The Dubious Value of the label “Kindle Best Seller”

First, an aside.  A PSA for women who need jeans with room in the ass (without that big gap in the back).  Zappos is currently having a sale on Levis and they HAVE THE 529 style jeans made for curvy women (the one the people at the Levi’s outlet told me last year were being discontinued).  I already bought 2 more pair.  Check it!

Now, something I’ve noticed is this trend for self published authors to describe their work as an Amazon or Kindle Best Seller.  Now, to me that means that their book made it to the Top 100 OVERALL in the Kindle store.  Why?  Because that’s hard and really means something.

But there are a fair number of people who have been applying the term to CATEGORY best-sellers.  I think this is incredibly misleading to readers.  Here’s why.

When you list a book through KDP, you have the option of picking two categories for your book.  Let’s take Red for example.  When I first listed it, I picked Children’s eBooks–>Fairy Tales, Folklore, and Myth (logical) and Children’s e-Books–>Literature–>Love and Romance (also logical given the subject matter of the book).  Now the latter category encompasses almost everything I read in YA and it’s INCREDIBLY competitive.  VERY hard to get on that list (so to my mind, it’s actually one of the few categories that would mean something in terms of a best seller ranking).  I think I edged on to the bottom end of it when I first released Red last year.  And I’ve spent large chunks of time on the Fairy Tales, Folklore, and Myth category list (number 75 as of the time of writing).

Now being on category lists is a good thing.  The idea being that being on a list increases your visibility to readers.  When I was prowling Amazon the other day looking for what the popular werewolf YA currently is so I could write some promo tweets, I saw several of them listed in Childrens e-Books–>Animals–>Foxes and Wolves.   As I’m nowhere near the top 100 on the Love and Romance subset, I thought, what the heck, I’ll change it.  Did that on Tuesday.  Yesterday I showed up on the Foxes and Wolves list at number 7.  I’m not suddenly selling drastically better than yesterday.  It’s just a less competitive list.

Now thinking about this realistically, it seems highly unlikely that anybody looking for YA werewolf stories would actually LOOK on this list.  But I’m on it, toward the top, and some people might take that as sufficient qualification to list Red as a Kindle Best Seller–because nobody ever says it’s a category best seller and lists the category it was a best seller IN.  Hell, Devil’s Eye spent more than a month in the number 1 slot in Bargain e-Books the year it released.  I’ve never called it a Kindle Best Seller.  I just don’t feel it’s justified.

Because I know that there are people who do this, who pick some random, obscure category that nobody in their logical right mind would ever go hunting in for that particular book, just to get a higher ranking, I find that if a book claims to be a Kindle best seller, I don’t actually factor that in to my purchase.  I’m far more likely to consider reviews, the sample, etc.

What about you?  Do you feel that the term Kindle Best Seller actually MEANS anything?  Would it factor in to your likelihood of buying a particular book?  I’m curious if others are as skeptical as I, or more forgiving.

12 thoughts on “The Dubious Value of the label “Kindle Best Seller”

  1. Agreed. I’m also usually skeptical if someone just says “Kindle Bestseller” or a similar thing. If they don’t specify that it is indeed Bestseller on the whole Kindle store, or an otherwise popular category like “contemporary fiction” or something. Yes, it can get kind of sketchy.

  2. The term doesn’t mean much to me as a shopper. I’m familiar enough with the market to know how it’s being used and I don’t think just seeing that label has, in itself, ever made me take a closer look at title.

    I apply the term to myself on the landing page of my site and I feel justified in using it because I spent a significant amount of time in the top 500 and a whole lot of time in the top 1000. My highest number was three hundred something, so I never made it to the top 100, but I sold a lot. I held #2 in my category (I don’t think I ever managed to snag #1) and stayed in the top 100 in that category for a long time–one of the most competitive in the store where you don’t list at all until you crack the top 1k. I don’t think its unreasonable to apply the term to books that have spent time in the top 500 or even top 1000 when you’re talking about a pool of a million.

    At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. If someone wanted to see best-selling Kindle books, they’d look at the Kindle bestseller charts.

  3. Guardian Vampire came really close to the top 100, but never made it. But it stayed in the top 10 of Romance – Vampire for a long time. I never thought to list it as a Kindle Best Seller just because it was in the top 10 of a particular category. And to be honest, I’m actually a little wary of books that CLAIM best seller status. It certainly wouldn’t make me want to buy a book…it kind of pushes me the other way. Write a good book. Let me read the sample. I’ll decide.

  4. If I see some obscure author claiming to be a KIndle best seller, I automatically figure it refers to a category. And *any* claim of best sellerhood makes me less likely to be interested in a book because I have very different tastes from the majority of readers. “Best Seller” is equivalent to “Don’t bother.”

  5. I pay very little attention when I see the words ‘Kindle Best Seller’ in a tweet and I see those kind of tweet a lot, every day. I don’t think it means much anymore.

  6. Sometimes, I’ll look for an overall Kindle bestseller to read just to check out what they’re doing right, but I’m skeptical of the label being applied to a book willy-nilly. If you’re on one of the lists—even a minor category list—that’s applicable to your book, I wouldn’t mind knowing that, but I’d want it clearly stated.

    Otherwise, it’s a marketing gimmick, and a rather annoying one, at that, potentially self-sabotaging.

    Bet those authors who intentionally mis-categorize their books don’t think twice about the appropriately categorized books they’re displacing and the readers they’re annoying who actually want to read in that category.

  7. Not having e-published a book, I had never looked into it before. I was happy for my friends who’ve shared what success they had on amazon lists. I see now why that can vary a lot. I think a good writer would list their books in key genres like they’d be listed in the publishing world. It would something to push toward becoming more known on those competitive lists since self-pub authors are their own marketers.

    But hey, a little fame on those smaller lists is a great ego boost and could be the push for authors to seek out more niches for their book. Whatever makes the author happy.

  8. I don’t pay any attention to ‘best seller’ for anything. Books, ebooks, music, vacuum cleaners… 🙂

  9. You have to think bigger picture. In other words – its not about how you choose books but how can readers help discover you (aka marketing).

    There are 3 ways this helps.

    One way is via Amazon itself:

    While I agree – people are probably not explicitly looking for “Childrens e-Books–>Animals–>Foxes and Wolves” – this deep classification helps Amazon out. Lets say “Red” makes top 100 here. Amazon will now start using its recommendation engine to reach out through its various channels (traditional browser homepage, mobile apps, email, Kindle device, Kindle apps) to shoppers.

    If someone happened to browse/buy another book that is related to “Red” and likely they don’t just count category but also other algorithms (e.g. they have all of our books scanned – they can do math on word choice, reading level, etc) – it will start showing up in the areas of “You may like” and “Other people who bought what you’re looking at also looked at this”.

    Making a consistent top 100 category means you’re among the best as chosen by people who actually spent money. Thus it goes shown more frequently.

    This is also why having as many books as possible on Amazon increases your chances of success. It increases the number of times your books can be cross-promoted.

    Second way being #1 helps is in “Outside of Amazon” Marketing:

    For example – on kiatnolan.com and Twitter and wherever else you are – you get the right now to put “Bestselling Kindle Author”. I’d put that in bold and as big as font as you can. Because this is a stepping stone that can be leveraged in multiple ways.

    First – for new readers who somehow find you – seeing “Best Selling Author” is intriguing and more interesting than someone who is not.

    Second – if you want to do more promotional activities ( speaking, guest article writing, become a resource for news reporters) – it’s a credential.

    The third and final way is that it helps you find your target market. The real secret to Konrath, Hocking and Locke? They discovered their target market and just consistently wrote to them. This made it easier for people to determine if the books were for them, having multiples meant their initial time investment would be worth the while and pricing them cheap enough that buying the whole series wasn’t a bank-breaker.

    It’s why my advice to you would be – for the next 5 books – just pick an environment to live with. Either like Red (become the goddess of YA Romance inspired by fairy tales) or Mirius. You get a plot-bunny – make it fit into this environment. If it absolutely can’t, put it into Evernote and let it rest until you are to the point where you can put it to use.

  10. Susan Spann

    I had also noticed this tendency for authors to list their books as “Kindle bestseller” Or just “bestseller” – to me, the term no longer means anything unless I recognize the authors name. In fact, when I see it attached to an author I don’t know, I am much more likely to think the book is self published. Now, I don’t have a prejudice against self published books per se, But I do have one (in my reading choices) against authors who try to make their books sound bigger than they actually are. In other words, I’d be much more likely to read a book if the author says what it’s about then if they just make claims about sales – especially if, when I check, the sales ranking doesn’t support the claims.

    • Susan Spann

      And that should have been “than if” not “Then if”

  11. I’ve never seen so many bestselling authors in my life as I do know on social media. In fact, everyone seems to be an author, whether “bestselling” or “award-winning” or whatever.

    Back in the day, when men were men and the goats ran scared, it was a big thing to be a NY Times Bestselling Author. Then US Today Bestseller. Of course, those lists also had their twists and turns and magic formulas. At least Amazon lists go by sales. I think.

    I care little about bestseller status except as it improves discoverability. What I do care about are the checks that come at the end of the money. I like to tweak NY with earning a “very nice deal” every month, in Publishers Lunch parlance.

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