ALIVE (and thinking about bestseller lists)

Yeah, I'm still here and still snowed in. I needed to take a break yesterday, so I took a hatchet and chased the cats around the hedge maze out back. Good exercise, but a bit chilly.

Anyway, this post (via PV) provides a breakdown of self-published books among the Kindle bestsellers in 2011. It's interesting data, although it also really points out the limitations of bestseller data, which I think the author of the post is a little blind to. As he notes, a book could sell as well in December as it did in June and not be on a bestseller lists because books in general tend to sell more in December. The other thing to remember about bestseller lists is that they're only good for the period they cover. So, you can wring your hands about the fact that John Locke basically fell off the monthly bestseller lists in June, or you can see that he wrote 7 of the 100 titles on the overall 2011 bestseller list and realize that he's doing just fine.

The author of the post also seems oddly worried that there won't be more news stories about self-publishing, while at the same time noting that news stories don't always boost sales. I agree that there will eventually be fewer news stories, for what that's worth: The sun coming up in the east and going down in the west is not news, so as self-publishing becomes more and more mainstream there will be less news coverage of it, because it will just be the way things are done.

But that doesn't mean that self-publishing will lose its appeal. Bestseller lists not only don't give an idea of absolute numbers, they offer zero information on how much an author profits from sales, and the 70% royalty rate is the secret sauce of self-publishing. Barbara Freethy is probably making more money now than she ever has in her entire life. Why would she turn to a publishing house, even an indie publishing house? Why would she start her own publishing house like John Locke, unless like John Locke she is a serial entrepreneur?

When people worry about who is where on some bestseller list, I feel like that's the habits of traditional publishing talking. In that world, yes, you did have to sell a gazillion copies to make a living--that's why it sucked. You basically had to win the lottery in order to pay the rent. The world of self-publishing is so much more exciting to me because you no longer have to do that. It doesn't matter if you're topping the bestseller list or not, you can still make good money on modest sales.