Not long ago my wife called me from the bookstore and asked if I wanted the latest book by one of my favorite authors. I said sure, this author had never disappointed me in the past and his books are prominent on the shelves of our home. He’s a New York Times bestselling author many times over and movies have been made from his story’s. Later on that night I eagerly sat down and started reading.
The book was horrible.
I’ll say now that I’m not a reviewer of books. I also have a policy of not blurbing for other writers. I thought long and hard on these subjects when the whole sock-puppet scandal happened and ended up writing my views down on my website for all to see. If you review them you’ll understand why I’m not naming the author or the title of the book here. When it comes to reviews I always remember the immortal words of Jeffery Lebowski; “Well, that’s just like, your opinion, man.”
But this book was bad. Not just compared to his previous works either. It was bad in every way. Plot, structure, character development, believability. All of these things were lacking. By chapter five I already suspected that the author hadn’t written it himself. By chapter eight I was sure of it. The book just got worse, plodding along without any real goal in sight other than to fill the pages with words. It was far from being a hit, I would describe it more of a miss. I had to force myself to finish it. When I finally did so the next night it got tossed on the floor next to the bed.
This drew a questioning look from my wife.
Let me explain. We have an extensive library in our home. 50+ linier feet of floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with hardcover tomes gathered over the span of many years. The last time we moved they occupied over 80 boxes. To say we are book lovers is an understatement. A book on the floor is very unlike us.
I voiced my thoughts. I felt cheated. I felt duped. I felt robbed. The author and his publisher had taken my money, and worse yet, they had wasted my time. It was a betrayal by someone I had once trusted. I angrily proclaimed that the book would never sit on our bookshelves and the author would never get another dime of my money. The book would go to Goodwill or the trashcan before I’d bring myself to give it to a friend.
“I don’t understand, it was the number one bestseller.”
It was late. I was tired, pissed off, and it wasn’t the right time to explain the inner workings of the publishing world. She was reading a book as well and I didn’t wish to pull her out of it. I muttered an answer and rolled over to turn off the light. The last thing I saw was the book on the floor, its bestseller sticker mocking me. I fell asleep cursing the publishing industry, sock puppets and the damn bestseller lists.
But I woke up a new man.
I felt different. Laying there watching the ceiling fan spin I tried to figure out what had changed. I felt good, yet also bad. How did this happen?
I rolled out of bed and promptly stepped on the book I had tossed aside the previous night. As I stared at it I realized what had changed.
I had lost my conscious! My moral compass was spinning. I had no scruples, no thought of right vs. wrong. They had all been replaced with one word; WIN.
I was now evil.
Kicking the book aside I stomped my way to the library by way of the kitchen. Coffee in hand I sat down at the computer and pulled my current WIP up onto the screen. It was finished. It was ready for release.
It was going to be a bestseller.
How did I know?
Because I was now evil and it was what I wanted, that’s why! I knew how the system worked. Couple that with my new evil status and I only needed one more thing.
I logged onto the internet and traveled to my bank. After doing some quick math I opened a new business account and transferred $25,000 into it from my kids college fund. I named my new business E.M. (Evil me) Promotions and gave it an anonymous PO Box for an address.
Rubbing my hands together in glee I let out my first evil laugh. The dog ran for cover.
Since I’m self-published through my own company I can’t deploy the methods used by the Big Publishing Houses. I would need to attack from a different direction. Fortunately, I have my company set up through Lightning Source and all my books have their own ISBN. This means that every purchase handled by them would be tallied and reported as a sale. I wasn’t aiming for the e-book bestseller list, I was going old-school. Paperbacks and Hardcovers. A forest of dead trees would have to be sacrificed to reach my goal. So be it! My new evil conscious thought nothing of it.
I spend a few hours online setting up a couple dozen new book clubs, each of them partial to my particular genre. I purchase a web domain for each one and throw up static web pages for each of them. I copy and paste content from other clubs until the websites look legitimate enough to pass a casual look. It didn’t really matter as they will all disappear in a month anyway.
I let out another evil laugh as I reach for the phone book my wife insist on keeping. Pulling random names from the white pages I create a few hundred sock puppets. I give each of them their own G-mail account. So easy and best of all, absolutely free!
Clicking further I visit Amazon, Goodreads and a few other review sites. I copy, paste, edit and substitute my book title into other peoples work giving myself glowing reviews from each of my sock-puppet readers. Some of them are virtually identical, but who cares? It’s not like anyone is going to check them all!
I ignore my empty stomach and drive on. Being evil requires commitment! Food is for the weak! Its hard work producing a bestseller!
According to a recently confessed author, it takes about 3,000 sales in one day to make the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. Why not the New York Times or USA Today? Because it doesn’t matter what list it is as long as it says bestseller in the title. I only need to make the list once and I can proclaim myself a bestselling author forever! Hell, it’ll be my new first name!
“Hello, I’m BESTSELLING AUTHOR Randall Wood, nice to meet you.”
It’ll go on every one of my books and in every piece of promotional material I produce from this day forward. Those two words are all I want. Nobody ever asks how long you were actually on the list, they only need to know that you were on it! So what if it was only for one day?
So how do I get those 3,000 sales in one day? Easy. All I need is money.
My book cost $6.25 to produce through Lightning Source.
6.25 x 3000 = $18,700. No problem. My kid can always go to Community College.
I hop on the Lightning Source website and lower the price of my book to the cost-to-produce it. Then, out of the goodness of my heart, my new company (Evil Me Promotions) visits each of my new book clubs and graciously orders them a hundred or so copy’s apiece. I soon have over 3,000 books pre-ordered. I then arrange for the Post Office to forward the shipments to my own address. Mission accomplished.
Too obvious? Maybe. Better do a little more camouflage.
Since I am everyone at my book clubs the books are instantly read by my sock puppets who all immediately write reviews. My puppets start uploading and I soon have a 4-1/2 star rating on every review site I can think of.
But wait, there’s more! With my best evil laugh yet I print off receipts for all my purchases. After all, they’re ALL TAX DEDUCTABLE. When the books arrive I’ll stack them up in the garage and sell them on my own website ( for a nice markup of course). Should be easy as the price on my website will be just under the list price at Lightning Source. (Did I mention that I raised the price back up after I ordered the 3000 books for my clubs? Sorry.) Maybe I’ll give a few away and write-off the cost as a marketing expense. Either way, I should re-coop my expenses fairly quickly.
The phone rings, rudely interrupting my evil quest. But wait, its Lightning Source calling. What’s that? The word has gotten out about the pre-orders? More are being made? I’m shocked! You have enough to warrant an off-set print run? The price to produce a book will drop to $5.25? You just need my okay to do so?
Sure! Why not? Print away!
I manage to hang up before another evil laugh escapes me.
I click my way to my own website and make a blog entry announcing the new book and its release date. I backdate it a month. What? You missed it? I forgot to mention it in the newsletter? I am so sorry. Still time to pre-order if you hurry!
Tweet, Tweet, Tweet
I check the time and upload the e-book to all the distributor sites. I set the release date for one day after the paperback comes out. I drop an announcement here and there on the web and update my authors page at Amazon. When the book debuts on the bestseller list I should rack up some nice e-book sales as well. Maybe I’ll drop the price to $.99 and have my sock-puppets order the e-book too. May as well hit the e-book bestseller list at the same time. Since all those paper books are on their way to me I go ahead and put the book up for sale on my website too.
I lean back in my chair and look at my backlist sitting on the shelf. I mentally insert the words “Bestselling Author” on the covers. I’ll have to call my cover artist and have him make the updates. Just another tax deductable expense. No problem. Those two words on the cover of every book I’ve written, as well as every book I’ll ever write in the future, are worth their weight in gold, right? I’m sure the Big 5 spend a hell of a lot more to do this then I just did. I’ll bet they spent 100 times as much to get that crap I read last night to the number 1 spot and keep it there. I just did it for a fraction of the cost! I may hit the bestseller list for only one day, but it’ll make me a bestselling author forever! Victory is mine!
Another evil laugh escapes me as my son arrives home from school.
I keep laughing. I can’t stop.
“Dad? You okay?”
He has no idea I just sent him to community college. I laugh louder.
The Dog cautiously ventures back in and they both stare at me while I laugh.
I open my eyes. The boy and the dog are both inches away from my face.
I sit up. I’m still in bed. The sun is coming up.
I’m not evil.
Sigh. “Yeah, son. I’m fine.”
“Are you gonna work on your book today?”
I look out the window. It’s a beautiful day outside.
“Na, how about we just go to the beach instead?”
There are some out there who think that this can’t be done.
They are wrong.
Nothing I’ve described here is impossible. In fact, the majority of it is shockingly easy. With enough money and some internet savvy, any author can buy his way onto the bestseller list. Depending on the targeted list the number of sales needed will vary, but it can be done.
It is being done.
The author I described has gone from 1 book a year to 4 in the last six months. New work ethic? I think not. All of the books have been instant bestsellers. The publishers simply employ ghostwriters to increase production and then manipulate the ordering process to ensure that every book is a bestseller right out of the gate. The authors established brand name does the rest.
The coveted bestseller list has become even more of a joke than it was previously. I feel it’s more of a BS list now. Of the lists that are out there the USA Today list holds the most credit as it is compiled using a much different method than the other popular lists. By its nature it is unfortunately still subject to manipulation from people who know how to do such things. It’s just the way things are.
The only salvation we may have are the changes being made due to the disruptive innovation now taking place in the publishing world. As the power and influence of the big publishing houses diminishes, and the indie authors rise in number, I would hope that a better bestseller list would rise up and take the place of the current options. We can only wait and see.
By the way, the book on the floor got kicked under the bed. It can stay there forever as far as I’m concerned.