I’ve come across yet anotherÂ novelist who claims to be “the number one internationally bestselling author.”Â This isn’tÂ just your standardÂ hype put out by an overzealous publicist; this actually appears on the author’s own website.Â It makes me roll my eyes, because unless your last name is Rowling, Grisham, Brown, or Meyer, it’s pretty hard to back up such a claim.Â Â Yet it’s a boast that I’m hearing more and more these days, and I’ve wondered how authors can justify it.Â Does “Number One” mean that one of your titles was the top selling book in the world?Â Does it mean you’ve sold more books overallÂ than anyone else around the world?Â
I think I’ve now figured out what that term “number one internationally bestselling author” has come to mean, in this age of hype and exaggeration.Â It means that, somewhere in the world, one of your books hit #1 on a bestseller list.Â Even if the only place you were a #1 bestseller was in Inner Mongolia, you can claim primacy in the international book world.Â I know it sounds nutty, but that seems to be the new definition.Â Although I’ve hit #1 in the UK and in Germany, I’d be embarrassed to claim such a crown because it sounds grandiose and delusional.Â It makes me think ofÂ Jack standing at the bow of the Titanic, crowing to the world: “I’m king of the world!”
And we all know what happened to him.
These exaggerations seem to be rampant in publishing.Â Books are frequently touted as “bestsellers” or “international bestsellers”.Â The problem is, there’s no firm definition of what these words mean.Â Publishers have slapped the “bestselling” label on so many books that the word itself has lost its significance.Â Was the bookÂ a bestseller on the New York Times, or in the author’sÂ home town?Â Maybe inÂ the local Waldenbooks?Â Hitting the list in any of these venues now qualifies a book for the label.
Likewise, wildly exaggerated numbers are bandied about when referring to how many books an author has sold.Â Journalists always ask me for that number, and I’ve come up with the answer of fifteen million, but the truth is, I honestly don’t know.Â I’ve written 21 books that are now published in 33 countries.Â Foreign royalty statements are often indecipherable.Â I don’t have a tally of my salesÂ through direct-mail book clubs, which alone probably total in the seven figures.Â Nine of my books have hit the NYT bestseller list so far, and hopefully THE KEEPSAKE will be #10.Â To my astonishment, the re-releases of my old romance novelsÂ are now hitting top-10 lists overseas.Â So I think I’m being pretty safe when I throw out that number fifteen million.Â But as I say, I’m just guessing.Â
The truth, however, often gets lost in an industry where everyone’s trying to look more golden than they really are.Â Some authors claim gazillions of sales, but those of us who watch the numbers know those claims are certainly bogus.Â Some authors pump up the numbers by instead citing how many of their books are “in print”, which is more a reflection of how foolhardy their publishers were, rather than how many books actually sold.
So the next time you hear an author refer to himself or herself asÂ the “number one bestselling author,” take it with a huge grain of salt.Â Unless her name is Rowling.