Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bestsellers on crack, bloggers on speed

Writers love to give themselves labels, and bookstores love to use labels, and publishing industry types love labels. It's easier for slotting if something is "mystery," or "horror," or whatever happens to be trendy--like all the paranormal romance authors who used to be horror writers but are now writing "urban fantasy." Book bloggers also tend to have their favorites, and seek their own brands and communities through blog hops. Same stuff, different label.

No matter how trendy, most writers just want one label: "Best selling." It's practically a category of its own, and usually comes before any genre delineation, such as "best-selling romance writer" or "best-selling historian." Writers of best sellers often must cross genre boundaries to break out big enough to get the title. And it used to be easy to determine who was a best seller, because Publisher's Weekly and the New York Times told us. And book bloggers act in concert because they have taken on the role of newspapers in reviewing and promoting books. Naturally, they are going to have the same bestsellers as everyone else.

However, those numbers have never been "floor-level data." They are based on store orders, which is why books show up as bestsellers before you ever see them in the stores. It's based on units shipped more than units sold, and why a book produced, marketed, and shipped as a best seller rarely fails to be one. Even in the era of e-book bestsellers, the numbers are based on major publisher numbers and fails to account for all the independent outlets and all the books that don't even have tracking numbers. Amazon doesn't require a number for its e-books, and only the author and Amazon know how many units sold. Amazon does a great job of constantly updating data, so the actual, real-time bestseller list is based on the previous hour's sales.

I've hit #1 in the "Ghosts" category with three books, Speed Dating with the Dead, Drummer Boy and The Red Church. I've also hit #1 in the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy list with The Red Church. Yet I hesitate to call myself a "bestseller" simply because that word has taken on loaded meaning in the industry and I feel like I would be corrupting its intent, even though it is literally true--no bestseller stays a bestseller forever, so it keeps that label merely from having once been a bestseller. Even if only for an hour. And some of the push is from the generosity of passionate book bloggers.

However, in lining up blog stops for the "90 Days of Nightmares" tour, I have started pointing out the books have hit #1--partly to overcome the perception that because these are basically self-published (through our collective press), they are somehow less legitimate and I am not a "real" author. Even though Amazon doesn't lie about such things, as far as I know!

So I use the stats, and I mention I used to publish with a "real" publisher. I promise you, based on sales and reader responses, I am more real now than I have ever been. I've been very lucky to find some passionate bloggers taking chances on indie or newer authors, without waiting to be told what's cool. I think the wheel is turning, and more and more book bloggers are going to help guide the indie ship--and, sooner or later, the indie ship is going to be the transatlantic liner. Bloggers have incredible power, and they haven't yet realized it beyond the nice cases of new books that show up every week from the big publishing houses. Some, like Kindle Nation Daily, Red Adept and Kindle Obsessed, are already riding the next wave and will become influential gatekeepers of their own.

Right now, it's still backwards--bloggers are sent new books and pretty much told what book to review when, which is why so many bloggers are reviewing and blogging about the same book at the same time. And, under the current industry system, it makes sense, because the publisher needs to push that book for a week to make room for the next bestseller. But when shelf space doesn't matter, and books are available 24/7 all around the world forever, a different type of ripple can form.

And that's where progressive bloggers are going to become the new gatekeepers, possibly more powerful than agents and editors (and, possibly in 5 to 10 years, more influential than the major buyers for the big chain bookstores). All it takes is a willingness to read and review a book for its own sake and with no promise of free "product" and giveaways. Bloggers, you're going to create the next generation of bestsellers! I think that is a precious gift and a beautiful service to literature. Indie bloggers will shape the indie scene in unforeseen and magical ways.

Now, time to go off and try to hit #1 again! Being a bestseller isn't what it used to be.

And book blogging hasn't even begun to be what it's going to be.



Monster A Go-Go said...

"Writers love to give themselves labels, and bookstores love to use labels, and publishing industry types love labels. It's easier for slotting if something is 'mystery,' or 'horror,' or whatever happens to be trendy...No matter how trendy, most writers just want one label: 'Best selling.'"

How about "Hack", or "miserable failure"? Just a couple of "labels" for writers you forgot to mention (but don't worry, dear boy, I wasn't inferring that you were either...or was I? Ha Ha Ha!)

I was just stopping by and thought I'd say HELLO! Cheers!

author Scott Nicholson said...

Oh, I am proudly wearing the label of 'the world's laziest hack." I have the copyright on it!


Rabid Fox said...

I'm not sure if, as a book blogger, I'll contribute to a novel becoming a bestseller. Though, I certainly have read a couple of relatively obscure titles in the past year I would gladly champion.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Rabid Fox, you never know--one person might see a good review, tell five people, and it goes from there. My new motto is, "We're all in it together!" Thanks for all you do. It's an incredible service.


Kindle said...

yea! Book bloggers. I grew up defiant, I never wanted to read what was shoved in front of my face by teachers, and as I get older I find myself doing the same thing with list like the NY times. I don't want to be told what to read by some overpaid employee that read 70% of a book, writes the review and then leaves it up the his/her editor to adjust the review how they see fit for advertising or political purposes. There are millions of books out there that have a better quality of writing, their stories are far more original and the people that are telling you "hey this is a good read" are avid readers that love to read for the pure love of reading... not readers that are reading with a money hungry editor 3 feet behind them.

Ok.. that was a hell of a rant and I don't really know if it made sense, but I agree with you. One day it won't be publishers driving the field, it will be the stay at home mom with a well put together blog and lots of word of mouth.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Kindle, we all have a role in that--"word of mouth"! People can also publicly take on the role, too. Just as anybody can move to New York and call themselves an agent, anyone can throw up a blog and be a "critic and reviewer." I'm fine with that!