Buying Your Way To The Top

Song of the Day: Empire by Queesnrÿche

What would you do to get on the New York Times bestseller’s list? How far would you go? How far is too far?

Oh, sure. Many of us have tried to manipulate the algorithms and sales numbers in various ways to our favor. We might offer a book for free for a limited time. Loads of people will take advantage of freebies, not thinking twice about downloading a book. It’s free, for crying out loud. We beg shamelessly, if not apologetically, for ‘Likes’ and ‘Tags’ to maneuver us to the top in genre specific search engines. We’ve had our family, friends, writing pals, and street teams do buying blitzes to get our names up on the board. These efforts are in hopes to reaching a prestigious list and inching our way up the Top 100 or Top 10 lists. These lists validate us, offer recognition, and generate interest, thereby increasing our book sales organically—preferably in a snow ball effect which launches our careers into the stratosphere. Look out JK, Nora, Stephen, and James. There’s a new kid in town.

getty rf top tenWe explore endless marketing options, participate in blog tours and book signings, deliver our souls to social media, lug ourselves to conferences and conventions, invest our hard earned pennies in ads and swag. And even some of us hire PR assistants. All in the name of success. It’s what we do to build our enterprises. Who doesn’t want to be a household name,  lounging on a private beach with muscular, oiled, deliciously bronzed gods fanning us with palm fronds, massaging our tired shoulders, feeding us grapes and adult beverages, and whispering in our ear how wonderful the movie-version of our book is doing at the box-office, or at least make a comfortable living as a writer?

But what if you could buy your way onto the New York Times bestseller’s list at the debut of your book upon your release date? Got deep pockets and a guarantee of 11,000 pre-orders of your unreleased book? You can purchase a spot. The practice is termed the bestseller campaign.

In short, you hire marketing firm ResultSource (cha-ching!) which specializes in bestseller campaigning and secure a pre-selling commitment of bulk sales that reach into the thousands.

Read more on how one author did it here.

And here’s another article in Forbes on the subject.

The argument is the same for those of us who have done freebie days or book bombing or any one of the multitude of ways to reach a list—getting your name out there long enough to glean status and interest  It’s an investment into your career.

This is surprisingly not a new practice, nor is it exactly a secret. But it seems to be one that isn’t widely discussed. And while I can’t say for certain, I would wager that burning a hole rf gettypublishers aren’t rocking the boat if their clients decide to hire a firm to catapult them onto the bestseller’s lists. It is business, after all.  And business good for the author is good for the publisher.

That said, I do want to point out that the articles I listed above are focused on business non-fiction books. However, the methodology could be applied to anyone who has written a book, has spare change burning a hole in their pockets and 5,000 Facebook friends who aren’t afraid of commitment. For me, I’d rather make a list based on my talent and merit.

So is this practice moral? Is it fleecing book buyers into thinking a title is popular and in demand?  To an author, should it matter, so long as they get their ROI and, possibly, a fan base? Is this business savvy or deception? Does this make the bestsellers lists a sham? If you were able to work the system, would you?

Let’s hear your thoughts.

19 Responses to Buying Your Way To The Top

  1. There are (obviously) two schools of thought on this one, Jenn. Like yourself, I would prefer to get there through work, talent, and writing a good book people want to read. Conversely, it seems I’ve been fooling myself all these years – between this and the John Locke expose on buying reviews to raise his ranking – my cynicism is now at an all time high.

    Some have made the argument it is nothing more or less than paid publicity, which is a common thing. What is the difference between paying for best-seller status and telling the world *this* particular brand of OTC pain reliever is the best ever invented in the history of mankind, or *this* car will make you Master of the Universe, or *this* movie is the most important project ever committed to film? Is it all publicity?

    I still would like to think it eventually comes down to good books people want to read. All this purchased pushing might get a book on The List, briefly, like a movie will have an unbelievable ‘opening’ but tank quickly when the audience doesn’t like it.

    Word of mouth will eventually spread, though, and a bad book is still a bad book.


    • jbrayweber says:

      You nailed it, Will. A bad book is still a bad book. A couple of days on the NYT or WSJ will not have lasting impact if the product is lacking. But, again, the flip side is that many will find this paid publicity, as you aptly called it, a foot in the door. Maybe they do have a winning book and are willing to pay for that little push. *shrug* Whose to say? That said, I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of the book-buying public will find this practice shady.


  2. Suzan Harden says:

    First of all, thumbs up just for having Queensryche on this morning’s playlist! Ironically, this band illustrates the long-lasting effects of word-of-mouth.

    With authors, it all comes down to entitlement and instant gratification. If you use the fake reviews and the fake buys, and if your book isn’t that great to begin with, the readers will turn on you.

    In John Locke’s case, his books are decent. They would have found their audience eventually. But John got impatient and paid for reviews. Then he was outed. It’s now biting him in the ass.

    The thing I rarely see writers consider are the drawbacks to hitting the NYT or even the USA Today lists. And yes, there are drawbacks.

    Not every book is meant for every person (despite what we writers would like to think). By hitting the lists, you attract people who are not your target audience. The ones that will leave you one-star crappy reviews because something in your book hit their pissy button.

    A couple of friends hit the NYT list last year, and you know something? You couldn’t pay me enough to deal with the shit they had to deal with.

    Just my two cents.


    • jbrayweber says:

      Yeah, Suzan. I didn’t have to think twice about Queensryche ‘representing’ today’s post. 🙂

      You must enlighten me someday on the horrors these friends of yours went through after making the list. I’m quite curious now. And thank you for pointing out that more attention is not necessarily good attention for authors. There are too many folks out there (and trolls) who have nothing better to do than trash others. In this day, people have become too PC. Yeah, I said it.

      Authors just need to be patient. I know…I know…it’s freakin’ so hard to do in this industry. We all have to hurry up to wait. But for those of us who are career-oriented, we need to remember that we must nurture our career and let it grow organically. And that takes time.

      Thanks, Suzan!


  3. Thank you for your post, Jenn; and William and Suzan for your comments.

    Here’s mine: I have absolutely, positively no interest in buying my way onto the NYT (or any other) bestsellers lists. I’m not writing to become rich and famous. If that were my goal, I certainly wouldn’t laboring in this field.

    I’m writing for the sake of my readers—at this stage, my potential readers. I’m writing to move them, to engage their emotions, to let them live vicariously through my characters. To enable them to experience that which they would like to in real life, but can’t. In short, I want my readers to benefit from reading my works in the ways I’ve benefited from reading other writers’ works.

    To accomplish this, I’ll have to alert this potential readership to the fact that my works exist. And are available for sale, or giveaway if they’re freebies. How should I do it? That’s a big question.

    But is buying one’s way to the top the answer? NO! Certainly not in my case.

    Frankly, I don’t see much difference between this and vanity publishing. Which I’d never even consider.

    Who knows, with some books and some authors, this practice might be appropriate, or at least expected. For those who write power fantasies, and so many novelists do, it would be right up their alley.

    But I don’t. My works focus on and celebrate human values. Or at least, that’s my intent. So if a writer like me were to engage in this sort of—let’s be honest—bribery, it wouldn’t just make me unscrupulous. It would also make me a hypocrite.

    Well, I’ve had my say. What do the rest of you think?


    • jbrayweber says:

      “…to live vicariously” YES! That should be the goal. To give readers that magical elixir to live in another life.

      Like you, Mary Anne, I’d never consider buying my way to the top. For fiction writers, I really don’t think opening the checkbook for a bestseller list is a good move for reasons I’ve already stated. Honestly, I don’t think it’s good for the author who writes non-fiction either. But since I’m not familiar with the business model for non-fiction works, I shouldn’t condemn what I don’t know.

      Great response! Thanks, Mary Anne.


  4. I hate to say this, but as a writer I’ve become disillusioned with the current publishing structure. I used to belong to that school of thought that dreamed of having a book on the NYT best seller list. After finding out what gets some, definitely not all, authors onto that list, I can leave it with no second thought.

    Even thought I’m disillusioned, I also feel so free because of the self-publishing avenues available to us now. I’ve had several people tell me I need to do more: more marketing, more “hey! I have a book out” to strangers and other marketing strategies I don’t feel comfortable with.

    Like Suzan said, I want my target audience to find my book. Mass marketing is not going to find them. And, I want readers to love and recommend my stories because THEY want to. I haven’t asked for anyone to leave a review for my book, yet they’re there. Because the reader felt inclined to do so.

    Truthfully, these practices are in every industry. It’s up to the individual’s beliefs and morals as to how they carry themselves.

    Great post Jenn.


    • jbrayweber says:

      You’re right, Melanie. These types of slight of hand are everywhere. And so why I’m surprised by this ‘campaigning’ I don’t know.

      In my short career, I’ve worked hard, dug myself from the trenches, bucked the old publishing models, embraced the new models of both self-publishing and semi-traditional publishing. I’ve spun the wheels of marketing, hoping for the magic promotions bullet. I keep chipping away at the solid mountain in front of me, scaling a little higher with each book I write. Damn it, I’m a little miffed that someone can trump my labored love with a wad of cash. But I digress…


  5. My goodness, there must be people out there with money to burn and a motive other than selling books to actual readers who avail themselves of this particular service. Although this is the first I’ve heard of it, sadly, I’m not surprised to find that the NYT BSL is for sale to the highest bidder. I guess nothing is sacred or safe from the pernicious side of commerce, not even icons like The Gray Lady.


  6. Meb Bryant says:

    Today, I’m buying a $1.00 lottery ticket. If I win millions, I plan to buy a mansion with a three-car garage, and fill it up with 11,000 copies of my novel. Then, I’m hiring a ghost writer to write my next novel while I cruise the high seas. All the while, my moral compass will point in the direction of the Bermuda Triangle.

    Gotta go buy a ticket. Wish me luck, folks. 🙂


  7. Great post, Jenn! All of that info is indeed disappointing, but the one thing no publisher or author has been able to buy is word of mouth. And buying your way on to the NYT list will not help that! I am in this business for the long term and while I try to find readers, I have to hope that readers who love the same kinds of books I do will find my stories. Great discussion!


    • jbrayweber says:

      Word of mouth. That seems to be the resounding consensus, Lana. Maybe we romance writers are smart cookies. Be passionate about what we write and those who enjoy reading and experiencing our passion will certainly want to tell others.



  8. I think it’s wrong. I also don’t believe it gives a lasting result for the author. Being on the NYT list for one day then dropping out of site doesn’t look particularily good.


    • jbrayweber says:

      You’re right. You have to create momentum. If you do it naturally, you’ll achieve the desired effect, including staying power.
      Thanks, Ella!


  9. Tess says:

    Just another reminder the world is not created equal!!!


  10. Jenn! said: “In this day, people have become too PC. Yeah, I said it.”

    Absolutely NO need for me to chime in on THIS one…:)


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