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Wednesday News: Bestseller lists gamed; Digital growth flat; Modern marriages

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leslie ben parks rec

We are always examining romance from all angles but romance isn’t really more regressive in books than it is in other forms of media or even social acceptance. I don’t think it really struck home how true this is until I read this super interesting piece on Think Progress that examines the difference between the romances of Leslie from Parks & Recreation and Liz Lemon from 30 Rock.

“Is it any wonder, then, that for her vows, Leslie told Ben “The things that you have done for me to help me, support me, surprise me, to make me happy, go above and beyond what any person deserves. You’re all I need. I love you and I like you.” There’s very little in popular culture that would have told Leslie, or that tells any woman, that she’ll find a partner who isn’t just happy to be supportive when it’s a fit, but who, when his interests and hers are in conflict, will prioritize hers, and choose and work to support them again and again. And there’s something remarkable about Ben’s declaration that “In my time working for the state government, my job sent me to 46 cities in 11 years. I lived in villages with eight people, rural communities, farming towns, I was sent to every corner of Indiana. And then I came here, and I realized this whole time I was wandering around everywhere looking for you.” Ben didn’t just find Leslie. In looking for the recovery of his own reputation, Ben found Leslie’s career instead, and made it his cause—the man’s come so far that he’s even capable of being touched by what appears to be the mysterious resurrection of Lil’ Sebastian. “

In my reading, the closest thing I’ve come to what happens between Ben and Leslie occurs in C.J. Ellison’s Vanilla on Top.  While Tony doesn’t make quite the same sacrifices as Ben, he does say something that is pretty rare for a romance hero “He gives my hand a strong squeeze. “I’ve had enough of the corporate run around. It didn’t make me happy. You make me happy. I want to support you in your high stress dream job while I do something a little less tense for a while.”ThinkProgress

One publisher, John Wiley & Sons, encourages authors to use ResultSource. Soren Kaplan, one of the authors identified in the WSJ as buying his way on to the bestseller list, blogged publicly about it. 

I played the bestseller game using unwritten rules. And as I reflect upon what I experienced and learned, it’s clear to me that anyone with enough money can potentially buy his or her way onto a bestseller list. Although most authors attempt to pre-sell books to their existing networks, theoretically, as long as one has enough money to purchase 3000 of their own books while using the tactics of a bestseller campaign to do so, they are basically guaranteed bestseller status. When I have told this same story to friends, family, and my close colleagues, most end up with their jaws on the floor.

For the record, the WSJ articles suggests you need to move about 11,000 copies to make it onto the NYT list. I wrote about the bestseller lists here if you are interested in learning more how they work.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. SAO
    Feb 27, 2013 @ 07:28:07

    So, if you use Amazon’s self publish platform and sell your books for $3, to follow the WSJ’s advice and buy 11,000 of your books will cost $33,000, of which you will get 70% back as profit, or $23,100, so it costs about $10,000 to get on the best seller list. You get $2.1 from every book sold, making you break even at 4,762 more books sold. (Ignoring all taxes).

    If your books are decent and you have a back list to satisfy people who like your writing, I suspect this is damned good advertising at a very reasonable price.

    On the other hand, if you are traditionally published and your book sells for $6, it will cost you $49,500 net of profit to buy 11,000 books, assuming you get 25% of sales. You’ll need to get 33,000 more sales to break even.

    Is it any wonder that self-published books have been popping up on bestseller lists?

  2. Jane
    Feb 27, 2013 @ 07:33:15

    @SAO: You can’t buy yourself 11,000 copies and I’m not sure that Amazon would allow you to gift 11,000 copies and have that count in your favor. But if Result Source could manage to get 11,000 people to buy your book, then yes, that would work.

  3. EmilyW
    Feb 27, 2013 @ 12:26:39

    Parks and Rec is pure awesomeness. It’s the only comedy I actually look forward to watching every week.

  4. Christine Bell
    Feb 27, 2013 @ 12:47:52

    I found that article by Kaplan very disheartening as he doesn’t touch on the actual victims of his supposedly victimless non-crime*. Readers are being hoodwinked and are parting with hard-earned money in order to procure this “bestseller” because that has long been considered the mark of a successful (and, to many readers, quality) read. (We know that’s not necessarily true re: quality, but lists DO drive sales and influence buyers). I think that’s as sucky as paying for trumped up reviews. I have no problem with people sending out free copies in exchange for an honest review, but when cash exchanges hands, it’s a whole other ballgame and is just as disingenuous as what Kaplan did.

    The second issue that bothers me on a more personal level is that Kaplan and authors like him are taking spots from authors who EARNED their place on those lists. As an author who has missed hitting a certain list by only a few hundred copies twice, this is disconcerting to say the least. And there are MANY of us who have worked very very hard to get that shiny little “___ bestselling author” tag onto our books. How do you even quantify the value of that? Clearly, it’s a pretty treasured commodity if people are willing to pay more than they earn from their book to secure it as he did above.

    At any rate, it sucks. I’m sad to see it. I’m sad Kaplan is leading readers to believe that this is a widespread epidemic. And I am sad that my book released the same month his did.

    *he even stops short of admitting wrong-doing at all and calls this playing by the “un-written” rules, but I just don’t buy that. This is nothing but justification, because I, and I’m betting more than 3/4 of the authors out there, have never been apprised of those rules. This is evidenced by the fact that the vast majority of books don’t hit lists one week and then drop into the can the next. They may tease into the top 100 and drop to what might be equivalent to the 200 spot if there was one, but they don’t go to 25 and then drop like a stone to being ranked 100,000 on Amazon and BN again. I don’t know about you guys, but I see the same books for MONTHS at a time, with shifts here and there etc. but I would venture to guess that that percentage of authors doing as he suggests is in the single digits. Maybe I’m being a rube, but that’s what I think. I see too many colleagues and friends on various lists and watch the market too closely to buy that it’s even CLOSE to prevalent as he suggests and the ones that are doing it stand out like a sore thumb many times.

  5. SAO
    Feb 27, 2013 @ 22:23:49

    Yes, it’s wrong, but it looks like it’s pretty doable and maybe, depending on how much it costs you to pay someone to buy all those books, even cheap.

    The question isn’t whether you buy your way into a long stay on the bestseller list, but if your brief appearance on the list is a cost-effective way of reaching new readers. Obviously, this will depend on the quality of your books, but I suspect a decent writer mired in mid-list might find this effective and cheap.

    It may not be common, but at what point does it erode the value of a bestseller list?

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