How to Make Your Book a Bestseller

I’m not sure whether it’s Amazon that has created the delusion, but it seems to be spreading. Hence the posts and articles on how to get on the Kindle bestseller list. The first and most important step is to price your book properly, and the proper price is zero. Nada. Nothing. Free. So the first question that pops into my mind is whether a book that’s being given away can be considered a bestseller. Language is flexible and ever-changing, and I have no problem with that. But there’s absolutely no way to stretch the meaning of “sell” to allow free books to be bestsellers. Sorry, but if you believe that hundreds and thousands of downloads of your book make you a bestselling author, you’ve been suckered into a delusion, and maybe it is because of Amazon.

Amazon has appropriated and shifted the meaning of “bestseller” in very much the same way that religious conservatives appropriated and shifted the meaning of “right to life.” Their purpose? To advance their own agenda, of course. What is Amazon’s agenda? To make money. The list of “bestselling” free books is like a loss leader at the grocery story. Once the customer’s sucked into the store, they’re very likely to buy something before they leave. And this loss leader costs Amazon, as close as matters, nothing.

What does this mean for the brand-new author promoting their very first book? It means that they’re giving away months of work from which they’ll make zero, while Amazon makes money from the people to go on to make purchases. In other words, if that isn’t clear enough, they’re providing content for Amazon’s loss leader.

It means that the new author’s book will fall off Amazon’s Kindle “bestseller” list when everybody who’s willing to give it a try has downloaded it. After that, the book will most likely never be heard of again. It means that when the author publishes another book, maybe six months or a year down the line, they’re basically starting over from scratch to establish themselves. And most of those few readers who enjoyed the first book and actually enjoyed it–if they even remember it– will expect the second one to be free.

The purpose of a loss leader is to lead people to something else that they will buy. If you don’t have anything to lead them to, you’ve lost–period. If you’re a loss leader for Amazon, Amazon is the only winner.


13 thoughts on “How to Make Your Book a Bestseller

  1. I think the key is having that next handful of books ready to sell. Free-pubbing one book on a traditional publishing schedule will not make loyal followers. Fre-pubbing one book followed within a few weeks with another and another…that’s an effective loss leader strategy. However, how many writers have oodles of publishable-quality manuscripts just laying around?

    Not I said the fly.

    1. Yeah, it’s really depressing to read the blog posts where people are all excited about how many free copies of their only book have been downloaded. I have to wonder how they feel when it slows way down or stops, and they don’t have another book ready to publish yet.

  2. Who? What? Okay, wait a minute. A good read doesn’t come around every day. If I pick up a free book and I like it, I’ve got no problem with paying for the next one from the same author, but there is a maximum amount that I will pay to read: friend, foe or bestseller. Hey, last year’s bestseller is this year’s bargain.

    Catwoods’ probably right about having the second book ready before the public forgets your name.

    I do have lots of friends (contacts) with Kindles, who brag about not every–never ever–paying for any books. Obviously, they have low standards and look at me like I’ve lost my mind, when I say I bought something. I suspect that they are only playing around with a new toy–not really reading any of those downloads but only amassing them in some kind of bizarre numbers game. (It’s free, so I’ll take it.) Eventually, they will lose interest and the real readers will take over the market.

  3. Hmm, you’ve shown very nicely how offering these free books suits Amazon, but creating a climate where authors are expected to give their first books away for free seems like a bad thing indeed – not to mention a great insult to the writer, who has put so many hours of work into their book and are supposed to be grateful that people will enjoy it for nothing.
    Free samples, short stories or even a free book, perhaps spun out of elements that didn’t find a place in the main work, are all a good idea, to give readers a taste for your work – but if they expect an endless supply of free fiction, the prospect for the professional writer is bleak and that must have an impact ultimately on the quality of fiction being produced.

  4. I agree. Too many writers are shooting themselves in the foot by giving away their first and only book. And they’re certainly feeding into some unpleasant expectation. But I don’t think that is going to harm writers overall. This is all still very new, and it may take some time for newer writers to start catching on to what’s in their own best interests. The real problem is that so many start publishing without knowing anything except what the supporters of “free” have to say.

      1. There’s not much I can say about it since I don’t read or write flash fiction. I’ve become kind of allergic to short form fiction over the years, preferring lots of depth. It’s probably a good introduction to your work if you’re trying to develop a readership, but it’s a niche taste, so if it’s the only thing you offer, then you’re missing potential readers. But I don’t know the context for blogging it, so that’s probably not too helpful.

        1. Thank you for your take. 🙂 I put a lot of original flash fiction on my blog to build a readership, like you mentioned. I also do it because I love writing and sharing flash fiction. I also read others’ flash fiction and find some of it inspirational and helpful to my own writing. I know it’s not for everybody. While it’s the only fiction I offer so far, I have several full-length novels in various stages of editing, which I hope to publish in the future.

          1. I think sharing your work is always a good idea. Why not stretch yourself when you have the time, and do something longer, as a kind of bridge between the flash fiction and the novels? My stories always seem to wind up novel-length, but I’ve been deliberately cultivating some ideas as short stories and novellas, for some variety.

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