What Does It Really Mean to Be a Bestselling Author?

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These days, it seems like everyone is calling themselves a “Bestselling Author.” What they don’t tell you is that they achieved bestseller status, however briefly, on some narrowly-niched Amazon subcategory where hitting the top spot is more about promotion and timing than selling lots and lots of books.

So, the question becomes: Does hitting the top of an Amazon subcategory legitimately give an author the right to wear the bestseller mantle, or is that embellishing the truth just a tiny bit?

Should the title of Bestselling Author be reserved only for those authors who hit the top of one of the “Big Lists” like in the good old days before Amazon forced the industry to reconsider what the term Bestselling Author actually means?

In my mind, it all depends on how you define the word “bestseller” or the term “bestselling author.” And understand that bestseller status on any list is open to manipulation. More on that later.

In times gone by, to become a bestselling author with a bestselling book—and thereby earn those precious bragging rights—a book had to hit one of the big lists: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or USA Today.

But there are also lists maintained by the not-so-big boys: Barnes & Noble, Publishers Weekly, The LA Times, even Walmart publishes a bestseller list, though I have never seen anyone put “Walmart Bestselling Author” on the cover of a book.

[One of Us Is Lying: Karen M. McManus on Her Gripping New York Times Bestseller]

Still, I’m from Alabama. Here, that would be something to truly brag about.

To hit a big list like The Wall Street Journal you’d need to sell at least 3,000 books in the first week. To hit the big list, the mother lode, the big kahuna, The New York Times bestseller list, you’d need to sell around 9,000 books the first week.

Most authors would be happy to sell 9,000 books over the course of their lifetime, so the chances of ever hitting a big list are slim to none. Which brings me to the next point.

You probably noticed I did not include Amazon in the “list of big lists” because until a few months ago, Amazon tracked sales ranking by the hour, not by the week. Earlier this year, they launched Amazon Charts, which publishes a list (with buy buttons connected to each book, duh) to top 20 bestsellers in fiction and nonfiction, as well as the 20 most read books in both categories.

Will Amazon Charts ever be taken as seriously of The New York Times Bestseller List?

Or even the Walmart bestseller list?

Probably not, simply because it’s so easy to obtain bestseller status on Amazon.

As bestselling author Patrick Snow now famously said, “Bestseller is a manipulated term. If you want to be a bestselling author, take out a $100,000 loan and buy 15,000 of your own books from Amazon.”

It’s far easier (and exponentially cheaper) than that if you set your sights a little lower. To achieve “bestseller status” within a single Amazon category rather than overall of Amazon, all you have to do is hit the top of any subcategory for a brief moment in time, and chances are you’ll be awarded the prized orange button with the word “Bestseller”, giving you legit bragging rights to say that you are indeed a bestselling author, at least as far as Amazon is concerned.

Becoming a bestseller on the big lists is about selling books, lots of books, lots and lots of books over the course of days, not hours.

Becoming a bestseller on Amazon is about selling books (to a degree), but it’s more about picking a narrow niche, manipulating the algorithm with the title and keywords and description settings, having a jazzy, eye-catching cover, and above all, marketing your butt off to direct buyers to your book en masse so all those sales – all 10 or 12 of them—happen in a brief enough window that causes your book to bubble to the top and stay there for at least one round of the algorithm.

On Amazon, you can be #1 for an hour, and #10 the next. Still, you hit #1 and maybe that’s all that matters to you. Maybe you’re more concerned about the title than the actual sale of books.

So, the question becomes: is an Amazon bestselling book really a bestselling book in the traditional sense of the term? Or just in Amazon’s jungle?

And here’s another question: should you really care how the title was obtained and on what list, so long as it did the trick and earned you the title of bestselling author that you can plaster on your book covers, website, tattoo on your forehead, etc.?

You are an Amazon Bestselling Author. And you can brag about it until the cows come home, even if your next book is in a totally different Amazon category or niche.

Let’s be honest here. For many authors, obtaining the title of Bestselling Author is all about branding and bragging rights, not book sales. Now, with a certain degree of confidence, you can call yourself an Amazon Bestselling Author.

It’s when you drop that word “Amazon” that the waters get murky. Rather than calling yourself a bestselling author who, for a brief moment in time, sold the most books in the Amazon subcategory of health, fitness and dieting / alternative medicine / herbal remedies / essential oils, you drop the caveat and just start calling yourself “Bestselling Author”, which most people associate with one of the big lists. Your cred grows by leaps and bounds.

But are you lying? Are you misrepresenting the truth? Not really, you’re just leaving out a minor detail.

How many books a day must you sell on Amazon to reach such lofty heights? Again, that depends on the genre and the competition within the niche. The narrower the subcategory, the less the competition, therefore the better the odds of hitting the top spot if you do a decent job of marketing.

I know authors who have hit bestseller status on Amazon with less than a few dozen books sold. The title can be earned through algorithm manipulation and clever marketing, not volume of books sold over a long period of time. If you don’t believe me, do a Google search on how to become an Amazon bestseller and look at the results. Nowhere, is great writing and perseverance mentioned.

Maybe that’s why traditionalists think Amazon titles are a load of hooey.

My buddy Larry, who is a bona fide 6-time NYT bestselling author, gets angry when he hears someone refer to themselves as a bestselling author if the title was only earned on Amazon.

He is a traditionalist, meaning that if you didn’t earn the title on one of the big 3 lists (screw you B&N and Walmart), your bragging rights are convoluted at best.

The one thing Larry doesn’t understand is that mere mortals like you and me have about as much chance of hitting the NYT bestseller list as winning the lottery, so we have to take our little victories where we can.

Me, I’m a multiple bestselling author in the Amazon category of Fiction / Mystery / Mystery, thrillers, suspense / Thrillers … Phew. Try putting that on the cover of your next book and see how impressed people are.


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GLA News

Hi there writer friends!

Cris Freese, long-time editor for Guide to Literary Agents, is no longer with Writer’s Digest. Never fear, though: The great content you’ve come to expect from GLA will continue, and we’re excited to deliver brand-new agent information, query letter and proposal tips and much more. Stay tuned for news on a new GLA editor and agent expert, coming soon. And, as always, thanks for reading the GLA blog.

If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Jess Zafarris at jessica.farris@fwmedia.com.

Also, if you don’t own it already, be sure to grab your copy of the newest edition of The Guide to Literary Agents!

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Pacing Your Plot: 20 Ways to Rethink Your Narrative Pace

[Don’t miss your chance to enter the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition! Impress us with your best story in 1500 words or fewer. Deadline Dec. 15.]


Illustration from “” by Beatrix Potter. | Image Source

By Jodell Sadler, founder of KidLitCollege.org
Editorial Agent, Jill Corcoran Literary Agency, JCLA

This year, when the bells toll that shift to a new year, the study I’ve been exploring hits its tenth year. It will be ten years of studying the craft of PACING. Ten whole years. It’s not a little thing. It’s been a constant rethinking and challenging what works to stop, speed, slow, pause, or halt or flip to art within a narrative. For me, it’s the careful unfolding of story that thinks as much about what appears on the page as youdo what does not. It’s about honing the negative space of good writing. From 2007 to today, the trifecta of good pacing, the 10 P’s, and 20 tools and 10 key considerations editors and agents need in order to take on a piece of writing. This study includes over 200 moves a writer may use to enahance your narrrative pacing: using the trifecta to connect to readers, supporting the story’s theme, enhancing emotional resonance, improving your effeciveness on a word-level, adding tension, suspense, and unexpected surprise—and so much more.

Pacing Your Plot: 200 Techniques & Insider Advice for Pacing Your Fiction, forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books (2018-9), will serve up a true insider view on pacing and its importance to the writing craft.

20 Ways to Rethink Your Narrative Pace

  • Pacing is action, movement, energy—and making the stars align in your writing.
  • It means paying attention to how you pause, speed, slow, and halt story as you unfold your plot in order to enhance the emotional arc.
  • Pacing is pause and cradling your reader in a clause, at times and considering all the benefits of diction, tone, and prosody as a means to so a more.
  • Pacing moves beyond that converstation of long and short sentences to consider syllables, syntax, sentence structure and all the poetic devices we can employ at any time within our narratives.
  • It’s about challenging each word and activating verbs, ousting adverbs, and infusing your story with specificity while keeping your direction and controlling and knowing the whys behind your editing decisions.
  • Pacing helps your connect to plot in a way that emotes the meaning and adds depth to your story, scenes, and characters.
  • It’s about “authenticity” and staying true to your narrative worldbuilding and really focusing in on interiority of your characters.
  • It’s about comedic pause, breath, and white space and what we call texture and a whole lot of voice because diction matters.
  • Pacing explores sharing that joke or conversation in an opening that flips and gets re-cast at the end in a way the reader needs no insight in order to appreciate it fully— because now they know these characters well and feel like family.
  • It’s about identifying key tools that allow you more control over the moments of your story—like seeing the use of a list as a pacing tool and understanding why it works and why parenthetical asides will add to it’s effectiveness.
  • Pacing reaches ever forward, and inward, adding interiority, to the spirit of your main character, celebrating his or her worldview, and about imaginings and creativityand play—that sense of letting go.
  • Pacing invites writers to get out of their own way and do more—dare more—and perform better.
  • It’s that ever upward, getting-ever-closer, of good writing that taps into what a story demands.
  • Pacing is that subtle shifts not-so-sure-what-to-edit moments into allowing your own playful engagement to craft because you have an insider view on why you are making certain moves.
  • It’s seeing more possibilities in every move on a word level, adding rhythm and repetition at key times, and really bringing more joy to our process.
  • Pacing beckons magic and remains the best part of writing—the icing on our proverbial publication pie. It’s truly delicious.
  • Pacing offers the potential to impact your work in the best, most postive way you can imagine.
  • When we pace, we incorporated tools, challenges and play with words.
  • It’s about really see pacing as that performance quality we bringto the page of good writing when really mess with your readers’ and present them with an unforgettable experience.
  • Pacing improve scenes and moments—halts or shifts them to allow the art and visual imagery—to rise off the page; it’s that interplay of art and words.

I’ve taken my pacing material into conferences and writing events and writer’s workshops at schools and presented as an agent, secondary educator, and professor. I’ve taken my pacing study through so many different scenerios. Tested it. Challenged it. K12 writer’s workshops, high school advanced placement, dual credit courses, collegiate open campus, first-year students on up to graduate-level learners and professional writers and writer-illustrators with unbelieveable results.

I’ve shared my pacing study as I launched KidLit College, which became my way of sharing craft and paying it forward to editors and agents while helping writers and illustrators make the connections needed to publish strong, so I know this material will rock your edits. It will rock it off the charts.

Today, in honor of my ten years of studying pacing, I am offering mentorship for the first-place winners in our KidLit College Writing Contest 2017. We are on the search for well-paced manuscripts in many genre categories: fiction picture books, nonfiction picture books, chapter books, middle grades, graphic novels, young adult novels, and nonfiction proposals. Every entry receives the following: 1) Submission feedback, 2) A FREE pass to our first KidLit College webinar of 2018 ($30 value), and You can take 10% off until our Entry Deadline of December 31st at Midnight CST using the check out code: KLC-2017 (actually, you can use this code on everything on our website). First place winnners receive a free Crit-N-Chat (editor or agent chat of their choice: $125 value), Pace-Writing mentoring from me (a $1050 value), and submission to five publishers. To learn more, log in to KidLitCollege.org.


Writer’s Digest Digital Archive Collection: Iconic Women Writers

For nearly 100 years, Writer’s Digest magazine has been the leading authority for writers of all genres and career levels. And now, for the first time ever, we’ve digitized decades of issues from our prestigious archives to share with the world. In this, the first of our series of archive collections, discover exclusive historic interviews with classic women authors including Maya Angelou, Pearl S. Buck, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates and Joan Didion—and much, much more. Featuring five stunning issues spanning more than 60 years, this collection is perfect for writers, literary enthusiasts, educators and historians. Explore what’s inside.

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from Writing Editor Blogs – WritersDigest.com http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/pacing-your-plot-20-ways-to-rethink-your-narrative-pace

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 418

For today’s prompt, write a thaw poem. The term thaw can be used in relation to food and the weather. But it can also relate to people and relationships as well.

*****

Order the Poet’s Market!

The 2018 Poet’s Market, edited by Robert Lee Brewer, includes hundreds of poetry markets, including listings for poetry publications, publishers, contests, and more! With names, contact information, and submission tips, poets can find the right markets for their poetry and achieve more publication success than ever before.

In addition to the listings, there are articles on the craft, business, and promotion of poetry–so that poets can learn the ins and outs of writing poetry and seeking publication. Plus, it includes a one-year subscription to the poetry-related information on WritersMarket.com. All in all, it’s the best resource for poets looking to secure publication.

Click to continue.

*****

Here’s my attempt at a Thaw Poem:

“He Still Stands”

He still stands–or leans
upon the stick that made
his arms–even as most
other patches melted
the day before. His hat
sits in the grass beside
him next to his rock eyes
and carrot nose. No more
smile. No more mouth.
But he still stands
for now.

*****

Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He lives just north of Atlanta, where at least one snowman still stands from last Friday’s snow.

Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.

*****

Find more poetic posts here:

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from Writing Editor Blogs – WritersDigest.com http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/wednesday-poetry-prompts-418

Rethinking Protagonists and Antagonists: Parallel and Perpendicular Character Perspectives in Star Wars

[The Writer’s Digest Annual Conference offers everything you need to advance your writing career creatively and professionally. Register by 2/6 to get your best rate!]


Editor’s Note: The following article on character perspective is excerpted from Chuck Wendig’s new book Damn Fine Story. Great storytelling is making readers care about your characters, the choices they make, and what happens to them. It’s making your audience feel the tension and emotion of a situation right alongside your protagonist. And to tell a damn fine story, you need to understand why and how that caring happens. Learn how in Wendig’s book.



by Chuck Wendig

We like to think and talk a great deal about protagonists and antagonists, and that’s not a bad way to look at things, exactly. But it’s vital to realize that those two terms are purely a matter of perspective.

What I mean is this: Your protagonist is the agent of change in the story. The protagonist is the one with the primary problem in need of a solution. …

Your antagonist is the opponent of the change sought by the protagonist, and quite possibly the agent of the dreaded status quo. The antagonist is part of the protagonist’s problem, either as a complication to the solution or as a direct adversary seeking to countermand any efforts to fix the problem.

One is the hero. The other is the villain.

… [But] here’s the problem with viewing every story and every character through the protagonist versus antagonist lens: Every character believes himself the protagonist.

Parallel and Perpendicular Characters in Star Wars

Not every character views himself as the hero, exactly, but at the same time, very few characters likely view themselves as the villains. Sure, we understand that Luke Skywalker is our Good Guy Protagonist and Darth Vader is our Bad Guy Antagonist, and, clearly, that works well enough.

Consider, though, that Darth Vader does not necessarily view himself as evil. If we take the story from his perspective, he is trying to protect the stability of the galaxy from a band of terrorists. We also learn that Vader may be trying to undermine The Emperor.

In other words, Vader has his own problem, and his own solution to that problem. The Empire’s status quo has been disrupted by these terrorists, since that bun-headed jerk, Princess Whatshername, sent the Death Star plans down in a droid so they could be intercepted by Obi-Jerk Kenobi. So Vader plans to retake the plans and quash the Rebellion—but then he’s sidelined by some womp rat–killing teenager (complication!) who ends up a Jedi (complication!) and oh crap is also his son (complication, plus now he has an internal limitation given this sudden pull to the light)! The stakes are raised and changed! Vader shifts his own tactic—now it’s not about shooting down that flyboy in the X-wing, but rather, urging him to the Dark Side so that the two of them can take on Palpatine together. And wait, there’s a sister? And it’s that jerk, Princess Whatshername? Complications, limitations, stakes changing, heads exploding!

[5 Secrets to Creating a Compelling Series Character]

Point being, Vader doesn’t know he’s evil. Sure, sure, there’s that whole thing with blowing up an entire planet, but, to be fair, the rebels blow up an entire battle station. And while there’s a difference there in the magnitude of civilian casualties, it’s still worth looking at from different points of view. …

Characters are complex. They all view themselves as being right—and often righteous—in their pursuit of goals and solutions. If we expect that characters are all fully formed, each with his or her own set of problems and solutions (and challenged in turn by complications and limitations, some shared, some unique to them), then we start to see an emergent storyworld full of individuals with competing desires. We don’t see a single character moving in a single line—We see dozens, even hundreds of character sharing the same narrative oxygen, each moving with and against each other.

It’s the direction of that movement we should focus on.

In a web, some threads will connect at intersections and go in different directions. And some webs will hang alongside each other. So instead of protagonist versus antagonist, let’s talk about parallel versus perpendicular.

Parallel means two lines traveling in the same direction, with the same amount of distance between them at any point on each line. (Think two lanes of a single highway traveling ever onward. Each lane goes in the same direction, but never do they converge.)

Perpendicular means one line traveling in one direction while another line intersects it. (Think one car traveling forward, another car T-boning it at an intersection.)

[2018 Writer’s Digest Virtual Writing Conference for Novelists | January 19–22, 2018]

Luke and Leia are parallel characters. They both (roughly) share a single path, and they don’t really deviate. They are on the same side of this war. Their precise problems and proposed solutions aren’t always the same, but for the most part they are moving in the same direction.

Luke and Vader are perpendicular. Their quests are at odds with one another.

Now, the cool thing about a perpendicular relationship is that the shape it makes is a t. And when you turn the t on its side, it’s still a t. Meaning, each character can be viewed, depending on the perspective—or the way you tilt the t—as being the one whose quest is interrupted. Vader interrupts Luke’s quest, but Luke interrupts Vader’s, too.

Characters do not need to remain parallel or perpendicular to one another, either. We need to think beyond protagonist/antagonist as our outer limits for what characters can be. …

The In-Betweeners: Non-Parallel, Non-Perpendicular Character Perspective

You might wonder—is there an in-between? Is there some remixed mash-up of both perpendicular and parallel, a directional symbol that is a little bit one, a little bit the other? In math, lines are either parallel, perpendicular, or neither; can that be true for characters? And what role would that serve?

When two lines are neither perpendicular nor parallel, they still intersect, but they don’t travel along the same slope, and they don’t form a ninety-degree angle. This speaks to two characters who are not directly competing, but who are also not uniformly allied—and yet, they are headed toward some manner of intersection—each path inevitably crossing the other’s.

Look no further than Vader and The Emperor.

Both serve the Empire. Both work together, with Vader in a loosely subservient position to Palpatine. The Emperor is subservient to no one, and the papery old goblin-wizard does whatever the hell he wants. As soon as Vader makes the offer to Luke—“Join me and together we’ll totally stab that old goblin-wizard in the face” (pretty sure that’s an exact quote, by the way)—then we know that Vader and Palpatine are not necessarily on the same page. They will, as all Sith do, betray each other. The apprentice will slay the Master, or the Master will detect the coming betrayal and kill the apprentice to make room for a new apprentice (likely Luke). If you read the Star Wars novels and comics … you will see even more signs of how troubled the Vader/Palpatine relationship is. They are moving together, but still toward conflict. Neither parallel nor perpendicular—even though each wants the other to think that their relationship is perfectly in parallel.



Read more in Chuck Wendig‘s new book Damn Fine Story. Wendig is the New York Times best-selling author of Star Wars: Aftermath, as well as the Miriam Black thrillersthe Atlanta Burns books, and the Heartland YA series, alongside other works across comics, games, film, and more. A finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and the cowriter of the Emmy-nominated digital narrative Collapsus, he is also known for his popular blog, terribleminds.com, and his books about writing. Damn Fine Story is his second writing reference book with Writer’s Digest.

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