Meaning of the title “Bestselling Author”

Is it ethical or truthful to claim the title of Bestselling Author when your works have only been on the list in anthologies?

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So, I’ve sort of gone into the struggles I’ve had as a reviewer, but something recently came to my attention.  There is something happening on the author’s side of things.  I’ve seen quite a few authors mention that they are a “USA Today Bestseller”.  However, a friend pointed out that if you search for them in the archives, they’re not there.  So what happened?

Simply put:  They contributed to an anthology that made the list.  Now, this is pretty awesome…to see something you contributed to make that list.  But what if 1/3 of the authors on that list were ALREADY on a bestseller list?  What if 2 or 3 of them were actually New York Times Bestselling authors?  Does that mean that you can claim to be a bestselling author, when chances are the anthology sold as much as it did due to the presence of others’ works?  Let’s break down the numbers.

To become an Amazon bestseller, you must, simply, outsell the other books in your genre.  It’s pretty straight-forward and has up-to-the-minute updating.

The USA Today bestseller list pulls from a variety of sources, including amazon and kindle, Target, and kobo, to make a compilation of e-books and print books that doesn’t weigh heavily toward print books.  You can look on their website to see where they pull their sales information from.

The NYT bestseller list deals primarily with projected sales.  That is, the 20,000 books that were shipped out to book stores all count, even if they don’t get sold until 5 years down the road on the bargain shelf.  They also, basically, don’t look at ebooks.  They have updated to include a “print + ebook” list, but you’d have to have truly astronomical sales in order to break into that without print books.  Or get together with 30 of your closest author friends, some of whom have already made the lists, and make an anthology.

And that’s where I have to ask the question.  How truthful is it to say you’re a USA Today or NYT Bestselling author, when you are only on the list because the readers of your books + the readers of 30 other authors made it possible?  I decided to go digging around in Amazon bios, just to check out and see what authors are saying on their bios.  Then I dug around on USA Today’s site (they have a searchable database) and used my Google Fu to unearth The New York Times’ archives to see just what authors seem to think.

Of the authors 25 authors I looked at, 21 have either an anthology or an individual work (or both) on the USA Today Bestseller list.  Of those 25, 4 are on the New York Times list.

Let’s look even further into this.  Of the 21 authors who have a work on the USA Today list, only 6 of those made it there in an individual (or co-authored) work.  That’s a little over 1/4.  Of those 21 authors, 6 did not make any claim in their Amazon bio toward being a USA Today Bestselling Author, and two of those who didn’t claim were actually the ones with individual works on the list. Now, of the 4 on the NYT list, 1 was an anthology and 3 were individual.

But let’s go back to the USA Today list.  15 out of 21 authors are only on the list in anthologies.  Many of those anthologies are are 20+ authors.

What does the title of USA Today Bestselling Author really mean, then?  They are, technically, on the USA Today list.  So they are, technically, best-selling authors.  But if they can lay claim to that title, then if one anthology a week makes the list, then there are not 150 best selling authors that week, but 169.  It explains why people say it’s really easy to get on the list.  I am still working through what I think about this, as I think that it’s definitely an accomplishment to get on the list.  But to use it as an advertising bonus (because that’s essentially what the title is) when you have not made it on the list through your own works alone…I’m not so sure about that.  What do you think?

Do you think that it’s ethical for authors to claim the title of “Bestselling Author” when their own individual works have not made the list?

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