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Agony Editor: Choose honesty over ‘bestseller’ claims

Dear Agony Editor,

Let’s say my book makes the top 10 in one of Amazon’s bestseller sub-lists for one week. And let’s say it’s in the category of Essays and Correspondence within the Literature and Fiction category. Can I proclaim my book a bestseller?



Dear Hopeful,

While having “bestseller” included in your book’s description might seem like a surefire way to generate fame, fortune, and, most importantly, private helicopter charters to and from your readings, I think you need to exercise a bit of caution before tossing the word “bestseller” around. 

Consider the potential conversation with a prospective reader:

“I haven’t heard of your book before.”

“I’m surprised. It’s a bestseller.”

“I don’t remember seeing it on The Times’ list.”

“It’s actually number eight in the Dark Humour category within the Humour and Satire category within the Literature and Fiction category on Amazon.”

The bestseller status loses a bit of sparkle by the time you reach the end of your sentence. While I understand the temptation to call your book a bestseller, context is everything. Sadly, not all bestseller lists are created equal: the important question is not so much whether your book is a bestseller as who considers your book a bestseller. 

I don’t mean to minimize the success you’ve had in cracking a sub-list. Break open the ginger ale and celebrate whatever headway your book makes. It’s a competitive Dark Humour book world out there. But consider how you represent yourself to readers. Not only do they need to trust that they’re in good hands while reading your work, they also need to trust that you’re representing yourself authentically. That means not overselling, not overpromising, and not proclaiming something that turns out to be a wee bit deceptive once they start to scratch the surface. 

Lastly, it might be worth considering what’s really behind your question: a desire to sell books or a desire to stroke your ego? Believe me, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional ego stroke. This is the publishing world, after all. But perhaps you want to focus on what’s more important – establishing an honest and authentic relationship with your readers, one book at a time.

By: Brian Francis

August 10th, 2022

1:24 pm

Category: Opinion

Tags: ,