Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Myth of the Bestseller

We all want to have a bestselling book.

The legacy publishing world often seems focused on bestsellers. How many copies a book sells gets it on bestseller lists, which get it even more attention. Publishers, and authors, crow about big hits, and huge numbers are repeated ad infinitum.

The self-pubbing world seems to be following a similar theme. I was one of the first people to post my self-pub numbers, and this trend has continued. I think this kind of transparency is good.

But the message is getting skewed. I've shared my numbers to show writers what is possible by pubbing on Kindle. 

I don't share my numbers to show how many more ebooks I'm selling than you are. And I've never stated that an ebook has to sell X number of copies before it is considered a success.

According to a recent article in Publisher's Lunch (no link because it's a pay site), 11 self-pubbed authors made the NYT List in 2011. I haven't read the article, so I don't know if it is slanted that 11 is an amazing number or a disappointing number. In reality, it is neither. Because that number is meaningless.

The self-publishing revolution isn't about how many bestsellers it produces. 

The self-publishing revolution is about authors--all authors--being able to make money on their work without having to jump through gatekeeping hoops.

You don't need to make the NYT list to be a success. You don't need to make $100,000 in three weeks to be a success. And the significance of this revolution isn't based on what the legacy publishing machine thinks is successful.

A writer doesn't have to sell 10,000 ebooks a day. They can sell 10,000 ebooks a year--only 27 a day--and because they keep a large chunk of the royalties, that can make a huge difference in the quality of their life. 

Even 5000 books a year, priced at 99 cents, is an extra $150 a month. Money used to pay bills. Buy groceries. Make things a little bit easier.

In the legacy world, if an author didn't make big money, they got dumped. But we writers don't have the overhead a NY publisher does. Smaller sales may not impress the legacy world, but who cares? They're bloated, unwieldy, antiquated, inefficient, and wasteful. 

Let NY try to support itself. We need much less to support ourselves. We don't need to hit a homerun like NY does. We can hit a bunch of singles and do just fine.

Bestsellers have always been an anomaly. The real story is about the midlist, and how many writers can get paid. And right now, more writers are getting paid for their writing than at any other point in history. That's freaking amazing. And it's a much more important story than one about 11 authors who made the NYT List.

Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled for those 11 authors who made the NYT list. 

I'm also thrilled for my own success.

But I'm especially thrilled for the thousands and thousands of authors who are making ends meet because they achieved their goals and self-pubbed their ebooks.

Any writer who puts food on the table with their writing is successful. It doesn't matter if it is a box of mac and cheese, or caviar and champagne. Taking your career into your own hands, giving it your best shot, striving to do better... that's the American Dream, baby.

Bestsellers? Fuck bestsellers.

Don't let me, the NYT Times, or the pinheads in legacy publishing make you feel inadequate because you aren't a millionaire yet.

You are part of a revolution that is going to change how the entire world reads. 

Your ebooks will continue to earn money, forever. 

Be proud. You are a success.