How easy is it to have an Amazon bestseller? Easier than you might think. On The Observer, publicist Brent Underwood details his adventure creating an Amazon bestselling book from scratch, as an exercise in debunking all the scam services out there that offer to make you an “Amazon bestselling author” for umpteen thousand dollars. Underwood’s method was surprisingly simple.
All he did was create his ringer e-book—from a photo of his own foot—and go through the Amazon publishing process. He picked a couple of seldom-used categories—transpersonal psychology and Freemasonry—set the price at 99 cents, and got the book approved. He then bought a copy, and got a couple of friends to do it, too. Boom: his book was #1 in its category, and he got the “Amazon Bestseller” logo slapped onto it.
The book was taken down a day or so after Underwood published his article—surprise, surprise, Amazon doesn’t look too kindly on fraud, even fraud to prove a point. Nonetheless, it might suggest a good approach for people wanting to make some money more legitimately. Find a less-commonly-used e-book category, write book that actually does cover that subject matter, sell a couple of copies, and there you go: a real Amazon bestseller.
It also suggests that perhaps Amazon could stand to revamp exactly how it determines what a “bestseller” is. But then, it’s not as if the “bestseller” category has ever been completely reliable or trustworthy. As I’ve mentioned before, in the ‘50s Jean Shepherd effectively manufactured a New York Times bestseller that didn’t exist by getting his radio show listeners to go to their bookstores and request a copy of the fictitious book I, Libertine. This spurred so much demand that he eventually collaborated with Theodore Sturgeon to write an actual book by that title.
And Underwood himself points out that modern bestseller lists have other problems. For example, Nielsen Bookscan, whose data is used by the Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list, doesn’t include Amazon’s e-book sales. Even though it might not be as easy to do as with Amazon’s, these other lists might also be prone to manipulation.
Perhaps the biggest lesson to take from all this is that, while bestseller lists might be a handy way to see some popular titles, they’re not necessarily always going to be an accurate survey of the most popular titles. There will probably always be room for improvement.