This month’s It’s Lit! talks about what it takes to have a novel become a BESTSELLER!
For anyone who has peaked under the hood of professional writing, what Lindsay Ellis discussed in the video will not come as a surprise. The intrigue really comes from why “bestseller” status is taken so seriously.
To some extent, the status symbol of “hey look, lots of other people like this” is a great marketing tool. It is something of a populist recommendation for those looking for their next read. And that can work. It doesn’t just work for readers, it also works for the industry, who will make decisions based off of that status symbol.
But I have a sneaking suspicion that the gloss is fading on the bestseller status.
Lots of books lay claim to bestseller status on their covers or in marketing blurbs. I first noticed it with indie publishers. While it is nice to tell people hunting for their next gothic-urban-scifi-ninja-alien-western-romance-dinosaur-erotica novel that this example once ranked #1 in that category for 5 hours one rainy Sunday last August to encourage someone to buy it, I’d have said it feels disingenuous to call the novel a bestseller.
This trick has been used with many novels. There are lots of lists in many countries, so if someone sold well after a good book tour of Upper Kent, then they can expect to hit the New Brunswick Daily Gleaner’s bestseller list. Now “bestseller” status is plastered on the cover and readers will see what tickled the fancy of some of the 100 residents of Upper Kent. Let’s not even go into how various groups will game the system to get their favourite books on those lists (selling it to a national book club works wonders…).
Which is why we see reverence being given to the big name bestseller lists, like the NYT list. But this is just as pointless. Exactly how relevant is “success” in a handful of select New York stores to a debut author from Oslo?
So while bestseller status is a nice shorthand for popular reader recommendation, it probably shouldn’t replace actual recommendations.
Here on It’s Lit!, we spend a lot of time pontificating on the high canon of books: Your Shakespeares, your Tolstoys, your… erotic beast wars fanfiction. But today we’re craving something a little lighter, a little fluffier… you know, novels you pick up for the sake of just having something quick– your beach reads, your airport novels, your Books of the Month. Books that, while you might never have to read them for a seminar or a class or that sweet clout, somehow manage to dominate most water cooler discussions about literature. We’re talking Your Dan Browns, your Jodi Picoults, your Where the Crawdads Sing, seriously, how has the book managed to be on the top of every bestseller lists for so many months, I don’t even KNOW what it’s about but it’s my mortal enemy.
These are your blockbuster books, the bestsellers of the bestsellers–And whether or not you read them or turn your nose up at them, for better or worse, they are the tent poles that support the publishing industry.
Hosted by Lindsay Ellis and Princess Weekes, It’s Lit! is a show about our favorite books, genres, and why we love to read. It’s Lit has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.