That Day I Decided to Stop Chasing the Bestseller Lists
I’ll admit it. I’d become a bit of a whore for it, and I’m not proud of that. After the first time it happens, it becomes a little addicting, the high of realizing you’re one of the top-selling authors in the country in a given week. Wowza. I vividly remember the day I first made the USA Today list in November of 2012. It was Thanksgiving Day, and I hit no. 99 with Fatal Deception, the fifth book in my Fatal Series. I was overwhelmed and thrilled and incredulous at how I’d gone from being one of the most rejected authors I knew to a bestseller in only a couple of years.
Then it got better.
Waiting for Love, book 8 in my Gansett Island Series, hit no. 6 on the New York Times’ ebook list in February 2013.
What a thrill, especially when you consider that book 1 in the Gansett Island Series was rejected EVERYWHERE. So not only was it thrilling to have an indie-published book in a series that no one wanted, except my readers of course, be the first to hit the New York Times list—and in the top 10, no less, it was also extremely vindicating. Like a big ole F you to everyone who’d ever rejected me—and there were a lot of rejections. TONS of them.
I remember when my next book was released after Waiting for Love hit, my dad asked me if I’d be disappointed if the new one didn’t make the Times list. YES, I said. I’ll be crushed! You don’t want to go BACKWARDS. God forbid! With hindsight, I have to wonder why I felt that way, but it took me a few years to get to the point where I acquired insightful hindsight on this issue (and yes, that’s a thing).
I went on a bit of a tear with the bestseller lists after Waiting for Love hit. Over the next three years, there were another 26 NYT bestsellers and more than 30 USA Today bestsellers along with many Wall Street Journal bestsellers that I haven’t been as good about keeping track of. In short, I was on a roll, and it felt good. It was validating and vindicating and exciting—and incredibly stressful.
EVERYTHING was timed toward making the lists—release days and release week contests and promotion and advertising. It became a mini form of MADNESS that overtook my life every time a new book was released, and then came the breathless wait on Wednesdays for the lists to be released to validate what I already knew based on the sales—my book was a bestseller. I won’t deny that it was fun to celebrate the lists, and add to the collection of covers on my wall that my agent started as a tradition for each new listing, but I’ve known for more than a year now that this whole thing was starting to get a little out of control.
And that became VERY clear to me last summer. I was on vacation with family and friends in Block Island, my no. 1 happy place in the world, where I spent an entire Wednesday afternoon at the beach stressing out about how my new Fatal book would do on the bestseller lists. The New York Times list came out an hour later than usual. It was email refreshing TORTURE. And guess what? The book did great on the lists and it sold a lot copies. It was all good, but looking back, I HATE that I wasted that glorious summer afternoon worrying about something that does not matter in the grand scheme of things. You hear me? It doesn’t MATTER!
That incident marked the start of what became a tidal wave of “What the hell am I doing?” thoughts that also centered around the readers who regularly ask why I and other authors don’t release books on Fridays or Saturdays when so many people are off work and able to curl up with a new book. They asked why my release week contests always ended at midnight on Saturdays. My answer to both questions was the same—everything is geared toward the bestseller lists. So here I was gaming a system that doesn’t really matter (in the grand scheme of things) at the expense of my customers—you know the lovely readers who actually BUY my books! *#&^@^ MADNESS!
I’d begun to seriously think that the madness had to stop. And then something else happened.
Earlier this year, in a move no one saw coming, The New York Times eliminated its ebook list, among many other lists that were cut. I want to say, for the record, that I totally disagree with this move, and it infuriates me that the NYT has basically given the shaft to authors who are KILLING IT on the digital side, which we all know is the future of the book business. They also eliminated the mass-market paperback list and made some other questionable moves that left a lot of people scratching their heads and wondering why. Now we’re hearing that USA Today is considering eliminating its bestseller list, too.
I feel for the scores of authors who had the NYT list as a “someday” goal. I hate that it has become almost impossible for authors who are nearly 100 percent digitally published to make the NYT list, even if they sell 25,000 books in a week. I always thought USA Today is a much bigger deal because it highlights ALL the books sold in the country in ALL formats on one list. Because it takes a lower number of sales to score a spot on the back end of the list, USA Today has been viewed by some as somewhat of a stepchild to the vaunted NYT. But I think most authors would agree that hitting the top 50 on USA Today is a pretty big deal when you look at who else is with you on that list on any given week.
If you are an author who is yet to hit a list and that is your goal, I want you to know that I fully support your goals and aspirations, and I understand them completely. I understand the need for that feather in your cap because I once had the same need for the feather. I am rooting for ALL of you to get there someday if that is what you want, and I will always celebrate my author friends and colleagues who make the lists.
I’m sure some of my fellow authors are rolling their eyes and saying it’s easy for me to say “take this list and shove it” because I’ve been there, done that 30+ times. You are RIGHT. That is true. And everyone should do what’s best for his or her own career. I’m just saying that it’s no longer in MY best interest to make bestseller lists a priority—from a business OR a mental health perspective. If I’m going to make myself crazy over something, at the very least it ought to be something that really matters, like, you know, writing more books.
So while I fundamentally disagree with the NYT’s decision to eliminate the ebook list, in a way it was kind of a relief to know that I would no longer be chasing that goal with every new release. I’d been hovering on the edge of letting go of the madness, and then they made it easier for me to take the leap into the land of I DON’T CARE anymore!
Being a bestselling author is like being an Olympic medalist or an Oscar winner. After the first time, you are ALWAYS a NYT or USA Today bestseller, whether you make it once in a lifetime or a 100 times. So I’m taking my letters and going home. No more chasing the lists. No more gaming the system. No more losing my mind trying to get the highest possible spot on lists that readers legitimately do not care about. Most of them wouldn’t know where to find the lists online or in the papers. Chasing lists becomes an ego thing. It does not matter to readers. At all.
So I’m putting my ego in a box and sticking it on the shelf. I’m putting my readers first, which is what I should’ve done all along. If they want books on Fridays, I’ll give them books on Fridays. If they want release week contests that last two weeks rather than five days, I’ll give them that, too. After all, they’re the ones who keep me in business, and they need to be more important than my damned author ego or need for validation, which I can get every time I look at my sales dashboard or reader reviews.
I have a few more indie titles scheduled to release on the usual Monday or Tuesday, but after that, watch for some Friday releases—maybe even a surprise release or two here and there. I’m going to shake things up and focus entirely on giving my readers what they want when they want it. I’m going to celebrate EVERY single sale, regardless of whether it contributes to elevating me onto a bestseller list, and that’s what I should’ve been doing all along.
Thanks NYT, USA Today and Wall Street Journal. It was a nice run. But I’m breaking up with you now. If you choose to continue our relationship in the future, I’ll be very thankful and appreciative. But I’m not going to do naked backbends in public to get you to notice me anymore. I’m done with that nonsense.