In Protest To Bestseller Lists

This is a little out of my usual posts. Please forgive.

Also, this message is more for other authors, but readers, you might notice changes to my book covers moving forward. This is the explanation but it probably doesn’t and shouldn’t matter to readers so don’t worry about skipping this.

First, I’d like to point out that I will always be grateful for readers who choose to buy my books. Your support helps me to write more. I’ve worked hard but I’ve also been lucky to catch the attention of thousands of readers over the years.

Enough so that a couple of years ago, my books started hitting USA Today bestsellers lists.

This used to be one of those few ‘measurable achievements’ that writers get told to aim for when starting out. Measurable achievements were things like landing an agent, landing a publishing deal, USA Today bestseller lists, reaching NYT bestsellers lists, getting a movie deal, etc.

The problem with these achievements: 1) it shouldn’t be a measure of success because this depends on other people, and 2) some of these are lies.

In particular, bestseller lists. When I finally got to the point to when I was reaching the lists, I was fully aware of the fact that I didn’t have any part in the actual achievement of the lists other than very minor choices in how I chose to publish. Readers chose to buy the books, which is how we all assume it should be done. So it’s supposed to be run like ‘reader choice awards’ in a way. They voted by buying the books. Whether they liked the book or not isn’t actually a thing in this, which is why it is kind of a silly thing to use as a popularity meter.

But it was what we had going for us for a while to kind of gauge where we were compared to other authors so it’s mildly interesting. But to me, I’ve always said it’s nice, but the credit goes to readers, not to me. As it should. I wrote the book, but this is like the coach getting credit for a runner racing a hundred meter dash. The reader dropped the dollars, not me. So that’s basically where the thanks and the accolades should go.

Maybe instead of saying “USA Today Bestselling Author” it should say “Voted by readers in USA TODAY ….” I don’t know. Taking the ‘achievement’ never sat well with me for that reason. It wasn’t me. It was you.

However, there’s this thing that readers don’t want to hear about and shouldn’t matter to them, but I wanted this on record as to why I’m moving forward in the way I am. No confusion.

Also, I should note, I’m not pointing fingers at USA Today for this. They’ve provided some sort of metric to a list that they happen to host, but the intensity to which authors put weight behind that list for a while is not their fault. Or maybe only a partial fault. (Remember, USA Today and New York Times are owned by publishing companies, who also publish books. So…make that connection.)

We’ve done this to ourselves long enough, authors. We all know it’s a lie and it’s even worse now more than ever. Time to let it go.

Most people probably have heard of by now that there are authors who buy their way into lists like USA Today (used to be for NYT as well before they actually reformed their already curated lists, even if you can still buy your way in and it happens all the time, but that’s another story).

But the “get on the USA Today” list game has gone too far. And…I don’t even know why this is a thing. Someone is feeding the idea that to be a cool author, you have to have one. I used to believe it. I joined a group of authors to get a NYT lists in a bundle sale in order to get that achievement when it was possible to get in such a way.

I won’t go into details, there are plenty of posts around the web about all the shennanigans going on just to get onto this list. I’ve not participated in such tactics, even when I’ve joined bundles. I made sure to do the ethical things and only ever encouraged my readers and new readers to purchase without bribes or deceit. My goals were hopes that I’d get more readers, because I love my stories and I want to share them. That’s what most real authors want. To share the stories they love with other people.

But this isn’t the case any more. Now a first time author who wrote their first book ever can literally buy their way onto bestseller lists without much effort, not even to write the book. In many cases, books are bought by ghost writers, and these are turned into bundles where collections of authors can try to get enough sales for everyone to hit the lists.

(Small side note, if you’re an author who utilizes ghost writers, fine. Maybe you did once. Maybe you use them all the time. This isn’t a protest against this method of publication. It’s about when people pay for a book, pay for a USA Today list and some repeat this several times. It must be costing people a fortune and there’s no reason for it. My point is that the illusion of the bestseller list achievement is a terrible ‘get famous’ goal that writers need to let go.)

And I’ve not had a problem with this at first, but…you know…that NYT thing…it never felt like an achievement to me. I always questioned myself putting it on books because my own works never earned it on their own (even if they can now if NYT hadn’t changed their rules about getting on the lists, where basically indie authors can’t reach it now).

And the USA Today ones? Sure it was interesting to hit it, but I also felt like…as said above, I didn’t do it. Readers did it.

And… it doesn’t do anything for you. Earned on your own or in a bundle, getting those lists doesn’t actually do a thing for you. It’s an interesting side note at parties when you tell people you’re a self pubbed author and they roll their eyes and you can tack on ‘made a best seller lists, what did you do, bub?’

That’s it. That’s pretty much the only thing it’s good for. Because the old believe that it’ll attract reader attention…nope. It doesn’t. The people who don’t know any better and assume it’s a big deal, that’s who it might impress. Because most people in this industry know the reality.

But also that feeling of being happy that my readers ‘selected me’ to be on those lists, that feeling has faded so much over the years. Not that I’m sad readers liked my books, but the meaning behind being a USA Today bestseller has completely changed.

And why continue with this lie, a false sense of achievement, continually tainted and so unnecessary?

So I’m out.

In my own protest, I’m taking USA Today and NYT off my covers.

  • To maybe show new authors how the words “USA Today” pr “NYT bestselling authors” on a cover doesn’t matter for your success. It’s not a magic thing that makes your sales go up or agents come rushing to your door for a contract. This is especially true now when everyone and their brother can buy their way in.
  • It is also not very good marketing any more. When some sales line is over used, it becomes ineffective. When literally hundreds of authors achieve this with bundles every week, they all use the words on their books, it becomes something invisible people no longer notice. And when bad books have those words, it is even worse because people learn to not trust it.
  • To protest the asinine and pointlessness of a bestseller list if half of it was bought. It makes those who wrote a good book and readers who voted with their dollars feel like we’re the butt of a joke. We like jokes but not butts of jokes.
  • And by the way, people could possibly be outselling other authors on bestseller lists but you’d never know because of the way the lists are run. It’s really a terrible metric system.
  • Your feelings of success shouldn’t be based on a system controlled by other people, but by what your own two hands can do. You’ve written a wonderful book that you absolutely love, you’re sharing it with the world. Your success feeling should be when you hit publish, not in numbers of reviews, in bestseller lists or even awards. Don’t let other people control if you feel successful or not. Just having written makes you an author. And that’s the achievement.
  • While I appreciate the inclusion of my books on their lists, if New York Times or USA Today want branding space on my book covers in the future, I’d want to feel like I’m supporting a publication whose system is worthwhile and fair that actually means something and has some value. I understand their goals for their lists is to help promote their own books, so in this sense, their curated lists are generally lies, so it’s really an unfair metric. The same goes for Amazon bestseller lists, as this works the same, weighted for their own publication and disallowing for some genres to be included in most cases.

So as for CL Stone, I’ll be taking USA Today and NYT bestseller letters off my books. You, readers, should be proud when your favorite books make it to USA Today. Because you were a part of that. Those accolades should be to thank you, not for an author to pat themselves on the back.

And do you really care? I don’t. When I see the letters now on books, I question everything about the author. Did they really earn it? And I shouldn’t! I should be happy they joined the team! I used to be. That’s pretty gone now.

Anyway, I didn’t want any rumors over why I’m taking it off the books. I may not take it off the older covers or the prints as that’s a lot of work to change but moving forward I’ll not be using it. When I do cover changes in the future I’ll change those older books to not post them. I’d rather not promote USA Today or New York Times or even Amazon on my books, and I’d like to no longer contribute to the lie of that bestseller list, or make it a sales line to encourage readers to buy my books.

Because I didn’t need those words on my books to actually garner enough sales to “make it”. And it continues to not make a difference, because it’s not on every book I’ve published since, and those books have never suffered issues with sales or if readers enjoyed them or not.

I just refuse to tout a false sense of ‘achievement’ that just… doesn’t matter. I simply enjoy writing stories I absolutely love. That is the only thing that has mattered in the publication side for me. Did you enjoy the books? That’s the bonus, and I’m very happy if you’ve found something you’ve loved with my books. And not having those words on my books won’t change what’s between the covers.