Ask any room of writers, of aspiring published authors, what their dream goal is and the bravest will admit that hitting a bestseller list is something they hope to accomplish one day. New York Times. Washington Post. Even Amazon.
I know a handful of authors who have had honest-to-goodness bestselling novels or been included in bestselling anthologies. Not one of them hit the coveted list with her (yes, all women) first, second, or even third book or story. It took years of craft-building and in all but one case, having the power of a traditional publisher doing the heavy lifting of marketing and promotions.
But there is a coach who has been claiming that she will make you an Amazon bestselling author with your first book. Guaranteed. Your very first book. Not only that — she says she’ll help you write this bestseller in one month. Yup, just thirty days from a Publishing Nobody to a Bestselling Author.
Well, sign me up, Martha, I want some of that magic!
You say magic. I say scam. Let’s split the difference.
Being a bit of a stickler for definitions and an appreciator of facts, I started to follow said coach three years ago. She sends out emails each time a group of her recent success-story students become bestselling authors. At first, she was graduating a class of eight to ten authors every few months. Of late, she’s creating ten new bestselling authors every four weeks!
This was in an email I received from her today:
“In the last few years we have published nearly 1,000 bestsellers in a row, 90% from first-time authors.”
What a king-maker!
Since I have a titch of OCD, I download all the books her authors publish on a day that they’re free. I’ve scan-read dozens and dozens of them. They’re all non-fiction books with some level of self-help quality to them. Virtually all of these authors promote coaching services at the end of their books.
All of the books are published under the same imprint so it’s dead easy to find them all with one Amazon search and to do some sleuthing about their sales volumes using a combination of Amazon data and a hand-dandy little Chrome extension called Kindle Spy.
Here’s a snapshot. It’s composite data of ten recent bestsellers. I’ve done it this way to protect the authors’ anonymity.
Title: Well-crafted self-help title that makes a promise
Publication date: April and May 2019
Average number of pages: 126 (from 87 to 236 pages)
Average number of reviews: 20 (from 2 to 41 reviews)
Average review: 5.0 (every book got 5 stars, every time)
Average price: $8.40 (7@$7.99, 2@$8.88, 1@$9.99)
Average Amazon Bestseller rank: #582,100 in the Paid in Kindle Store (from 140,648 to 791,841)
So I used the Kindle Spy extension and had a look at the sales data for each of these books.
The book that’s done the best, the one ranked 140,648, has sold 2 copies in the last 30 days. That is not a typo. Two copies. It has 13 reviews.
The book with the lowest ranking has 4 reviews and has sold zero copies in the last month.
And yet, all of these titles plus 1,000 more, have been touted as Amazon bestsellers. How is this so?
Are the authors all lying? I don’t believe they are. One of the ten books I analyzed is written by a Reverend, for Heaven’s sake. She wouldn’t lie about something like this.
And I saw the screenshot of her book with Amazon #1 beside it. Saw it with my very own, trustworthy eyes.
Watch closely, Mabel, to see how the magic trick is performed.
For comparison, I looked at the Amazon Bestseller ranks of a few books topping the non-fiction charts today to see where they sat compared to these books I’ve just been analyzing. You can do the same using this link.
#1 — A Spy’s Guide to Thinking. Pub’d May 2015. Rank: 18,519.
Woah, Nellie! Is this some kind of magic math only authors have access to? How can a book be #1 and #18,519 at the same time?
That’s a head-scratcher and best shown with pictures. And to be clear, this demonstration is not meant to disparage John Braddock. I have no idea if he promotes this book as a bestseller or not. The point is to use an actual example to expose the magic behind one book coach being able to claim that she has produced 1,000 bestselling authors in a row through her program.
The Badge of Honor
Take a step back, same book, same moment
The Reveal, Part 1
The overall Kindle Store has a #1 book. There are six sub-genres in the Kindle Store. Each of those has its own #1 bestselling title. Sticking with A Spy’s Guide to Thinking, it lives in three spots as you see above. And here’s how it found it’s way to #1, #1 and #10 in those sub-genres:
- Kindle Store > Kindle Short reads > One hour (33 -43 pages) > Self-help (#1)
- Kindle Store > Kindle Nonfiction Singles (#1)
- Kindle Store > Kindle Singles > Nonfiction (#10)
The Reveal, Part 2
Within the Kindle Store, the biggest, most robust sub-category is
Kindle eBooks which has 31 sub-sub-genres, including Nonfiction.
Nonfiction has 20 sub-sub-sub-genres, including Health, Fitness & Dieting,
which has 16 sub-sub-sub-sub genres including Counselling & Psychology which has 35 sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-genres including Psychopharmacology.
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Counselling & Psychology > Psychopharmacology.
And within that last sub-genre if you had put your book on free download today your competition to become an Amazon #1 Bestseller would be just four other titles. Because that’s how many books are available for sale in the Psychopharmacology sub-genre.
How many downloads are required to be a bestseller in a sub-sub-sub-sub-sub genre?
In this case, the books in the #2 and #3 positions each had 12 downloads in the last 30 days, and the book in #4 had zero, so it would appear that as long as this book maintains one free download a day it could spend 52 weeks as a #1 bestseller! Assuming nobody else makes their psychopharmacology book free for a few days.
Now, it won’t get the nice ribbon, it will look like this, with a #1 corner flag. But that is still a #1 Amazon bestseller. Isn’t it?
So, if you want to *guarantee* your book will be a #1 bestseller, here’s what you need to do—
First, adjust your definition of what it means to be a bestseller using either or both of the magical methods described above:
- become a bestseller in a sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-genre
- become a bestseller of a book you’re giving away for free
But wait! Do you need to pay a magician (author coach) $10,000 (her fee) to work her Bestseller Magic (scam)?
No. One hundred percent, no.
For no money at all, you could write your 80–100-page non-fiction book. Then, you really should spend some money on an editor. A ballpark, good estimate is $0.015/word… so your 20,000-word book will cost you about $300 in editing services.
Depending on what country you live in you might need to spend some money on an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) which you must have to sell on Amazon. The cost in the US is $125 for one number. It’s free for Canadians.
For under $100 you can hire someone to do your book’s interior layout. For under $100 you can get a reasonably good cover designed.
You really don’t need more than that but you certainly could invest in more or in better quality services.
The point is, there’s a huge difference between $10,000 and $625.
How much an authentic, Amazon bestselling author makes per day
If you were paying $10,000 for an honest-to-goodness bestselling book you would make back that investment in one day, so it would be worth it.
Here’s the Number One ebook for today. This title is not even available until July 1st, so these are pre-order sales numbers—and it’s pulling in over $19,000 a day, almost half-a-million a month in sales!
AGE = Number of days since the book was published
ABSR = Amazon Bestseller Rank. Note that this title is #4 in all ebook sales, but #1 in Kindle > Nonfiction
KWT = Key Word in Title
KWST = Key Word in SubTitle
DY SALES = Estimated daily sales based on ABSR
MO SALES = Estimated monthly sales based on ABSR
Why this glossary is so interesting and relevant is because the money a book makes is directly connected to not just the cover price but where it sits in Amazon’s Best Seller Rank.
Since the scammy coach helps people write bestselling non-fiction books, the rest of the data is for non-fiction titles. This book, The Lie, is the #1 Non-fiction title today, and the #4 title after the book noted above. Like the previous book, it won’t even be available to read until July 1, 2019. These sales of $13,634 a day are for pre-orders.
Going one layer deeper, next comes the top book in the sub-category of Non-fiction > Health, Fitness & Dieting. Unthinkable is making $2,694 a day and it was published almost exactly one year ago today, on July 1, 2018.
And one more level deep to the #1 title in Non-fiction > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Relationships, we find Maybe You Should Talk to Someone which is pulling in $1,351 a day.
And yet another level deep to the #1 title in Non-fiction > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Relationships > Marriage & Long-Term Relationships we find The 5 Love Languages, a book that was published 1636 days ago—that’s four-and-a-half years… $354 a day in sales is not too shabby earnings for an older title! But authentic best-sellers tend to have long tails.
I chose this set of genres since it shows that real bestsellers start their lives before they’re even in the hands of readers via presales and can remain high-earning books even when they are only bestsellers in sub-sub-sub-sub genres.
Don’t fall prey to promises that sound too good to be true and that cost more than you will ever in several lifetimes earn from the sales of your book. If you’re promised a Number One Bestseller badge, ask to see the coach’s other Number One titles and do some sleuthing. You have the detective tools now. No data magician should be able to pull a fast one on you, smart author!
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy