Late last week, I released an eBook copy of the Voynich Manuscript on Amazon. I sent a few tweets encouraging people to either download it for free from my website - or buy a copy from Amazon.
Amazingly, given the choice, some people decided to throw a couple of quid my way! Once I saw that people were retweeting me, I rushed over to the Amazon stats page to see how I was doing.
Holy cow! Not only had I actually sold some copies, but it was enough to propel me to the top 10 of several best seller lists!
At one stage, I checked the "Graphic Novels - Fantasy Section" and the only thing keeping me off the number one spot was Neil Gaiman's Sandman...
Rich! Rich beyond the dreams of avarice! Well, not quite.
I checked the Kindle self-publishing stats:
Four. I'd sold four books in the UK - and one in the USA. I'm not sure how quickly the stats update, but 24 hours later I'd still only sold a grand total of five books in the UK.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. Although the 35% royalties which Amazon pay won't make me a millionaire soon, it's still better than nothing.
It does make me wonder about how easy it is to abuse the "Best Selling Author" tag. I can now quite legitimately state that I've released a best selling graphic novel which was second only in popularity to "Sandman".
Part of the problem is that Amazon has incredibly fine-grained categorisation. Amazon divides books up into 23 main categories, then sub-divides each into around 12 more sub-categories, some of which are further split. So one can place a book in "Books > Nonfiction > Arts & Entertainment > Art > Painting" and become top of the best seller list without too much competition.
Indeed, it's possible for an author to submit their work into two different categories - handy to help customers find your work, and useful if you crave the almost-meaningless status of "best selling" author.
What Does It All Mean?
Top 10 lists are often used as a shortcut for purchasing decisions. Suppose I want to buy a digital camera. I can read all the reviews, try to find one to test drive, ask my friends or - simply - go to the list of best selling Digital SLR cameras.
How many units has the number one camera sold?
Are you trusting your purchase decision on a list which it is ridiculously easy to game?
"Top Ten Author" and "Best Selling Book" are now meaningless - much like "As Seen On TV". A heuristic for quality which is no longer valid.
If you'd like to help propel me to the top of the best seller list, and unseat Neil Gaiman from his throne, the book is available through Amazon in the following countries: