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How best is a bestseller?

Could it be that among the many words that have become overused, abused and exaggerated beyond all meaning, “bestseller” is the most misused of all?

Screaming at us from the shelves, tables and remainder bins of our bookshops are covers proclaiming that what lies within is a “No.1 Bestseller” or that it has been written by a “Bestselling Author”. And even those that fail to make the No.1 ranking are still labelled as a “Bestseller”.

At times it seems that every second book placed before us has achieved such exalted status; there are no runners-up. No book is ever hailed as a “No.2” in the listings.

How can it be, especially when there are thousands upon thousands of books being published every week, that so many manage to achieve sufficient sales to be ranked so highly. Who justifies these claims – and how can such status have already been achieved when the book has only recently arrived on the market?

Perhaps, although it is never stated, they are bestsellers within a certain category. And the narrower the category, the easier it is to push to the top of the pile.

Such thoughts arise from noting claims that regularly appear on  online author discussion groups. Here writers boast of having achieved top billing – and there follows the information that this is within, for example, the genre of  fantasy Outback psycho romance. Gee, I bet the competition is mighty fierce. As it must be within those churning out tomes in the genre of futuristic outer-space techno war thrillers.  Or hard-core island castaway rock chick-lit.

Maybe such categories have yet to be created but a glance at the sub-genres the scary monster named Amazon offers shows that the publishing world has progressed (although that’s probably not the right word) way beyond what used to suffice to describe a book’s theme and contents.

This multitude of genres and sub-genres has splintered the writing world to such an extent that competition is almost non-existent. Anyone can become a winner in a two horse race and claim “bestseller” status. The marketing people love it; their patently spurious blurbs of their authors’ exalted status need no explanation and, if someone dare ask for proof, they can easily create a sub-genre for their clients’ works.

Bestseller? Baloney and balderdash.

And even if there is a grain of truth in the claim. does it count for ought? Surely the proof of excellence is within – and not on those shouty covers.

 

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