Amazon Best-Seller or Amazon Bull***?

Amazon Best-Seller status is a popular carrot for all authors. I get it. However, let’s be real. A little while ago I received an email from one of our authors. It was a familiar email. An email I am receiving at least 2-3 times a month. ‘An influencer I know just launched her book and it’s a #1 Amazon Best Seller in less than 24hours. How can we do that?’

Authors crave best-seller status to improve their marketing and increase their ego. But the much sought-after seal of approval stating you’re an Amazon Best-Seller is nothing more than a momentary gasp that lasts 10 seconds, is not going to warrant any actual longevity in your promotional efforts and, for lack of a better term, complete rubbish.

It’s a promotional tool that some authors like to play on unwitting readers, or worse, amateur publishers try to sell you the service, ‘If you publish with us, we will make you an Amazon Best-Seller.’

Amazon Best-Seller Fraud
Amazon Best-Seller Fraud

‘I’m an Amazon Best-Seller!’

The statement from an author that they are an Amazon Best-Seller is meant to make you think their book is selling like hotcakes. But, if you look into it, what they are really saying is that their book was temporarily #1 on some abstract bestseller list that Amazon makes up. Amazon has hundreds of obscure book categories and a book that is #1 on these lists isn’t anywhere near the number of books needing to be sold to truly become a #1 bestseller on Amazon or any other best-seller list. Secondly, Amazon only accounts for approximately 40 – 50% of total book sales in the USA, depending on the genre and format, and even less on a global level.

Yes, it’s true that Amazon is well within the top five online bookselling channels in the world, but telling someone you’re an Amazon Best-Seller is like telling someone you’re the fastest swimmer in your workplace or writers group. It’s not an official statistic and is based on theoretical data that isn’t reliable.

Let’s not be naive. It is common knowledge that Amazon updates each book’s sales ranking on the hour. Therefore, a book that is #1 today doesn’t mean it will be #1 tomorrow. For all we know by the time you finish reading this, it may have dropped to #2563.

A Legitimate Best-Seller

The best measure of a legitimate bestselling book is the ability for it to sell thousands of copies consistently over a period several days and weeks. In reality, there are only a handful of bestseller lists that carry any real merit. These lists are based on weekly sales data captured from a wide variety of major retail bookstores across your selected territory. The most highly regarded lists in the world include the The New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly all of whom receive the majority of their data from Nielsen’s Book Data – not from Amazon. There are two principles that apply to all of the best seller lists; 1) velocity of sales, and 2) sales reports. Let’s look into these for a moment.

Legitimate Best Seller Lists
Legitimate Best Seller Lists

Velocity of Sales

In this case, velocity of sales means the amount of book sales within a specific period. Selling 5,000 books in a calendar year is a great result, but it’s not going to get you on any of these real bestseller lists. However, if those sales were achieved in a 7-day period then this is a different story.

This is the critical component that you must understand for bestsellers lists. It’s not about how many books you sell; it’s all about how many you sell in a given time. The time frame changes depending on this list, but the faster your velocity of sales—meaning, the more sales you pack into the shorter period of time—the better. This is why setting a release date and concentrating your marketing around that date is so important to hitting a best seller list. Setting a release date creates a manageable, self-contained window to concentrate your marketing efforts on, and use them as a mechanism to create this velocity of sales. Hence why at Ocean Reeve Publishing, we focus our core marketing efforts on pre-sale, bulk ordering, and launch.

Reporting Sales

Not all book sales actually count for all best seller lists. Right now you might be thinking… that’s not fair. Well, it’s the truth as there is actually no list that measures all book sales from all sources. So in reality, there is no such thing as a “real” bestseller list.

Each list has their own method of measuring book sales, and each list only counts a fraction of outlets that sell books. Our wonderful Amazon Best-Seller listings only take into account the books sold through them. Even a legitimate best seller list like The New York Times only counts the physical bookstores that it tracks and a few online selling channels.

In my next blog, we will be looking at the specifics for each of these legitimate best-seller lists, including Amazon, and I will share some tips and tricks on how to work their system to actually give you a realistic shot at a genuine best seller ranking. However, the focus of this exercise will not change as you must know the way that best-seller lists counts sales and then focus on creating a velocity of sales to fit their model.

Now back to the Amazon Best-Seller rankings.

In 2016 Brent Underwood, who works in book marketing, achieved best-seller status for his book, Putting My Foot Down. It was 1-page long, featured a picture of his left foot, and became a #1 Amazon Best-Seller in a matter of minutes with the sale of just three copies.

“I was fairly certain that it wouldn’t take many copies to hit the top of a category, particularly since Amazon lets you choose the category,” Underwood commented. “I overshot my mark a little bit and probably could have done it with just a single copy [with a more obscure category].”

His category choice was “transpersonal psychology,” whatever the hell that is. I have to admit, as someone who has worked in this industry near on two decades even I am surprised by how on earth a giant like Amazon and Kindle Direct Publishing state they go through such a rigours review process before approval and hint at 72 hours waiting period to then see that a book that clearly was a prank can achieve such a status in only a few hours. 

Regardless, Underwood got a screen capture of the best seller banner and could now add “bestselling author” to his resume, if he was an idiot. This may be an extreme example, but the Amazon Best-Seller system is nothing new or unique. Authors, particularly those of business books, are using techniques like this to present an image of themselves that is not authentic. If they do this with their own book, what else can be drawn into question about their ethics and moral value?

How This Marketer Created a Fake Best Seller
How This Marketer Created a Fake Best Seller

Not convinced yet? Still worth having an Amazon Best-Seller?

The financial risk of publishing and printing the book is the author’s responsibility. As is the marketing and publicity for the book. and distribution. This may include selling via a personal website, bookstores, online channels, or converting the item to eBook,

Storing the books or paying for any reprints when the book sells out is also included in the responsibility list. Some companies who offer self-publishing may offer other services for a fee, like storing the book in a warehouse. The author would pick up the books needed as they are needed.

Mike Winnet ‘I got an AMAZON BEST-SELLER with a BLANK book!!!’

In less than 24 hours, Winnet’s book was for sale online and being promoted by Amazon as a “hot new release”. Amazon was alerted to Winnet’s debunking of their process and banned the book but only after the author has already gone public. Before it was pulled, Winnet added a few fake reviews, slapped a reduced price sticker on the cover and began promoting it through social media. Despite selling less than 50 copies for $AUD1.70 in that first 24 hours, How to get a #1 Amazon best-seller made it to the number one spot in the “niche” category of business, finance and law. It had joined the ranks of other get-rich-quick books.

Apart from making Amazon look foolish, Winnet wanted to expose the way self-publishers and self-proclaimed business gurus use the “#1 best-selling” status to inflate their authority, exploit the lucrative speaking circuit and upsell other services and products. Winnet commented at the end of this exercise, ‘So the next time you’ve got an expert trying to sell you something and boasting they’re an Amazon bestseller, just remember; if I can do it with a blank book in less than 24 hours, it’s really not as impressive as it sounds.’

So what now?

Are you running to your book stock to rip off that fake best-seller badge you have been fooling everyone with? I hope so. Let’s be real. Best-seller rankings are a good thing to have but please ensure you are legitimately gaining the accolade rather than ripping off or misleading your consumers. I have been asked hundreds of times, ‘Ocean, can your company make me an Amazon Best Seller?’ My response is always the same, ‘Sure can, but I won’t.’ Why would I support our authors to be unauthentic and dishonest? Why would I assist in misrepresenting a publication that wears our brand?

There is a way to achieve best-seller status and there are tricks and tips we can implement to achieve this. It’s called functional marketing. In this industry, there is no quick fix to best-seller status. It takes hard work and an established audience who are familiar with your status and credibility in your space. I often use the example that if Mike Tyson wrote a book about the #metoo movement, then he would very quickly become a legitimate best seller. Why? Everyone knows or has heard of the Baddest Man on The Planet and the #metoo movement is one of the most globally topical subjects at the moment. But you are not Mike Tyson and you aren’t writing about the #metoo movement. But Mike, if you’re reading this, I know how your new book can become a best-seller on Amazon.

See you next time.

#becreative #beinspired #bepublished 


  • Di Hill
    Posted November 30, 2019 12:45 am 0Likes

    Great post. We were all suspicious of those Best Seller Awards.

    • oceanreeve
      Posted November 30, 2019 9:26 pm 0Likes

      Thanks Di. Yes, not necissarily a good thing to say you have Amazon Best-Seller status, unless it is legitimate of course.

  • Virginia Daiz
    Posted December 4, 2019 5:37 pm 0Likes

    There are no words to show my appreciation!

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  • Lakia Flanigan
    Posted January 28, 2020 9:13 am 0Likes

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  • Yee Waldo
    Posted February 12, 2020 2:06 pm 0Likes

    It would be cool if you can make a video about this on YouTube…

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