responsible for those books and not having a clue how much space 10,000 books will truly take up. Think again if you think you can store them in your garage or basement.
Unfortunately the starry-eyed goal of hitting the NYT best-seller list blinds many authors to the stark reality of their future situation. The fact is yes, you can buy your way onto a best-seller list. And maybe that’s worth the initial price you pay a “marketing” company and the cost of 10,000 books. But is it worth the ongoing climate-controlled storage fees, hundreds of returned books and future orders to fill and worse yet, having to live with the fact that you just bought your way onto something others fight hard for?
Just because someone else buys their way illegitimately into an award, does that mean it’s suddenly “right” for anyone and OK for everyone? Is it OK to pay off a judge to get out of a traffic ticket? Is it OK if a celebrity pays off the ballot box holder to replace the votes so they win an Oscar? Should we even care? Discuss…