Bestseller Madness

(In which I get cranky. Be warned.)

Every day once in a while I get a bee in my plaid bonnet about one thing or another, and for some reason, something has struck me today about bestellers.

Or rather, about people who tout themselves as bestsellers.

I don't mean the NYT or USA Today bestsellers. That's a big deal, and frankly if I made one of those lists I'd probably redecorate my house with photocopies of it. I'd get a personalized plate for my car, I'd get t-shirts made, I'd get it tattooed on my ass. Well, okay, I wouldn't go that far, honestly. But you get what I mean. Those lists are a huge deal, in terms of money and prestige, and making one of them, even the extended lists, is something to be proud of.

But am I the only one who is immediately suspicious when I see someone of whom I've never heard refer to themselves as a "Best-selling author"? Or, even better, "Internationally best-selling author"? (oops, I actually typod that first one to say "Vest-selling author". Which puts a totally different spin on it, doesn't it?

Actually, I get a little twinge when I see "author" anyway. I don't know why. Maybe because it seems the siren call of the vanity press is "Be a published author"? And it seems like every vanity- or self-published writer I've ever met is very careful to describe themselves as such?

I say "writer". I like it better; it sounds like work. It makes me think of rolled-up sleeves and green eyeshades and empty bottles of bourbon. And while I prefer the bottles full, anything which involves bourbon is good for me.

Anyway. Here's the thing about 99% of best-seller lists out there: Nobody cares that you're on them.

I don't mean to downplay it as an achievement, honestly I don't. It is gratifying to be on a list. It's gratifying to be, as I was, the #1 Fantasy bestseller on Fictionwise for two weeks (see? Even I am not immune, although my tongue is firmly in my cheek, which looks kind of rude to be honest.) But the difference is, I don't think being #1 in Fantasy on Fictionwise means I have the right to change all my blog headers to "National Bestseller" or "Nationally Bestselling Author". I was pleased to see it, it was kind of neat, as Fictionwise moves a lot of ebooks. I blogged about it here because I needed a topic that day.

But I didn't think it meant anything, really. I didn't think, and don't think, that it gives me some kind of authority.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm for the lists; I think that little sense of achievement can be really nice on a tough day. I think it's great when bookstores track their bestsellers, I think it's great when publishers do, although EC doesn't and I actually like that too.

And sales are important, obviously. But I wonder--and this is the ultimate point of this post--if all the lists springing up everywhere, in every different permutation you can imagine, doesn't put undue pressure on writers, or encourage readers to buy things they ordinarily wouldn't? If Bestseller Madness isn't infecting us all to the point that we can't think straight anymore? If people don't build those lists up to the point that failing to make one leads us to think our careers are over before they begin? If there isn't some loss of perspective involved?

What about you? How much do those lists mean to you as a reader? If you're a writer, what are your thoughts on them?


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